The sediment is beginning to settle.
If the loss of my mother was a meteor striking the ground, I have the sense only now that I can sit up and get a sense of where it landed, the scope of the wreckage. I have spent, it seems, the past month and a half breathing through the dust, but now I can see the world around me again.
Grief as I have come to understand it has a shape I never anticipated.
I assumed that grief meant sadness. Lots of it. I expected crying jags, general mournfulness, even depression. I suppose there’s been some of that. There was more of it earlier, in the immediate aftermath. But the days have started to feel more like they used to before all of this came to pass. I do the things I have always done. To my surprise, I have smiled, and laughed out loud, and had good times.
Instead of sadness, grief feels subterranean, hidden, like something happening inside me without my conscious awareness: a new and cold wellspring, under the surface.
At night I sometimes wake up out of the blue with the sense that my chest might burst, and everything feels deeply sad and deeply wrong and I remember everything that has happened—and there’s five minutes of a gasping choking crying fit that then passes as quickly as it came. I have dreams in which I clearly and painfully understand the wrongness and the strangeness of what has happened.
Sometimes, during a normal day, it falls like a bolt from the blue: the revelation of what I cannot have now here on earth, and how this has changed my role in my own life and my father’s life, of how this has changed everything, of how little I anticipated it, and I stand numb and staggered.
But God tugs and pulls gently, gently, at the threads.
I have a work colleague and friend that I have gotten to know over the past several years. We have a great deal in common and we’ve had lots of conversations over Zoom, some about work and others about British TV and soda and Debbie Cakes. She’s a kind and thoughtful person, and we get along well.
When my mother had stopped being able to eat, when we were in what I did not know then was the last months of her disease, my friend said casually during one of our conversations: “My mother’s stopped eating too. They’re trying to figure out why.” We chatted about it a bit, neither of us thinking much of it at the time.
And then, a little while after we learned from the doctor that there was nothing they could do for my mom, my friend called me. “I think my mom is dying,” she said, bewildered, and we stared at each other.
My mother passed away. When I returned home, there was a package waiting for me: an angel ornament from my friend. I was touched. And then, around two weeks later, I found myself sending her a remembrance gift, because her mother had died, too.
Now, we call each other and say, “Is what I’m feeling normal right now, or is this some weird grief thing?” We exchange stories and memories. We share what it is like to go through this painful experience. And it is an immense—if strange—comfort knowing that we are both facing nearly the exact same thing, together.
I believe, with all my heart, that God didn’t want either of us to endure it alone.
And I believe, with all my heart, that this strange sense of grief I feel—that there is something horrible and painful and vast within me, but that I am somehow only receiving small doses of it, and not of my own volition—is God is protecting me from the fullness of my grief. When the wellspring comes to surface, it is manageable. And I have the sense that there is so much beneath it all, so staggeringly much sorrow and confusion and hurt, but I am only being allowed to bear it in manageable doses.
God is a very gentle god. The still, small, quiet voice is whispering.
The end of the Lord of the Rings series always struck me as so strange. After all is said and done, after the enormity of the adventure and the defeat of a great evil, Tolkien chooses not to end on the huge celebration and the crowning of the new king. Nor does he end on the wrenching farewell with Frodo. Instead, the very last paragraph of the final book follows Sam Gamgee home, and ends like this:
And he went on, and there was yellow light, and fire within; and the evening meal was ready, and he was expected. And Rose drew him in, and set him in his chair, and put little Elanor upon his lap.
He drew a deep breath. “Well, I’m back,” he said.
I used to wonder how, after everything, one could end on such an ordinary note. And yet that is where I sit: after an enormous sorrow has come to pass, after six months of travail in my mother’s illness and a month and a half more of mourning, with doubtless more to come, at my desk with my Bible and a laptop.
Well. I’m back.
The road continues on, for those of us left here to walk it.