Today marks the first anniversary of my mother’s passing. In one sense it is difficult to believe an entire year has gone by. I’ve only lived fifty-two revolutions of annual time: Nine months were lived inside her, fifty years were lived outside her, and now one year has gone by without her in my life. If I let myself sink down into that vacancy, grief quickly floods in and I can feel as bereft as I did one year ago today.
My mother was not the first family member I’ve lost; my paternal grandmother, maternal grandfather, older brother, brother-in-law, mother-in-law, maternal grandmother, aunt, uncle – I am connected to each loss by a trail of grief as unique as was that individual’s impression on my life. Contrary to a popular notion regarding loss and “recovery,” I don’t really think that grief is something one gets over, or even gets through.
It’s like a deep pool of dark water that fills the depression a loved one leaves behind, down inside of us as an intimate feature of our soulscape.
At first, the depression is traumatic – perhaps abrupt and unexpected, or timely and merciful, but still wrenching in its own way. I wanted the world to stop long enough for me to get my bearings and come to terms with the loss of my mother. I didn’t want to go back to work, pick up with the daily routine, or jump back on the carousel of “life as usual.” The hole was a deep void, an insufferable rupture in my security, identity, and meaning. It would have been easy to stay down there, crouching on the edge in disbelief and desperately wishing I could have her back.
I suppose that’s how many of us end up falling into depression.
Just this morning my dad and I were reflecting on how time doesn’t heal (contrary to the familiar proverb), but healing takes time. Another passing year won’t necessarily find me any farther down the road to “recovery” – whatever that means. Distance in time from an event of significant loss might allow us to get distracted with other things, and thus think about it less, but we carry the hole inside us nonetheless.
We might try to mask the pain or push it away, but chances are good that our soul will lead us back for the emotional and spiritual healing we need. Sometimes we need to reconstruct our faith in God, abandoning those Sunday School convictions for something more honest and relevant.
At this point, I don’t agree that grief is something we should recover from, as if I should hope to get back to the way my life was before I lost my mother. Grief is the profound sorrow we feel when something or someone precious to us is suddenly gone forever.
Our lives are changed by the losses we suffer; there is no going back to the way we were.
With the help of others, like my father with whom I have talked twice daily since then, that low-and-empty place slowly began to fill with memories of my mother. Her laugh, her quirky mannerisms, that thoughtful tilt of her head, how she loved to help others if she could, even if it meant sitting with them in silence at the drop-off of their personal pain and loss. I became more aware of how much of her is in me, and how much of herself she invested in the people around her. There are ripples of influence and aftereffects of her spirit that live on in her absence.
So that’s how it feels to me now. The vacancy, even the depression, left behind with my mother’s passing has slowly become a deep pool of dark water. When visiting that place, I remember her, reflect on how much she meant to me, and am filled with gratitude for her life.
The pool is still deep and the water remains dark, but it has become a quiet sanctuary of thanksgiving.