At about 5 p.m. eastern time today it will be exactly twenty years since my mother, Diana, died.
To be perfectly honest, I had planned to make a video for today, or to prepare some eloquent blog post but, for the past two weeks, I've been dealing with the worst auto-immune flare I've had in years.
I thought I could prepare something in advance because I've done Death Days for my whole adult life. One year. (How has it been a year?) Five years. (Would she be proud of me?) Ten years. (Wait. What?) Eighteen years. (I'd lived without her as long as I'd known her.)
I expected the ten year anniversary to really hurt. I'm not sure why I expected that, but I did. I expected to feel something but all I felt was that it was surreal that she could be gone for a decade and I still felt just as lost at 27 as I had at 17. More lost, even.
Eighteen years felt like it should hurt too. She'd been a ghost in my life as long as she'd been a real person. Instead of feeling surreal, it felt all too real. The year before, we'd bought a house and moved into it on the seventeenth anniversary of her death. We have a huge garden. A month after we moved in we brought home a tiny, witchy void demon kitten, Bast, who just turned three and is an utter agent of chaos and laughter. I like to think she'd love how high a priority having a garden was on our list. I know she would love Bast. If anything, I felt close to her those two anniversaries.
For all those reasons, I expected to feel a bit detached today, to be able to acknowledge that my mother has been gone for two whole decades, but to be buffered by my own perpetual shock.
I'm not detached.
I have felt down for days.
I am just barely keeping from crying as I write this.
I'm not sure why this day hurts so much this year. Or more to the point, I'm not sure why it hurts NOW when it has never really hurt like this before. Twenty is no more significant a number than ten, and yet I feel it all this year, as though all those years of shock protected me from feeling this loss, as though all that numbness was just burying this feeling deeper. Now it's roared to the surface, loud and impossible to ignore.
Grief is a lot of things, but mostly it's personal. I've always had a difficult time with anyone who tries to tell me that grief can be conveniently broken down into tidy steps (grief is never tidy), that it's a problem that can be fixed (it does not need to be fixed), or that it can be sped up with the proper application of God (I won't bother to tell you how hard I laugh at this one). Grief is messy and personal and unique to almost everyone and, while there are some guidelines that can help...
Today has been twenty years since I sat in a hospital with a dozen of my mother's friends who occasionally reminded me to eat and dragged me outside into the first truly gorgeous day of 2001 in Ottawa.
I was outside when she died. I was with one of my aunties wondering how the sky was so blue on such an ominous day. My mother had always told me how blue the sky was, how green the grass was, how colourful the whole world was the day she brought me home from the hospital as a baby. She was a poet; I thought she was taking poetic licence. After all, I was her firstborn child. I'm not sure what meds she'd been given, or how much serotonin was pumping through her out of latent survival instinct. Ottawa on April 29th, 2001, was nearly twenty degrees, the sky was the crystalline blue you see in computer-generated fantasy worlds on sci-fi shows with two moons. Everything was green and painfully alive. Except for Diana.
The most difficult thing to explain is that I wasn't upset, even if I was heartbroken. Diana had been sick with cancer, on and off, for nearly a decade. She had been getting sicker and sicker for the last two years of her life. Her mind was going.
Diana was a poet. She once told my sister and I that if she was in some accident and ended up braindead, to pull the plug and donate all her viable organs. "Without my mind, I won't be myself," she had said. Some part of me remembered that years later as she began to constantly hallucinate from the meds, as she began to forget, as her mind slipped from her, as she was more and more a shell of herself and not the person she had always held herself up to be.
Her death was a relief because she had been in so much pain. That is the socially acceptable thing I am allowed to say, and yet, for the first few years, I rarely admitted this to anyone. I could not help her or fix her and the doctors could not save her, so prolonging her life meant prolonging her agony. I would not wish anyone a longer life if they have to live it in pain with no relief in sight. That's a hard thing for some people to swallow, and perhaps those people have never had to watch someone die slowly. No one I know who has been forced to do so would ever question how conflicting this thought is to have and to have to live with.
I wish there had been a way to save her, but since there wasn't, I wished for her to be at peace. Not in pain. Not suffering. Not upset when she couldn't remember someone's name, let alone her own.
This is all very depressing, for which I feel the need to apologize a little. Not completely, as grief is not something to be ashamed of, but still... The 2557 Project is about living life. That said, it was born out of the fact that too many people I know have died far too young and one of the most important ones is my mother.
Most days, I am all about What Can I Do On My To Do List?, but it's good to let there be days where you just write the day off and admit that nothing productive will get done that day. Today is like that for me, though I didn't expect it to be.
Life can be a glorious riot of fun activities and to do lists but, every once in a while, a day or two will just knock you on your arse. And that's fine. Because life is about the downs as much as the ups. If we didn't have the gloomy days, we wouldn't appreciate the sun so much.
Today, the only things I plan to do are to go for a nice walk under the appropriately gloomy skies and try my best to look forward to the fact that MAYBE, just maybe in 2022, I will get to travel somewhere further than 3 km from my house.
Until next time, stay safe, be kind, and most of all,