Last night she closed her eyes to the sound of teeming rain and claps of thunder. She awoke to a deafening silence amidst a gray background. So that was it. Another day ended and another in the works.
“See, Sylvia, it all keeps moving along,” Erma reassures her friend.
“Indeed. I never said the loss was all or nothing. It’s been all and everything,” professes Sylvia.
When you experience loss, people say you’ll move through the 5 stages of grief…. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance …..What they don’t tell you is that you’ll cycle through them all every day. ~Ranata Suzuki
Sylvia carries a great deal around with her. On her mind. In her heart. And yes, especially in her purse. “The contents of a woman’s purse, or pocketbook as many of us refer to the bottomless bag of life, are sacred,” Erma declares to her friend. And Sylvia, her mind wandering to the bottom of her bag, quietly pronounces in agreement, “Mine are for sure.”
Since my mother died, I bring her with me in one of my favorite totes–yes, bits and pieces of her with me everywhere I go. Literally. Though much of her bodily remains are tucked away peacefully in a carved rosewood box she now shares with my father, awaiting their intermingling, I do keep some of “her” in one of her old medicine bottles- the ultimately inconsequential labeling has long been removed. After all, it’s been over a decade since she died and since her wish to be cremated was fulfilled. I change pocketbooks frequently too, so the little brown vessel that held one of the life-saving or rather life-prolonging concoctions she required has traveled and withstood the test of time. Those bottles don’t crack easily, but admittedly, that is not the point here.
Last week as I moved Mom from the black-and-camel Michael Kors bucket bag to the bright pink, Kate Spade satchel to the less cumbersome, multi-colored, crossbody Coach, I came to a realization. Well, two, actually. First, I’m a bag lady. Second, and more of an epiphany of sorts: I’m not bringing Mom anywhere. She’s gone from this earth. And yes, even to this day, I get a lump in my throat and a knot in my belly when I say those words out loud. Here is what I’ve been bringing with me on my travels, whether to the grocery store or local “Stomping Ground” or to Brooklyn to visit our favorite young man (there is no doubt in my mind that she would have proudly bestowed upon him that moniker). That little bottle of ashes represents my mother’s greatest gift to me. It’s the constant reminder that (1) life is fleeting; and (2) when we leave this world, everything tangible has little to no real value. Those things with the greatest meaning aren’t things at all. They are people and memories of shared experiences. The sum and total of one’s physical presence on this earth is reduced to ash, dust in the wind. The heart and soul of the person, his or her spiritual presence, lives on in those he or she loved, cared for, or touched in some way while on this earth. The ashes that I carry I’ve come to view as Mom’s ultimate lesson to me. We don’t get second chances. Make this life count.
And as I start this new day, I’m thankful for so much, the very least of which is the tiny, amber-colored, prescription bottle that travels with me. Where will I go today and who will accompany me? I don’t know every detail, but one thing I do know is that I’ll do my best to make moments count, to tell people who matter that I love and respect them, and to keep creating my life. It’s not over until it’s ash. I’ll keep adding to my bonfire.
Sylvia is reminded of one of her favorite passages– and so, she’ll keep going:
Intriguing isn’t it? One day you are the king of your world. And the next day, you stand aside, watching it all burn. Ashes slipping out of your hand, you just stand and stare, your glassy gaze fixed on something no one else could see, no one else could know…
People will talk as people do talk. And they will walk over the ashes. And the ashes will dance in front of you, reminding you every second of what was and what might have been. And you will almost give in.
But my advice is, don’t give in. Because one day, you will decide to turn the corner. Put it all behind you. Just stand strong and still as the great wind comes and takes all the ashes away with with it, leaving fresh air behind. Fresh for you to make a new world, a better world.
Erma: It’s been a decade, right? Since your mom passed?
Sylvia:Yes, ten years in the blink of an eye. She must have been counting the days.
Erma: Yes, she undoubtedly wanted him home with her. They had been apart for too long. They were ready to be reunited and to live the eternity they had promised each other.
Sylvia: I wasn’t ready though. I’m still not. I don’t know how to navigate the rest of the journey. I’ve gone from devastated to lost.
Erma: Time. The only answer. It won’t heal but it will carry you. It will give you the life jacket you need from time to time to endure the waves that will pummel you at the most inconvenient and unexpected moments.
Sylvia: I don’t need a life jacket. I’m not drowning. I told you I feel lost. I’m numb, shivering, in a blinding snowstorm, and I have no idea of what is ahead.
Erma: None of us knows, Syl. That’s where the notion of faith enters. And you are so far from lost– lost suggests that there is something to be found.There is nothing to be found and everything to be felt.
Sylvia: Oh, okay, then I’m right on track.
It’s been a month of Sundays since he passed, figuratively of course. Much longer in reality, and certainly it feels even more like an eternity. I’m not paralyzed or empty or broken. I’m numb.
Every morning I awake hoping that I’ll complete the journey- the journey for which none of us is ever fully prepared- the journey off and away from the path of grief and sadness. Most people describe grief and its effect as wave-like; it ebbs and flows. It washes over you. It brings you under and makes it hard to catch your breath; and as soon as you stand and catch your breath, another wave knocks you down. It’s not a wave, not a ripple or a tsunami. It is more like the breathlessness you experience on a sub-zero day in the middle of January up north. This grief, this numbness, is totally different than any other I’ve ever felt. I can’t fully compare it to anything, not yet, because I know I haven’t lived through it completely. I doubt I ever will. Although if I had to liken this trek and its encumbrances to a relatable situation, I would imagine how one feels at a “Lost & Found” bin or depot. Hopeful yet aware of impending disappointment. Each morning I wake up headed to the lost and found.
The phone rang last night. A message was left. “Your belongings have turned up. We are holding them for you at the ‘Lost & Found‘ window. Come at your earliest convenience.”
So, I awake with a controlled eagerness to pick up what has been left. After all, it is mine. It has been left for me to retrieve. I shower, get dressed, and off I go. On my way to the “Lost & Found” today. Every day for a month of Sundays.
The journey has not taken me away or off the path. I have yet to retrieve what I believed belonged to me. I have yet to find wholeness. Perhaps I never will. Perhaps it is never to be found. But for now, I’ll keep listening to the message each night on the machine. I will keep getting up to see if the depot actually has what belongs to me. What needs to be reclaimed. I will live with the numbness- not in wave-like motion but in a traipse, much like the plodding of wearing full winter armor in heavy, wet snow on a frigid winter’s day. And eventually – I hope anyway- faith will melt the snow away from the path.
I hope I will recognize what it is I lost. If not, I hope I find the strength to delete the message and move forward.