We’ve always marked anniversaries in our family, happy or sad. My mother’s father died on November 19, 1979, and though we never had cake or anything, I remember November 19, 1991, my first year away at college, I thought of how across the Midwest I had aunts, uncles, and cousins who were likely cognizant of the importance of this day, in our family history. It brought me great comfort.
As death moves closer in, though, I find the anniversaries less comforting, overall. Or maybe two years is just not far enough away. I think about how two years ago today, I was teaching summer classes. I called my mom from my office phone, and when she didn’t answer I assumed she was uptown having coffee with her friends. I think about how Shaun and I were in marriage therapy that afternoon, and my sister called my cell phone so many times I finally turned it off, because the vibrating was getting annoying, and I thought to myself, “How rude! Nothing is so important you have to call me over and over again like that.” How naive I was. How stupid. (I’m sorry I didn’t answer, Sissy, though I know it wouldn’t’ve changed the outcome, for either our mother or my marriage).
I recall how in the lobby after therapy, I checked my messages to find one from Bev K., in her kind voice, telling me to call Jess at either my Mom’s or Jess’s cell phone. Right then, I knew something wasn’t right, because why wouldn’t Jess have left the message? I love Beverly like an aunt, but she never had reason to call me. I said to Shaun: “I think something’s wrong.”
And just like that the whole world fell away, and V started screaming because I was crying, and Jess said “Just come.” So, as Shaun took V home, I drove from West Fargo to Hendrum, alternating between screaming in grief or staring at the highway through tears. I desperately wanted to wake up in my bed. Somehow this couldn’t be true.
I parked outside my mom’s apartment building and Mike, Hendrum’s police officer, was there with several`other, younger officers. He did not smile when I arrived. “She’s still upstairs?” I asked, and he nodded. “I’m so sorry,” he said. If Mike says it’s true, it must be true. The other officers, so awkwardly, muttered “Yeah, sorry,” as I took a deep breath and walked past them.
And so it came to pass that I became a grown up, sort of, and these are the things I think about today: the raw shock of losing my mama when we did not expect it; the visceral, furious, heart-split-open grief response. Bits of songs and movie dialogue played over and over in my head for weeks, trying to help me understand.
I don’t have anything new to say, today, really. My grief is still suffocating at times, and I still feel the sting of loss every day. The platitudes do help, some, sometimes, a little. When I was 16, my mother’s mother died, and I remember telling Myra after the funeral, “But, Mom, at least Grandma Beulah’s at peace now. And she will never have any pain again.” Myra sighed, deeply, and said, “I know, Jenny, I do. But golly, I miss her.”
I know, now, exactly how she felt.