Saying goodbye amidst trees and lights

I wrote most of this post Monday night. It was the night that I finally felt all of my grief. It finally made itself known and wouldn’t recede back until I released it, whether I liked it or not… I loved Christmas. I loved making memories with my son. And I am heartbroken, too.


I keep trying to write this week. I keep failing. Instead of writing, I have played with my son. I have helped my father. I have had NYE conversations with my friend as we rang in the new year. I have laughed. I have slept. And tonight, I finally broke. Moose’s father picked him up tonight. Moose will be with him until Sunday afternoon. We spoke about his cold and his new sleep habits this week. I kissed my son and said goodbye- I closed the door. I barely made it to my kitchen before I sunk to the cold tile floor. I ugly cried. I ugly cried while clutching my knees to my chest. Something I have needed to do for over a week. Something I have been fighting, it seems.  Once I composed myself- and cleaned my house a bit (a fun coping mechanism) I sat down again to write. To chronicle my thoughts and feelings on the events that transpired. But the words won’t come. The thoughts aren’t clear and concise. They are muddier than usual. I can’t quite figure out how my loss relates to being a mother. I can’t figure out how this fits here. Random thoughts run through my head instead, like how Moose took his first steps at her house. Or how cold her home always was, that I packed winter jammies for Moose, even though we were going to Florida.

The week of Christmas was beautiful. It was joyful. But it was also soul crushing, heartbreaking, and full of tears and my own selfishness. When I write that- when I made a Facebook post on Christmas day, mentioning the dichotomy that was my holiday this year- everyone assumed I was speaking about the loss of my marriage. It isn’t an odd assumption for people to make. Yet, it’s wrong. I am done grieving the loss of my marriage. It wasn’t the healthy, joyful union that I had convinced myself it was. Through loads of review, therapy, and some sleepless nights, I have processed that. I have processed my hand in my own deception. And my hand in mistakes that were made. Mistakes I hope to not repeat again if I ever choose to take the chance. My dead marriage and uncertain future are not the cause of my heartbreak. The loss of my aunt is.

My aunt is my father’s sister. She was his last remaining sibling- hell, she was the last remaining member of his immediate family. None of us were ready to say goodbye. I don’t think we ever would be, even though her leukemia was doing its damnedest to prepare us. Nothing could. No timetable given, not doctor’s updates, no amount of hospital visits or indications of her exhaustion. I would never be prepared for this loss.

My aunt was human. I don’t want to paint her with the brush of rose colored glasses. We are all flawed. None of us seems to be exempt from that. But she was my favorite. Her adoration of me never wavered. She always treated me like I mattered. When she saw me she acted as if it was the best thing she had experienced all year. Seeing me was an event she wouldn’t dare miss. Her affection for me didn’t fluctuate- even if my disposition did. Time never eroded her excitement to see me or speak with me. Being in her glow always made me feel safe and accepted. Something I will never be able to convey the importance of. She was one of the few people in my life growing up that never lost sight of me.

She made me feel visible in an invisible world.

My aunt has been sick my whole life. She had Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. It was never treated as a dirty family secret. It was a fact I always knew. When someone is ‘sick’ your whole life, you take it for granted. You become inured to its presence. The brutality of the disease begins to move to the far corners of your mind. You forget that it’s savage and will relish in it’s power to create an early end. And then reality comes. It comes in the form of a text message. A series of phone calls. It comes through the voice of your father, as he falters when he tells you what he must do to honor her wishes. It comes with silence.

Moose and I were supposed to spend several days with my aunt after Christmas. We were taking full advantage of his daycare and my office closing for the week. We were making our pilgrimage to my home town to share giggles and hugs. My aunt and I were both beside ourselves with excitement. I had been counting down the days until our trip, like a child anxiously awaiting Christmas. And then I got the text message from my cousin Saturday evening informing me that my aunt was in the hospital. But I must admit, the reality of the situation didn’t sink in. Hope was still alive and well. I was sure that she would pull through and return home, like she had before. I was sure I would get to see her face and hear her laugh. Later that evening, I got the first phone call from my dad. Things weren’t ok. He was heading to Florida, to be at her bedside. To talk to her doctors. To make decisions he didn’t want to make. Yet, I still held hope. In my mind, she would just be in the hospital a bit longer. Our visit wouldn’t be in the comfort of her home, but Moose and I would be at the hospital. We would brighten her spirits there.

I didn’t get that. As the days passed, my aunt was in more pain. Her body was failing her. Machines were doing the work for her- a fact that was against everything she wanted. An order of hers that we disobeyed in hopes that there was something we could do- some way to alter the circumstances with a little time. We couldn’t. Modern technology only holds so many miracles. On the day after Christmas, as Moose and I were traveling to Florida, I got the call. The call that broke me. The call that made me want to turn my car around and go back home. For the first time in my life, I didn’t want to be in the town of my childhood.

My 12 year old niece was riding with me. She was in my car under the guise of helping me with my kiddo. I think she just wanted to hang with us- though she was very helpful. But she got more than she bargained for. She listened to the conversation between my step-mother and I. She awkwardly shifted in her seat as my voice cracked with restrained emotion. She patiently listened as I called my brother and our family friend to inform them; to save my step-mother from having to vocalize the experience again. It was the least I could do. I kept the thoughts of disappointment in not making it in time to say goodbye at bay. I stuffed the hope I once had to see her again deep into the dark corners of my mind. I ignored the guilt the selfishness of my disappointment conjured, because in those moments I was ignoring the pain my aunt endured, wishing she could have held on for a little longer for me.

For the remainder of the drive, my niece kept me company- she kept me distracted. Once we arrived to my grandmother’s, her duties were relieved. The mantle of diversion was relocated to my mother’s shoulders. Her family. My son. From the time that I got that fateful phone call- to my emotional release tonight- I have not been alone. Once we said goodbye to our family and returned home, I still basked in the company of my son. I wrapped myself in his giggles- his blissful naivety.

This is not my first loss. And sadly, it won’t be my last. An unfortunate reality of this existence. But this was my first major loss as a mother. The first time that I had to pause my grief, as I cried into my mother’s shoulder in a dark room, to answer my child’s needs. The first time I masked the mourning in my voice with chipper tones. And it was the first time that I experienced my father’s grief with my new life perspective.

I didn’t hear my fathers voice for four days. That is the longest I have gone without speaking to him in years. He is a fixture in my daily life. His voice- his jokes- have kept me grounded through some of my darkest days. But this time, they were his darkest days. And he couldn’t mask his grief. He couldn’t be a brother and a father. And I understood in my bones. I knew he needed to process. I knew he needed time. I knew he needed comfort I couldn’t provide. So I waited. I waited for him to be ready. I waited with the war raging inside me. The war of a mother and a daughter. As his child, I wanted nothing more than to help him. To take away his pain. To fix it. But as a mother, I knew that isn’t the place of the child. I knew that if I tried to ease his pain, it would only cause him to try to ease mine. Because a parent can’t stop being a parent, even when they are broken. Even when their child is a grown woman with offspring of her own. My best gift to him was understanding, Patience, and Time. I haven’t felt more isolated when perpetually surrounded by people in a long time.

In a little over a week, we return to my hometown. This time we return together. We return knowing what awaits us- my aunt’s memorial. My chance to finally say goodbye. I’m not ready. Part of me expects to go to her house, climb her ever so steep stairs, and round the corner to her room and see her smiling face. Part of me hopes to hear her laugh one more time. To hug her. To take pictures of her and Moose, because I forgot to last time. I didn’t know it was my last chance.

I don’t have any life lessons that I have extracted. I generally try to end on a positive message. But this week, I am just sad. I am sad for myself. I am sad for my father. I am sad for my cousins and my aunt’s husband. And I am so sad for my son. For he won’t know her. All he will have are my stories. All he will know, is that her laugh sounded like my dad’s. That she made me feel like I mattered. I hope I learned how to pass that along. I hope I will always make him feel like he matters. Like I can see him, even when he feels like the rest of the world can’t. Maybe that’s the lesson, to keep the good going. A friend of mine told another friend experiencing a great loss, that ‘Love stays with you”. It does. That’s why it hurts so bad, because you don’t know what to do with the love. But I know, that as time passes, the love will have places to go other than my tears. It will filter into my laughter, my stories to my son, my reminiscing with my dad. She was a wonderful woman. She was so loved. And I miss her dearly.

“Grief, I have learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go”

-Jamie Anderson


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