“ One of my experiences in those first weeks – and I kept experiencing it to a diminishing degree through the ensuing months – was a feeling of being a smaller, lesser, more inconsequential person than I had been when she was alive. Her loss made me feel less substantial, or more naked. I had never recognized until then how she had amplified me, reflected me back and made me more believable to myself. That had developed so gradually through our years together that I had never noticed it, but when she was no longer there I suddenly felt – it’s hard to put into words – flimsy.” William Bridges, The Way of Transition” (Bridges is writing about the death of his wife, Mondi.)
My mother died at 4:20 on a Sunday morning in November. I was stroking her face and singing her a love song when she gently slipped away. It was though I had sung her to sleep, and for that comfort I will be eternally grateful.
My heart is too full of grief and love and regret and gratitude to make room for my brain to fully process this experience yet or to find the words to share with you what is running through my mind and body right now. What strikes me the most today is that while I have experienced the heavy heartedness of loss and grief before, never has my heart been this heavy, so leaden that I am absolutely exhausted carrying it around.
In Swamplands of the Soul: New Life in Dismal Places, James Hollis observes, “The word ‘grief’ derives from the Latin gravis, ‘to bear,’ and from which we get our word ‘gravity.’ To experience grief is not only to bear the heaviness of the condition but, again, to testify to depth as well.” The gravity of my grief leads me down into the depths of both my longing and my love. One moment I am strong; I am the comforter; the matriarch, and the next, I am weeping without warning — a motherless child, a woman underwater struggling for air.
Hollis also wrote, “When we lose a loved one, we need to grieve that loss and yet consciously value what we have internalized from that person. The parent who suffers the empty nest syndrome, for example, suffers less the loss of the child than the implicit identity which went with being that child’s parent. The energy invested in that role is now available for a different direction. So, we honor best those we have lost by making their contribution to our lives conscious, living with that value deliberately, and incorporating that value in the ongoing life enterprise. This is the proper conversion of inescapable loss into this evanescent life. Such conversion is not denial but transformation. Nothing which is internalized is ever lost. Even in loss, then, something soulful remains.”
I am Brenda Byram’s daughter and it suddenly occurs to me that perhaps part of the heaviness I am experiencing now is the weight of my inheritance, the riches that I carry forward in this life. My mother taught me so much about what it is to love, about how to listen deeply, to be generous, to recognize the beauty that exists within friends and strangers alike, to hear what was left unspoken, and how to make of myself a safe harbor that gently welcomes and provides shelter and sustenance.
While her childhood had been painful enough to break both of our hearts, and the canvas of her life contained a mad mix of both light and darkness, it was art at its finest – complex, authentic and beautiful. And I am still working through the vast array of lessons contained within the multitude of stories that made up my mother’s life and death.
Following her mother’s death Deborah Sumner wrote, “My fear is that I lost more than my mom; I lost an ally, a protector, a counselor, and a confidante. Even though she’s not physically here, she’s still a huge part of who I am. I have all her years of wisdom and advice to look back on and tap into when I need it, and that gives me strength to face my fear.”
Once I was asked to answer quickly and without thinking what I was good at, and I was startled by the immediacy and intensity of my response. I answered, “I am good at love.” It’s what my mother taught me how to do best – how to love. Thank you Mom. I love you now and always….