It’s highly improbable to traverse a few blocks in Manhattan’s Upper East Side without encountering bubbly mother-daughter duos jointly pushing strollers along the avenue, bonding within these precious moments, the lines of mother/daughter having blurred. I recognize them virtually everywhere I go, these tickled twosomes creating indelible memories while hand-picking baby’s layette, enjoying dual pedicures, or brunching at Bergdorf’s. Peering in on such enviable moments now tugs tenderly on my heartstrings. At the store I lift up a pair of 6-inch studded Louboutin wedges for closer inspection. “Are you out of your mind?” emphatically reverberates from within an internal monologue. I could always count on my mother’s unfiltered opinions to dissuade me from making capricious purchases and guide me through a myriad of life’s more crucial dilemmas. It’s been exactly 365 days since my mother’s sudden passing. Only now am I beginning to soak in the magnitude of my loss.
Although death is arguably the most unpredictable event of life, the loss of a parent is truly an inescapable rite of passage, an all too tangible manifestation of the circle of life. As children, we are taught that we must all lose our parents, but take comfort in the likelihood that it will be 7, 8 or even 9 decades before needing to cope with that loss. My mother’s startling and premature death obliterated the timeline I had always envisioned, leaving me feeling as if I had recklessly spun out of orbit. My mother was “home” – the first place I ever lived and the universe from whose substance I was created. Now that she’s gone, I’ll never be able to truly return. I’m untethered, yet expected to safeguard my own children in today’s turbulent world. It’s bewildering to ponder that I’m their stability while often feeling like a palm tree swaying in hurricane-force winds. I often wonder if my mother ever felt this way – dismantled by life’s circumstances, but resolute to persevere for the sake of her children. There are so many things I wish I could ask her.
Life after a loss is simply perplexing. One of the greatest ironies, I’ve discovered, is that the loss of your mother typically constitutes the most grown-up experience you’ll ever have, yet there is no other experience that will make you feel more like a child. The trauma following such a tragedy is a quintessential ordeal she would have helped us to overcome. Yet somehow, we are expected to absorb the initial trauma, endure the heartache, and re-emerge more resilient. But grief does not follow a linear trajectory and is, in all actuality, a dynamic fluid process. It has long been said that time heals all wounds, but we seldom consider the residual scars that remain. In my personal experience, the more time elapses, the more deeply I ache for the past. I stitch together flickers of childhood memories into hazy photographs, as if illuminated by a crackling, vintage projector. And I fear that as time continues to pass, the latticework of these fragmented memories will dissolve, slipping through my fingers like sand in an hourglass.
Losing my mother so suddenly has moved me to contemplate the transient nature of all things living, acutely aware of our world reeling on its axis. As summer passed, for the very first time I wholly appreciated vibrantly colored leaves fluttering to the ground, and in the depths of the New York City winter, I felt comforted by the promise of Spring’s technicolor aura. Through unfathomable heartbreak I’ve found meaning in life more rich and profound than ever before. Every instant of joy feels more pure – its undiluted beauty radiating throughout each fiber of my being. I am often overcome with elation as I watch my children erupt into unbridled laughter. And as I tuck them into bed for the night, the sensation of undeniable warmth envelopes me. Inside me churns a cauldron of heightened emotions and I drink them all in – the despair, the exhilaration, the sorrow and yes, the happiness. My life is now far more beautiful, impassioned and complete, not despite my loss, but because of it.