This piece was originally published at Boilerplate Magazine and further developed by ENDPAIN.
Author’s Note: These are my personal thoughts on grief, whatever that means. I thought I would share my process and how I continue to grieve (and grow) almost four years after a very significant loss.
The way I most confront my grief is through writing. I write poems, short stories, long stories, anything to distract me and get my mind focused on something else. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
When I can’t distract myself, I write about my mom. I’ll write a story about the way she grew up, making up all of the details I don’t know. In those moments, I wish I could call her and find out, but it feels good to imagine a life for her, a life she lived and loved and laughed in.
I’ll write about myself, about right after she died, about right before she died, about all of the time between then and now. I’ll write about the future. I’ll write about a mother and daughter with a beautiful relationship and I’ll write about planning a wedding and going dress shopping and I’ll write that the mother cries when she sees her daughter on that day. I’ll write about hospitals, about the smell of hospitals, about riding the bus with her, about the sound of the ramp being lowered so she could drive her wheelchair onto the bus. I have taken to just calling grief life. I’ve given up on attempting to categorize the “stages” of my existence. I never went to therapy after, not really (I know, I’ll unpack it all one day with a hired professional, don’t worry), so this is really all I know.
Sometimes I have dreams that I never really wake up from. They remain with me throughout the day, the people in them walking step-by-step beside me. I want them to go away, to feel their presence leave me. And so I go to sleep again, and they retreat back into the recesses of my mind. Back where they belong.
My mother is often someone from my dreams who remains with me during the day. I think my mother would be proud of the person I have become. I like to imagine that she also sees the future me, from whatever vantage point she might have, and is proud of that person, too.
Once, I dreamt that my mother was healthy again. She had been dead, in the dream, but, somehow had her life returned to her. It had been five years since we had last spoken, and I made a joke about how we had a lot of catching up to do. It was as though I was looking at a stranger when I spoke to her. I no longer knew who this person was. I woke up feeling akin to if I had left the oven on and only realized it once I was halfway through my day.
I SAID GOODBYE TO HER THAT NIGHT WHILE I WAS FALLING ASLEEP. SHE WALKED STRAIGHT INTO THE DARKNESS AS IT CREPT UP. I LET HER GO.
My mother walked me to class that day, sat next to me in the lecture hall. She ate lunch with me and my friends, and watched a movie with us that night. This woman, this stranger, would not leave me alone. My subconscious had given her legs again, and she was not going to give them up without a fight.
I said goodbye to her that night while I was falling asleep. She walked straight into the darkness as it crept up. I let her go.
I had another dream about my mother some months later. This time, she had never died. She was sitting outside, under a canopy of green, sipping from a jar of iced coffee. I sat down across from her and she introduced herself to me. She didn’t know who I was. I tried to tell her in this dream. I tried to say, you’re my mother, you’re my mother, look at me but she wouldn’t, or she couldn’t, I don’t know. I tried to connect with her, but to no avail; she didn’t know me, and it didn’t seem like she liked me very much.
I woke up a little sweaty, the dream still fresh in my mind. The sky was grey. I got up and got ready for class, ate breakfast next to a ghost. I had astronomy that morning, and the two friends that I have in that class came in late and didn’t sit next to me. I cried in front of one of them later, told him about my dream, said that some days are just harder than others.
I tried to go to French class but teared up in front of my teacher and told him I needed to go. I went to bed and didn’t sleep, just laid next to a ghost for the rest of the day. I was scared to sleep that night, afraid that the stranger would come back and I would have to confront the fact that, at this point, I was a different person from the one my mother had known. I wondered if she would even recognize me, be able to identify my voice.
I had a dreamless sleep that night, and the sky was blue when I awoke in the morning. I sighed a sigh of relief. The ghost had gone, left through the window I kept ajar.
These dreams about my mother have forced me to confront my thoughts in a way I normally do not. What usually remains tucked away and hidden comes to the forefront of my mind, making sure I feel and experience and, in a sense, process what I’m feeling. The days following these dreams are often far more introspective, more isolated, than normal days. I think more, consider more carefully my relationship with grief and my mother. Though they’re not days I particularly enjoy—I often isolate myself from my friends and spend most of the day alone—I do think they’re necessary. If I didn’t come into direct contact with my grief every once in a while, it would end up feeling more consuming when it did finally bubble up. The dreams allow me to see how I feel, what I fear, what I hope for.
ALL TOO OFTEN, I FEEL I AM LOSING SIGHT OF MY OWN ME, AND I WONDER IF THAT IS EVEN A NEGATIVE THING. IS THIS CHANGE GROWTH? IS IT RIGHT?
I suppose that at this point in my life, I am attempting to “find myself.” It is only natural to be nineteen and on a journey of self-discovery, I have heard. All too often, I feel I am losing sight of my own me, and I wonder if that is even a negative thing. Is this change growth? Is it right? When I feel this way, I write. Writing has been the only place I have felt it plausible to find it, my mind, my reality that I hold onto. I don’t know—who is to say what growth is? How can I tell if I am going about this miraculous journey correctly?
It has been about a month since this last dream, the one where my mother didn’t know me. I have tried to think of it as just that, a dream, but sometimes it still sticks with me. My heart tells me that my mother would know me, that she is with me everyday, walking through life beside me, helping me get through it all. My brain then tells me no, you’re wrong, you haven’t seen her since you were fifteen and you’re a different person from who you were back then.
My brain and my heart argue with each other in this fashion. Usually, I let my heart win. My math teacher in high school used to tell me that I have my own angel now, and that is a comforting thought to have, so I hold onto it. She would tell me that in the middle of class, though, and that was not fun. Being reminded so blatantly is, in general, not fun.
The four year anniversary of my mother’s death is coming up. Part of me feels like I should be “over it” by now, but the rest of me knows that that’s a ridiculous thought. I’ll never get over it, never not miss my mother, and that’s okay. I’ll always feel a twinge of jealousy when someone mentions that their mom sent them a package in the mail or called today just to see how they were doing. It’s not that I don’t have support in my life, but there is something missing, something that hurts a lot to miss.
If you’re dealing with grief of your own, I guess I can offer some limited advice: do what you can. Do what makes your life the easiest, what makes it easiest to get up in the morning. Don’t force yourself to write it! or talk about it! or draw it! or _____ it! Do what makes you happiest. For me, it is writing. I’ll get to therapy sometime.
IF YOU’RE DEALING WITH GRIEF OF YOUR OWN, I GUESS I CAN OFFER SOME LIMITED ADVICE: DO WHAT YOU CAN. DO WHAT MAKES YOUR LIFE THE EASIEST, WHAT MAKES IT EASIEST TO GET UP IN THE MORNING.
I believe myself to be happy right now, but I also do not know what that actually means. I am happy because I am not sad; I am with people who lift me up; I call my family and am reminded of the love we bathe each other in, often using sarcasm as the gentle, tear-free soap. I hold onto these things, especially on the days that it is hard to get up and face the world. I hold onto the memories of my mother, the good and the bad, clutching them tight as I leave my room.
I love the concept of waking up happy. The wind is cold coming through my window; I left it open because the room gets stuffy and begins to smell off if I leave it closed for too long. The salmon-colored curtain, purchased at Target, sways gently. I look up, move the curtain a little to the right, and see the blue, cloudless sky and the tree outside my window. And I am happy, and I woke up. Even on days when the sky is an impenetrable grey, I imagine the light pouring in. It makes it easier.