The turning of the year is often a challenging time. The days are dark. We’re often a little worn and ragged from giving our all to make a bright Christmas for our dear ones, end of year work pileups, or just trying to get by. It’s almost time for the resolution onslaught when, at the stroke of midnight, we’re supposed to magically transform into better, brighter, more-together versions of ourselves, just when we least feel like any of those things.
Having lost a loved one in the past year, though, makes these end days even more freighted. My mom died in August, and my grief has been every bit as complicated as our relationship was. But no matter how imperfect the bond, the death of a parent is primal, solemn; the loss of the bulwark between me and my mortality. That this comes at midlife, when I feel the inexorable slide into the invisibility with which we cloak older women in our society, is especially poignant; one less pair of eyes that see me, just when I feel least seen. Ambiguity is everywhere, my sadness at her loss mixed with relief at the end of her suffering, and at the completion of a caregiving journey that lasted decades.
The coming year will be the first in many in which my path forward includes more choices than obligations – a great blessing, I know. And yet I find myself frozen in place. I’m reluctant to leave the last year my mother touched in this lifetime. But it will leave me, regardless. The Earth completes its turn, I barely miss brushing her fingertips, and she is gone forever. The rest of my years, no matter how many or few, will not contain her.
What is it people do when they do not “have to” do one particular thing?
My mom visits my daughter in her dreams, and every time tells her the same thing: that she loves us, but she does not want to come back. I understand this. It makes me both bereft and relieved – that she is so unalterably gone, and that she’s also free.
Maybe what people do when they don’t “have to” do one particular thing is just do a thing and see what happens. Maybe, like my mom, I can follow this new path with abandon, or something close to joy, and someday find myself not even wanting to go back. Maybe the Earth, turning once more toward the light, will carry me with it.