The white-haired couple walks across the grass slowly, carefully, hand in hand. They smile at each other as they go. A church bell tolls, 1, 2, 3… for no reason I can see except that it shows 5:29 PM on my phone. The dark grey clouds scud across the blue, covering the bright with darkness.
I mapped a new route home from work here in Seattle, but instead of following the plan, I went straight instead of turning left and found a poetry garden, rocks holding quotations of love and loss, as if it was waiting for me today, five years on from the day my mother died.
I can hear people all around me at this park, and the occasional dog and owner pass through this little rock garden but they don’t stay any longer than it takes the dog’s nose to determine there is nothing of interest to canines.
Me, on the other hand, I can’t leave yet. I pull out my notebook and start writing. Amidst all the new beginnings here for me, there is one constant unfinished thing that has followed me here. Will I never get over my mother’s passing? I thought I had, but knowing I am now in Seattle, in the first place I’ve lived that she never knew about, has been hard. I can feel the tears gathering, then sliding down and dropping onto my shirt. Some of them I wipe away hastily as if any of the strangers here would even notice, let alone bother to ask why.
So despite my best intentions to honor this day on the calendar as Emma’s birthday (she turns 6 today, meaning her dad, my mother’s oldest grandson, spent her entire first birthday at the hospital waiting for his grandmother to pass away), all I have thought of today is my mother. The immediacy of that day five years ago, the pain of driving eight hours down to LA knowing she would never leave that hospital, then looking into her vacant eyes, not feeling her hand squeeze mine as I talked to her, all that has faded. The sorrow is now a different kind, the deeper ache of being left slightly adrift, a motherless child despite my age.
I think of all my mother has missed in these five years. Besides me moving to Seattle, there have been two new great-granddaughters in Wisconsin: Eden, who she knew was coming and Eliza, her younger sister and the third in the trio of Wisconsin girls.
There’s another great-granddaughter, Elliot, the wide-eyed blue-eyed first child of her grandson Dave. Another grandson, Kevin, one she spent so much time and energy raising from age 7 onward, got married last year. And I’m not the only one who’s moved: her oldest child, her only son, moved this summer to be closer to those Wisconsin girls.
But for the two who’ve moved away, one moved back, the youngest child, a daughter whose difficult years caused her much heartache. That daughter is now the one who drives Dad to the almost endless round of doctors’ appointments, to the grocery store, and, on a good day, out to lunch.
And Dad himself has moved too, from the top-floor east-facing apartment that was the wrong temperature no matter what the season, to a second-floor west-facing window that lets him sleep in easier. And despite her worries that he wouldn’t be able to get along without her, he’s done pretty well so far. He’s got friends, family, his movie and sport TV channels, and Google Maps on the big iMac screen (another new thing). He still misses her, as do we all, but we’ve all gone five years without her and we’ve learned to get by. It doesn’t mean we love her any less or that we’ve forgotten all that she was. It just means that some goodbyes never end.