Ten years ago today, you died.
I didn’t give much thought to this anniversary before it arrived. My life is full and busy; ironically, our family is in one of the happiest seasons we’ve had in a long time, with two big weddings in the next month, plus one more later in the summer. There’s the end of the school year and camp coming up, always a happily hectic time. And, of course, each day is marked by the usual merry-go-round of home life, work life, three meals a day, bedtime, endless laundry, and the countless other administrative tasks that come with being a mom.
Then this morning came, and my body felt dense and heavy. Yoga was a chore. I figured it was residual stress or interrupted sleep that was weighing me down. But when I pulled into work, I got a text from my sister, then from my brother, with pictures of our old life, the one when you were still here. And I realized why I felt so heavy: I was carrying the ten years I’ve lived without you.
I remember that day ten years ago, when you opened your eyes after days of morphine sleep. We surrounded you as you stared at the ceiling, a tear falling down your cheek. You couldn’t speak, but I heard your goodbye.
A few hours later, Dad called us into your room, where we found you in stillness. There was no more breath. Your eyes were still open, green and unseeing. You were there, but you were gone.
The truth is, you were gone some time before you died. There was the slow loss of your ability to write, to walk unassisted, to use the bathroom. It had been weeks since our last real conversation. But even as you slipped away from us, I still didn’t believe that you wouldn’t come back. It was impossible to imagine a world, my life, without you in it. But when I saw you on that hospital bed with your eyes vacant and your chest empty, I finally understood that you meant it when you told me you were dying.
Despite everything, life has gone on without you. You have five new grandchildren, including your namesake, a little girl with curls like her father had. We’ve had graduations, weddings, moves, promotions. That baby you held in your last weeks is now a tween. He and his brothers ask about you all the time. I tell them stories constantly, trying to give them as many pieces of you as I can, that they might have a semblance of who their grandmother was and how much she loved them. Sometimes, they’ll say, “If Bubbles was here, we’d probably be in Disney World right now.” And I say, “You bet. I would probably never see you because you’d be busy hanging out with her.”
Do you see us? Do you hear us talking about you? Do you feel how deeply you are missed? I like to think you are around me, watching, rooting for me, maybe pulling a string or two when I need it. It’s a comfort to me to think you’re still around. Even if it’s a story I tell myself, it helps.
Your family is well, but it’s different now. You were the magnet that drew us toward each other. Without you, we have been pulled elsewhere, to our own families, our own orbits. I don’t know if that would have happened anyway, had you lived. Perhaps it’s the nature of things. But I do believe that even if we had made our own ways, that spot you drew on the map for us, the one that said “Home,” would have been the place we always returned to. Now we have to draw our own maps and find that spot for ourselves.
Dad sent me a text this morning. He reminded me to smile and give thanks that I am surrounded by almost all the ones I love. I think you would have said the same. That was your thing: I’m grateful, I’m grateful, I’m grateful.
I am grateful today. I’m grateful for my family. You should see them, Mom. They’re so gorgeous. Those little girls you adopted as your grandchildren are women now. One is about to graduate high school and fly on her own. The other is 16 and one of the bravest people I know. The boys are wild and wise and funny and full of big feelings I try each day to help them name and navigate. I try to teach them to love themselves, love each other, and to be kind. I try to show them that it’s okay not to do this life thing perfectly. It’s okay not to know. It’s okay to ask for help.
I try to be a mom like you.
I’m grateful that I have fifteen years of recovery. It was all you ever wanted for me: to be peaceful and whole and well. I am, Mom. I am.
I’m grateful that I have a job doing what I love, that I’m part of a community where I belong, that I can bring myself humbly to the table and share what I’ve got with the world.
And, oddly, I am grateful for this day ten years ago, when I lost you. I would never have wished for it, and if given the choice, I would have had it turn out differently. I would have you here, with us. But in letting you go, I have discovered parts of myself I never would have known. A deep well of empathy. A bond with others who have experienced loss. A self-sufficiency I was forced to cultivate. A strength I didn’t know I had, and the knowledge that I can and will survive. It’s what we humans do.
Your death ripped my heart out, but it also plunged me into my own life. The moment of your death felt like I was breaking the surface of deep water, taking a sweet gasp of air after holding my breath for too long. Ten years later, I am still breathing. I am present. I am alive.
Thank you for that.
I miss you more than words.
I hope you know that, wherever you are.