an unhappy birthday card

“I tried to write her something. I’ve tried to for weeks, but I can’t think!”

“Tori, you’ve been thinking so much about all of this, your brain can’t do anything else.”

“But I didn’t do anything for her!”

“What are you talking about? You did your whole life.”

I’ve written and rewritten and deleted and scrapped more words and sentences that never made sense than I’d like to acknowledge. I’ve desperately tried to write a good, thoughtful, coherent essay for my mom on her birthday, but all I can put together is the disjointed set of words and punctuation marks that follows. I apologize in advance.

Grief that refuses to lift has a funny way of making it extremely difficult to make sense of the world around you and the things going on inside your own head. My grief-ridden brain that probably needs therapy is like mushy oatmeal. The bland kind of oatmeal that’s sticky and sad-looking, one without cinnamon sugar or maple syrup or fruit. My brain is bland, mushy, oatmeal and all of my thoughts are stuck in it in no semblance of order or organization. That’s not writer’s block. That’s depression.

My mom would have turned sixty-two today. Two years ago, I threw her a surprise party. Last year, I hugged her in her hospice bed. This is the first year I’ve had to acknowledge her birthday in her absence, and it’s a really odd, bittersweet feeling to celebrate the birth of someone who no longer lives. Am I supposed to get her flowers? Do I light a candle for her? Maybe I’ll just go home and hide in bed. Ray will probably drag my body to the car and bring me to the beach to be, because he cares more about me than I care about myself, and I will probably protest but know he’s right and go anyway. (Raymond, thank you for being you.)

My mom passed away a week and a half after she turned sixty-one, so the one-year anniversary of her death is rapidly approaching and makes today even harder. I don’t know how the past year went by so quickly, because I feel like it all happened yesterday. It still feels that raw. For the past year, my mind has retreated into the oatmeal-brain that now exists in my head to self-preserve and hide away from all the hurt and bad things that happened. The oatmeal has been like a sticky cushion that’s protected me from the bad stuff but also blocked out a lot of the good memories.

I’ve struggled remembering who I am for the past year without her existence to remind me that I am my mother’s daughter. I think know that I was a good daughter and that I took damn good care of her as she got sicker and until the day she died. I did my best to keep her happy and keep her safe. I know these truths about myself and can go to sleep, rest easy, and die knowing I did my best. She did everything for me when she was well. So doing everything for her when she was sick only made sense. When she was here, maybe I wasn’t living for me, but I was happy knowing that she was happy. That was enough. And then one day she wasn’t here, and I lost my purpose.

When she was here, I had a vague but specific purpose for every single day despite my running on fumes. Wake up, please wake up, hug her, call her, ease her concerns, listen to her, help her, keep her happy, tell her everything she needs to hear in case today’s the last one you get with her, do not let her fall, drive home before you fall asleep, focus, please stay awake, okay, now please fall asleep, seriously, go to sleep now. Maybe, somehow, some part of that formula would save her for just a little longer even though nothing could. Maybe one extra smile would suffocate the damn tumor a little and let her live. But then, one day she wasn’t here and my fumes ran out. They disappeared into thin air. I disappeared. I felt like a shell with nothing left in the middle except oatmeal-brain. I still feel that way.

I’ve struggled remembering the really fun things that we did and the great conversations we had. I’ve struggled thinking, as demonstrated by the nonsensical number of drafts of this essay that still doesn’t feel good enough. I hope it makes at least a little sense or gives you a little insight. Without the clear purpose of taking care of her, I’ve honestly forgotten what I’m doing or why I’m here. But there’s one thing I haven’t forgotten.

I wouldn’t be the person I am today without her. Even if she’s not here, her kindness and words and mannerisms and quirks are a part of me. On the days I’m most depressed – like today – with the ugly tears and snot that the dog tries to lick up and the guttural wailing from my soul, my mom is the voice in my ear that says, “Please, Victoria. Please don’t give up. Please don’t cry.” And somehow, I’ve made it through the past year without her.

But I’ve also made it through the past year because of her. I am my mother’s daughter.

If I can still hear her, maybe she can still hear me. If I cry into the universe loud enough, maybe it’ll find her. The truth is that no essay will do this justice anyway.

Happy birthday, Mom. I miss you beyond words. I’m so sorry I’m so depressed. I’ll try to be stronger like you were. I hope you have the most beautiful day up there with the rainbows and birds, with wings, and without pain or fear. I love you the mostest. (And I hope you can hear me.)

Your forever devoted daughter, Tori

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