You Can’t Be Mad At The Dead, or How Loss Gave Me A New Perspective

I’ve never known elegance in the face of loss. This might be one of the reasons I’ve documented so much of my life in journals. I’m just too afraid of losing even a moment, in spite of how many times I’ve been rudely reminded that hard drives can’t really back-up a life. I have been known to search frantically for days for the details of a vague memory, either on my computer or in my stacks of fireproof safes filled with jottings on napkins and coffee-stained receipts. The times I’ve been lucky to find the moment, I’ve savored it again and again through tears of joy. And the times I’ve had no luck, the feeling of loss was unbearable. It could take days to get over. That something so special was gone for good made me feverishly want to pull out my hair. And knowing I was behaving pathologically did nothing but make me more resolute, for if my mind was gone, at least I should be able to locate its memories.

And then I lost my mother.

And as I sat in shambles on my mudroom floor, sobbing into the phone, I realized there was not a damn thing I could do about it. She was gone. And there was no place to go looking for her. I’d never again get to see her the way I did.

I walked through my days consumed by a continuous slideshow – the way she crossed her legs while watching TV, the cloud-shaped birthmarks on her arms, her elegant fingers holding a cigarette out the car window, her smile that could light up even the dimmest of souls, the way she’d speedwalk to St. Vincent de Paul’s to find the treasures before anyone else… Where did it all go?

The only thing that soothed me was to remember every detail of my mother. And that was pretty easy, considering I had over 20,000 Microsoft Word documents all about her.

In some strange way, I had actually backed-up our relationship.

And so I started to travel back in time, reading through hours of conversations and scenes. It was heart-wrenchingly sad and at times laugh-out-loud hysterical, but what I hadn’t expected now that my mother was gone, was the experience of revisiting all those old stories from my brand new point of view – the one where my main character was now past tense, absolved from all wrongdoings.

The reason I started documenting my life in the first place was to cope with the horrible feeling that I didn’t quite exist. My mother spent her entire life fractalling through one glorious handcrafted drama after another. And though I appreciated that her life was extraordinarily interesting and also excruciatingly painful, what I tended to notice most about her, was that she could never be counted on when I needed her most.

And yet there was this other narrative peeking through the undertones of my resentment – my mother’s story. And it’s funny to think I had been the one transcribing her words all these years, because it was as if I were reading them for the first time. All the vulnerable things she said to me when her life had fallen into shambles yet again, all the guilt she felt for not being there for me, how she loved me more than anything in the world – begging me to believe she was there for me and adored me and was so proud of me… I guess my own hurt hadn’t ever let her words truly sink in.

The truth was – she might not have been doing everything I wanted her to, but she had been there. She existed. She was my mother.

Now, when I revisit our old stories, I feel more like an archaeologist than a wounded child. I dig up clues for who she was instead of who she wasn’t. And I find a woman who I idolize – the wittiest, most brilliantly complicated person I ever met. And I cry to her from my heart- I’m so sorry, Mommy. I wish more than anything that I knew then what I know now. You loved me. And I loved you. So, so much. We were everything to each other. And I hear her voice reassuring me, We both knew, honey. Deep inside, we both knew.

I’m not as afraid of losing things like I used to be. I realize sometimes loss is the only opportunity we have to rearrange our perspectives so that we’re able to tell new kinds of stories about our lives. Maybe some part of myself always knew that I would need to realize this truth. That what’s really precious is never lost. That we’re here to leave our brightest parts. Not on any bestseller list, but in each other’s hearts.

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