Monday, September 21, 2009

Feel Like Yourself Again

This time of year brings me back to two years ago when I was in Amsterdam with my mother during her final weeks. I remember each day what I was doing that particular day in 2007... My mind narrates the unraveling (Its the 16th: This is the day we were told her liver was failing...Its the 18th: This was the day we left the hospital because there was nothing else they could do....) The images come back. The emotions surge up.

What I did not know two years ago, which I know now, is that there are two parts to losing a person to death.

One is the loss of that person, the shear absence of her in your day to day life, the absence of her eyes on your life, her voice over the phone. She is simply gone, and you simply want her back.

The second part of losing a person is the losing part.... the mark that the experience of sitting by your mother's deathbed leaves on you... the long, slow, or too fast journey to the actual death that haunts you. Pictures replay in your head. You wonder if you did the right thing, said the right thing. You wonder if you would have acted differently if you had known that it was the last time you would hug her, see her, hold her hand... .

When I was little, I remember my mother always being sad and distracted mid August. She would always make the connection after the sadness had begun... She would suddenly remember that her father had died mid August. It surprised her almost every time.

These dates, these seasons get mapped unto our brains, become linked consciously and subconsciously with the absence, and with the losing of a person.

Its been almost two years, and I sense another phase of this process of mourning is beginning. Ellis' first year is over. Things have settled down. There is a little more time and a little more space. And so it rears up again, the parts of her death that I still need to make peace with...the parts of her absence that I will never stop mourning...

I have an antique roll top writing desk that was my mother's...that she wanted me to have. Last week, the rolling top got stuck down. I couldn't get it open or access any of the papers inside it. I began pulling and pushing it. A small piece of paper fluttered out of its cracks. It was a line from a magazine that my mother had cut out. She was always cutting words and phrases out of magazines to put in collages or paintings. This piece of paper said, "Feel like yourself again."

A message from my mother, no doubt. A challenge issued. The child is here. He is doing well. He is healthy and happy. And now its time to get back to myself.

The problem is, I don't know what self I am anymore. Everything has changed. The landscape has been transformed. I lost my mother. I became a mother. I will never be the same again.

That is something my mother said those last weeks over and over, "I will never be the same again." The process of dying was transforming her, pushing her towards reinvention and reassessment even in her last days.

A never ending project: this building of the self.

Still, I would like to feel like myself again.

I will never be the same again, but I think I can aspire to feeling like myself again. Finding the parts of myself that had to be put on hold to mourn, and to birth, and to care take. Finding the space and time to look again at my mother's death, to begin the next phase of mourning, the next phase of making peace with the loss and the losing that are now so much a part of who I am.