I believe in the permanence of loss. When my mother died a little over a year ago, I told myself that she would appear to me in dreams or as a ghost, and we would talk. I told myself that when I really needed her, she would find a way to reach me. After all, she always had. Now I know that no matter how strong the bond between the living, it is truncated entirely by death.
When you lose someone, people try to comfort you by saying that the departed will go on living in your heart and in your mind. This is largely true; your memories of someone do not die with them. I can still hear my mom say my name; I can still listen to the content of our last conversations. I can still hear her tell me that dad was not ready to be without her, and I can see the look on her face when I respond “none of us are.” But living in one’s mind is a far cry from living in one’s world. Memories are cold comfort when what you need is a warm body.
My first child will turn one next month, and although my mother felt his fetal movements in my 8-months pregnant belly, she never looked into his eyes. Although she picked his name, I cannot hear her call him by it. There is no memory I can conjure that will ease the pain of never having seen him in her arms.
And still, the realization that my mother is gone for good is not without its silver lining, however hard I’ve had to squint to see it. Having lost – truly lost – the seminal person in my life, I am awakened to the almost unbearable beauty of those still in it. I am amazed by the countless ways in which my husband can make me laugh. I am entranced by every tottering move our little boy makes. I am thrilled by the tiny fluttering movements of our next child as he grows inside of me. I am touched by the boundless empathy of the friends who share it all with me. And when I find myself irritated with one of them over some trivial concern, I have only to recall the desperation with which I clung to my mother during her final hours to feel my chest swell with love for those I can still hang on to.
That’s the thing about the permanence of loss: even as it forever darkens a corner of your world, it lends a rosy glow to that which remains. Given the choice, I would gladly trade this hard-won perspective for another day, hour, minute with my mother. But just as I know I will never bask in the warmth of her presence again, I hold up my hands before the small, glowing secret that I’ve stoked in her absence, the tiny flame that is nothing less than the inimitable preciousness of life.
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