Normal is the hard part.
I told friends and family that I was doing pretty well, all things considering, after my mother passed away. I wasn’t lying. After a week and a half of administrative tasks related to the event, after the funeral and the burial, after the slew of flowers and cards and calls, returning to my house and resuming my life felt like a balm.
But that’s part of the problem, isn’t it? Returning to life when your life has changed.
Even at her sickest, my mom texted me. She died early in the morning on November 10, and my last text from her is from late the previous evening. I’m so accustomed to those texts I catch myself looking at my phone or listening for it to vibrate against my desk.
My father sent her phone home with me, since it was full of Mom’s passwords and administrative information that would be helpful. Once, when I was rebooting it because of an update, it apparently sent an ancient text of Mom’s that had never gone through.
When I returned to my phone to a cheery, “Call when it’s convenient!” text that looked for all the world as though it had been sent a few minutes ago, I felt my heart crack.
So when people ask now how I’m doing or getting on, I don’t really know how to answer. “Worse since I got home, thanks,” doesn’t seem to be what people want to hear. When my supervisor warmly said that she was sure I was glad to get back to the routine, I didn’t know how to tell her that the routine feels precisely like the problem.
It’s tempting to write that prayer and Bible study have helped me.
They have, after a measure. I spill my guts to God every night and I do know that helps, and the sense that He is listening and that He understands soothes the ache. The readings for Advent have reoriented my soul.
But what helps me the most is beauty.
Sunsets. A cardinal in the tree out back. Right after Thanksgiving a bald eagle flew over our yard and I almost broke my neck racing out to marvel at it. A really good song. My morning lattes have gone from customary to, somehow, a revelation. Today I used a combination of mango sugar scrub, tangerine soap, and coconut lotion during and after a shower, and the combination of scents seemed like a minor miracle.
I have, since my return, grown obsessed with organizing.
I’m sure there’s something deeply psychological there—gaining control after having lost it, wanting to exert influence over some small area of my life—but I also find it so very visually pleasing. “Look,” I commanded my husband, after I KonMari-ed my entire underwear drawer and had everything delicately folded and nestled in tiny boxes. “Isn’t it just pretty?” He raised an eyebrow in response.
Yesterday, I reorganized my colored pens so that the gradation formed a rainbow.
I felt a little silly about all of this, but I don’t think it is. I think sometimes what we think we need isn’t what we actually need. Although I want to somehow find the One Bible Verse that will absorb the sadness fits or find the prayer that on the rougher days would sort out all the uneven edges, what God gives me is this.
Color. Rich tastes. Softness. Pleasing lines. Tropical scents.
Give thanks to the Lord, commands the Psalm, for He is good! His love endures forever. But that doesn’t, on the worst days, feel like something I can cognitively do. On a day like today—one month out, which is something I never thought I’d consciously mark—when I get a lump in my throat at the computer, it doesn’t feel true or real to parrot something that my cognition can’t fully grasp.
But God teaches me other ways. Here is a beautiful picture. Look at that squirrel, digging up your yard to bury a black walnut. What do you think of the espresso? It’s wonderful to make something out of yarn, isn’t it?
And even in my deepest sadness, I end up learning the language He is trying to teach me. That’s beautiful! I love it. It helps me. Thanks. Thank you. Thank you. I have all this sad stuff, but I appreciate you.
Step by step. We’re all learning as we go.