I don’t want to
This pen feels heavy and this thumb and forefinger are attempting a sit-down protest. To write it is to make real that which wants to remain a dream. When asked, “How are you?” Dad used to reply, “I think I’m OK, and I hope I’m not lying.” I don’t want to lie either, but the ground keeps changing as my heart keeps breaking. Words are clumsy when trying to give names to the liminal space between love and sorrow.
It still gets stuck in my throat. I refuse to swallow, and then I do. The body’s reflex to make room for another breath wins. Her nursing home had been under quarantine since the early days of COVID. My siblings and I called her every night, a conference call that often included all four of us but always some of us and often went on for more than an hour. We read old letters, remembered our stories, and answered the same question, “What day is it, and why can’t you visit?” We problem-solved dry lips, constipation, and boredom and did our best to love her up. The calls were like the long, slow meals of our childhood—homemade, garden-raised and sit until you’re excused. Before deaths, there were seven of us, gathered around the brown Formica kitchen table talking at the same time, teasing, laughing, silent, sometimes lonely even though together, and sometimes winces of pain.
And then the nursing home allowed residents to leave their room for some limited group activities—mom fell playing a beachball version of bowling and broke her hip. The fracture was so severe that the only way to manage the pain was surgery. Remarkably at 96½-years-old she made it through surgery and was making an amazing recovery. However, when she returned to the nursing home, they had a devastating COVID outbreak. Mom was infected. It was too much for her body and spirit.
Bone of my bones
Flesh of my flesh
A dream without the dreamer
Death never lands easy but during the isolation and restrictions of COVID, well, we did the best we could. We sat vigil with her on Zoom for several days before her death. There were terrible moments of suffering where she made wounded animal sounds. I think she knew we were watching and wondered why we couldn’t make it better. We sang, prayed, read, talked, cried, and sat, and sat, and witnessed. Each of us on our screens and in our little Zoom square watching mom in her Zoom square take her last breath. It was unbearable and unbearably tender.
Exhale without an inhale
Birth in reverse
Please, just one more
Grief is not one thing but, in fact, it is a dizzy constellation of sensations and feelings during freefall. All losses are different, so you can’t pull out the map from the last death spiral and find your way. This one, Milly, mom, feels kaleidoscopic. The terrain and colors are almost too much to behold, so I hold them with warm and fleshy hands, hands made for holding the small, delicate hands of a motherless child.
There is no sugar-coating loss. I don’t yet want to be fixed with heavenly promises and angel choirs. I am heart broken. As Sharon Salzburg says, “Sometimes it just hurts.” There is nothing redeeming about loss, but I trust grief. It is the medicine for loss—terrible, bitter, tender, and sweet. There’s a wisdom I can’t claim but somehow know. Grief is practice. I show up with as much self-kindness and self-compassion as I can, pull back the covering and see what’s here. Mom is here in the broken places. It is here that I discover my blessing isn’t only bone or flesh or even breath but rather something less ephemeral. I was born in love. It hurts because I was loved well and loved in return. In the cracks and fissures my heart mysteriously finds life, not in my time, but in grief’s good time.
Let me lay in the fertile holy soil
With the rotting oak leaves
And the still sheathed acorn
Waiting for rain
Waiting for sun
Waiting for another birth
© 2021 David Fredrickson, All Rights Reserved
David Fredrickson is a psychotherapist, writer, and Mindful Self-Compassion teacher. His practice, whether writing, breathing, or teaching, is to explore the beautiful and messy intersection of connection, healing, and creativity. His novel, Life on All Fours, is about relationships in the midst of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and is told from the perspective of a puppy. You can find more about David, his novel, and blog, “Daily Bites and Blessings,” at http://www.davidafredrickson.com.