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The Art of Grieving

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“She’s in a better place.”

I’ve never known a phrase to have the ability to make me more irrationally angry almost instantaneously as those five words. Yes, my brain knows the words to be true, meant to comfort the grieving. The gold cross I wear around my neck that represents my faith reminds me daily, hourly, that she rests with the Lord in His heavenly kingdom, and that she is at peace. My heart, however, carries a deep ache within itself, begging to comprehend and cope.

Just a few short months after saying a final goodbye, I’m surprised to find that the once paralyzing heartache has dulled. I’m able to get through the day, one mundane task at a time, flooding my thoughts with scientific facts. They, whoever ‘they’ are, say that ability comes with time. The ability to get through your day to day details, to compartmentalize your emotions, to function like a human being again.

What ‘they’ don’t warn you about is the nausea-inducing guilt that comes with the natural process of moving on.

I’m able to wake clear minded in the morning to the sound of my alarm, his soft breath whisping along the nape of my neck, and wash my hair in peace as I run through my schedule for the coming day. I make a pot of coffee, and sip the steamy caffeine between giggles at our kitchen table as my spookier half scrambles looking for that awful green tie I’ve tried to throw out on three separate occasions. I drive us to our office, appreciating the blooming of the flowers along the edge of the dirt road, as his thumb drums against my thigh the beat of the classic rock song playing softly in the background.

It’s later in the day when I’m surrounded by mounds of case files, elbow deep in expense reports that reality catches me off guard and sucker punches me with the reminder. It’s when I’m in the middle of folding my third load of laundry, and the small angel figurine that sits next to my perfume bottles catches my eye. It’s in the middle of my search for the pineapple upside down cake recipe, and I think to just call her quickly, for she has it memorized. It’s these ordinary moments that my stomach feels suddenly heavy, and the tears I didn’t know were present have already begun their familiar track down my face to my chin. It’s in these random moments that I remember that she’s gone.

‘They’ don’t tell you that no matter how many deaths you’ve had to deal with over time, that each death hurts differently. Some feel sudden, and fill you with an immense amount of anger that you weren’t even aware you could muster, while others overwhelm you with sadness and sorrow, leaving an empty space in your heart where a bit of happiness used to reside. Then there is the rare death that imprints itself so deeply into your soul, that you’re positive you’ll never be the same afterwards. My father, my sister, my daughter, and my mother, no loss feels the same.

Memories have a way of sneaking up on you when you least expect them. When I was 17 my mother picked me up from school just after lunch, knowing I was having a rough day. I was one of the few junior girls who hadn’t been asked to prom that year, and though I tried to put on a strong face, she saw right through it. I was never able to hide my feelings from her. She whisked me off to the beach, and we sat there together for hours under the umbrella, sipping iced tea, watching the waves roll in. Just the two of us.

Another time, years earlier, my ego was bruised when Missy told me she didn’t want me to go to the park with her. My mom found me sitting on the porch alone, poking at the dirt with a stray stick I’d found in the yard. She quickly hustled me into the car, and took me for ice cream. Just the two of us. Our little secret, she’d said.

My mom was the one who kissed the scrapes and bruises. She was the one who picked me up when I fell, urging me to try again because she knew in her heart that I would succeed. She was my cheerleader, my support system, my safe haven.

I talk to her sometimes, late at night when I can’t sleep and the home office downstairs is occupied. I imagine her sitting at the foot of my bed as I tell her about my day, or about the ins-and-outs of the case we are working on. I tell her about my fears of the future, and of my regrets that I can’t seem to let go of or make peace with. I confess the darkest secrets that I hold deep inside, the ones I don’t dare to vocalize to another living soul. I tell her all of the things I wish I’d have said when she was alive. I thank her for being such an amazing mother, who sacrificed so much and always put her children first. I thank her for being my best friend, a voice of reason and comfort when I needed it most. I tell her that I’m sorry I didn’t call more often, or make the time to just sit and be present with her. I ask her to take care of Ahab, Missy, and Emily, and to make sure Mulder’s family knows that he’s doing well. I ask her to watch over us in our times of hardship and danger.

But mostly I tell her that I love her, and that I miss her everyday.