Grieving a person who is still alive is difficult. My heart is a puzzle and Mom is a piece. Without her the whole thing threatens to fall apart, yet she is still here. Her piece of my puzzle isn’t gone, it gradually fades creating a transparent hole. The hole gets bigger each time I want to pick up the phone for advice. It grows every pretty day I want to go to a café for lunch. All the times of connection, when I need a mom’s touch, it is not there. This grief is markedly different from losing someone to death. While the pain of death is excruciating, it is final. That kind of pain does not tease. It pulls the rug out from under you and carries it away. It sucks the air from your lungs. It is ruthless in its finality, but it lingers like a heavy blanket over every holiday or momentous occasion. It is its own kind of torture.
Fading loss is more subtle. It teases you with good days and then smashes you with bad ones. It eats a hole in your heart, one bite at a time. What starts as a crack becomes a chasm, I am on one side and Mom is on the other. It gets harder and harder to reach across and is more like seeing someone in the distance. A wave. A hello that blows away in the wind before it reaches the ears. A smile. A laugh. All from far away. Just gestures. Attempts to connect without a bridge. Unbearable longing for relationship, while sitting at the same table.
Accepting the gapping hole before you comes slowly. The denial of the actual reality is monumental. The bargaining is real. It comes in the form of begging prayers. The attempt to control the fading mind is futile. The frustration sits at a rolling boil, just under the surface. And just when I think I cannot hold up any longer, that my heart is going to crumble, a good day breathes life back into me to start the cycle again. Sometimes just being in the presence of your mom grounds you. Yesterday was one of those days.
We made an appointment for a visit, since her 82nd birthday is Sunday. The rules were to come at the time assigned to you. Get tested 15 minutes before entering the visitation room, even though all of us have been vaccinated. Suit up with a gown, gloves, and a mask. Limit the number of visitors to two and the number of minutes to 45. These have been our restrictions on and off for a year. We were just glad they had lifted the total shut down, because we hadn’t seen her since the week before Christmas.
Then we had a birthday miracle! The restrictions were lifted! No test required. No gown or gloves. Only sanitizing our hands and masks. We got to go INSIDE her community. We got to see her room and meet her caregivers. We got to see where she eats and visit the other residents. We got to stay and sing happy birthday. She opened her presents. We got to wheel her around the garden and look at the flowers. It was a glorious day.
I cannot tell you what the visit did for my heart. I am crying big tears as I write about it. They are tears of relief and of hope. Not that Mom’s condition will change, but that we will be able to sit in her presence. To be able to soak a bit longer in her essence. Even though she doesn’t know who we are anymore, we know who she is. And yesterday, that was enough. It was all I needed.
Mom’s fading will continue. My heartache will not suddenly disappear. It is an ongoing challenge. But being grateful when there are good days feels a bit like acceptance of the current situation. This brings relief from the wrestling as I receive the reality and release the result. The chasm and the hole continue to grow, but on a clear day, in the spring, the wind carried the love across and it hit its mark.
Happy Birthday to Mom.