I’ve been digitizing all of the photos and videos I have from my family and found this picture of my mom the other day. I had never seen it before. A never before seen picture is a gift unlike any other when someone has died. It feels like finding out a book or a movie you love has a sequel you never knew about, that there’s a little more to the story that you didn’t know.
Today my mom would be 65 years old. I wish I could ask her where she was in this photo and who took it. I wish I could ask her if she was happy. I believe it was taken before she had children. I wonder if she was dreaming of us, the way I dreamt of my children.
This photo captures the woman she was, the woman she fought to hold on to when mental illness and alcoholism began to ravage her life. This is the woman I always hoped would come back to me. My mom died almost three weeks after her 57th birthday. She was at the end of a terrible divorce process and she lived alone in a two bedroom apartment with all of the furniture from the larger, family-filled homes that she had occupied before. She was trying to maintain her sobriety and she was overwhelmed at starting over. Sometimes her thoughts were crystal clear and full of hope, other times she was consumed with rage and her desperate attempts to make the pain she felt go away.
Today she would be 65 and I wonder who she would be if she had lived. She would be a grandmother to August, eagerly awaiting the arrival of her second grandson. She would have loved being a grandma and I know that my boys would have been the light of her entire world.
I wonder how she would have engaged with the political landscape. I can picture her at the Women’s March, I can see her learning about social media...desperately looking for any way to provide support to the horrific situation at our border. Whenever there was a humanitarian crisis we basically had to hide her belongings to prevent her from hopping on a plane to go help. She always took me and my brother to buy supplies that we could send, teaching us to be of service, to always find a way to help. I wonder how she would have used her talents as a nurse and a helper. Her heart was so big, so compassionate, that it was constantly breaking. The world’s grief felt like her own.
I wish I could see this version of her, but there are no photos of videos of it to be found and scanned. It’s only a dream.
I’ve learned to live with the absence of my mom. Most days her suicide feels like a long time ago. Some days it feels as if it just happened. I know that this is the dance of grief.
About a week ago my son and I had a difficult hour before bedtime. He was over tired. I am very pregnant and was feeling fatigued and frustrated. In true three year old form he said “no” to everything I asked him to do before the requests even left my mouth. Bedtime was a battle. I raised my voice and lost my patience. Then he asked me to snuggle and I read him his books and sang him his song. I watched him settle down as he recognized the rhythm of his familiar routine. He asked me to sit on the floor of his bedroom until he fell asleep. I put my head on my knees, worn out from the day. He closed his eyes. I looked over at his bedroom door and a pang of grief hit my chest. Tears fell down my face as I longed for my mom to simply walk in and sit on the floor next to me. Maybe she would place her hand on my belly, feeling the movements of the little baby boy growing inside me, maybe she would set her hand on August’s back, feeling the movement of his deep, sleepy breaths. Maybe she would place my head on her shoulder, tuck my hair behind my ear and tell me I’m doing a good job, that he’s a good boy.
I wished she could walk in to my son’s room, just once, just to catch a glimpse of us.
In the years since she’s been gone I’ve found that the pain lessens, but the longing never does. For me, it’s gotten stronger in the years since becoming a mom myself. I look at these newly found photos and feel grateful to see new glimpses. I long for a snapshot of how we are now. I know that will never happen and that I will always hope it could.