Today was one of them.
It has been 9 years, and still after all this life without her and trying to move forward and focus only on all of the goodness that she was, the grief still cripples me. Cripples me to the point of shaking and sobbing that comes from somewhere inside of me that cannot be controlled or getaholdofyourself-ed away. I am pretty sure that the day she died, a piece of my heart crumbled off, and I will experience the aftershocks of that until the day I die.
If you didn’t know my mom, let me paint you a picture. She grew up one of 8 children, her family didn’t have much money at all. When she married my Dad, she started working for the federal government. She was a typist at the time, and always prided herself at being a fast and efficient typer. (This makes me smile, because I remember standing behind her as her fingers click clacked he typewriter keys so fast, and when the ding of the typewriter signaled a new line, I read it to see she had not made a single mistake. She was proud of that skill!) Every time my dad got stationed to a new base, she would get a job ahead of the move, staying with the federal government. She worked hard, she was incredibly kind and gracious, and she really was a champion for the employees. From a typist to a GS-14, she worked her way from the bottom to become one of the most loved and respected people in her agency. But through her success, she never changed— she always stayed the girl who looked out for people, who was nothing but love and generosity.
One time she came from work and walked into my room with grocery bags and started plucking clothes from my closet. She turned occasionally saying “this is okay if I take this, right?” and in my confusion I just stared. She explained to me that someone who worked for the commissary, the wife of a marine, had children going to school in clothes that didn’t fit or were so worn that they had holes. We didn’t have a ton of money either, so my mom came home and took almost half of our closets, stuffed them in a bag and then walked away.
Another time when I was home visiting from college, she got home from work and said “Shan come help me take care of this bed,” and as she ripped sheets and bedding off the guest bed and then my sister’s old bed, she explained that one of the ladies she was working with was going through a terrible divorce and she had just found out she and her children were sleeping on the floor of the apartment they were living in. So she gave them our beds.
She loved the people who worked for her, and that she worked with, so deeply, whatever they were going through, she felt it, too. She never let anyone go through anything alone, and always let people know how much she cared for them. I have memories of her chasing down garbage men before dawn, barefoot, the curlers bouncing in her hair as she ran down a dark street, chasing after the garbage truck with gifts to thank them for doing such a wonderful job. The same for postal workers, for our bus drivers. She had a closet filled with gifts with little post-its on them: "for the lady at bank", "for receptionist at salon", "for lady one street over who gardens". She didn’t want anyone to ever feel forgotten, alone, or unseen. If you cried to her, she hugged you so tight and cried with you. If you needed help, she did what she could to help you, but quietly, because she never wanted to chip away at someone’s pride. She wasn’t just this person to me. She was this person to everyone. She was love, she was humility, she was kindness and compassion, she was smart and hard-working, she was ethical and faithful, and we never ended a phone call without her saying “I love you honey, don’t forget to say your prayers.”
We are on the heels of much change, my family. Life as we have known it all these years is about to shift in a pretty big way. I have been trying to embrace it and prepare for it, trying to just hold on and figure things out bit by bit. But all in one little moment today, it felt like too much. And I whispered with empty breath as I caved, I wish my Mom were here.
Not because she could right the world for me. Not because she could find me a job, or help point me in the right direction, or we would have a place to go “home” to.
Just because she would hold my hand and feel this with me, and I would feel lighter because she had absorbed some of my worry. She was magic, like that. Just speaking out a problem and knowing she was there was enough for me. It is an amazing thing to be so loved that you know you are never walking into a scary situation alone. To know that someone loves you and is fighting for you and believes in your decisions and knows you have what it takes to figure things out when they are so murky, there aren't words to put to that.
She isn’t here, though. She hasn’t been for a long time. And yet, here I am, still. Plenty of hard spots, lots of difficult choices, some pretty dark days, and I am still here. Everything has worked out as it should. Dark days gave way to light and worry and upset turned into joy, a joy that is even more beautiful because it didn’t come cheap.
She isn’t here, but she is. All the things she taught me, all the things I saw her do, how she cared so selflessly for her children, her husband, how she gave of herself and tried to create good for other people, how she worked her behind off and never gave up……I saw her do all that. I watched her make a difference. She struggled, too. It didn’t come easy. It’s not like it was all smiles and hugs and laughter. She experienced loss and hurt and wasn’t always treated fairly and was sometimes put in very difficult situations. But despite all of that, her life was filled with love and kindness and generosity and hard work and compassion. And even though she isn’t physically here, maybe in some ways, she still is. Because I am a part of her. I have more than her curls, the shape of her nose, the depth of her laugh— I am made of the other stuff, too. The amazing stuff. I am her daughter. And in these moments when it feels like the walls of responsibility and the unknown and the weight of determining the right path are closing in tighter around me and I whisper softly “I wish my Mom were here”, maybe I need to take a deep breath and clear my mind enough to remember that a part of her never left.