April 3, 2013

Her Suitcase (written yesterday)

Me and my siblings sorting through Mom's things before the funeral

None of this makes sense...trying to rescue her from among the filth. Her helmet, her make up, her sobriety chip, her grocery list. None of the clothes smell like her. Everything worth saving fits in one carry-on suitcase. Is this all that's left of her life?

 - from my journal after collecting her belongings-

And so it happened that everything in that suitcase became a representation of her. A symbol of my loss. A reminder of her suicide. For the last year I let a simple piece of luggage become a tomb of sorts. Stuffed full of anything I had thought to grab from her hotel room that night, it was a chaotic jumble of painful memories that haunted my closet.

Like my thoughts and feelings, her suitcase is more organized than it was last year. I can go through it without falling into the darkest of pits - though many things do still bring me to tears.

Today, on the anniversary of her passing, I looked through those few belongings again and had a number of different reactions:

I felt grateful to her for writing my birth story.

I felt angry as I witnessed her last writings disentigrate into meaningless babble. So angry that mental illness took her from me.

I felt incredibly sad to read the list of things she wanted for her life - an ambitious list written just weeks before her death.

I felt loved and absolutely torn apart to read the wishes my 16 year old mother wrote for my own life. She wished for me a life of love and abundance. She said that she enjoyed carrying me for nine months and that she would enjoy loving me for the rest of my life.

Those words stuck in my gut today.

Today I decided to move my baby book from her suitcase into my own hope chest. Decided to work some of the clothing items she had purchased for the girls into their rotation. Decided to throw away some of her well meaning gifts that I knew we would never use. I snuggled her girlhood bunny and listened to her voice in a book she recorded for Eleanor.

Today I hugged a suitcase and wailed against the heavens that there wasn't more of her left for me.

Today I stood up to that shrine and began to take it apart.

Just like this grief, her life, and her death - I'm learning to unpack it a bit at a time. I'm learning how to work pieces of it into my life instead of keeping it sealed in the closet forever.

Today I am grateful that I don't hate that suitcase as fiercely as I did one year ago.
I'm grateful to feel my heart healing, in the tiniest and most significant ways.
And that's what I thought about today.

April 1, 2013

Thinking Back

Tonight I am remembering where I was a year ago.
(And the thoughts are not easily expressed, but here they are anyway)

Ft. Tryon was awakening to spring with cheerful daffodils and the tiniest buds on the trees. Ellie collected eggs in my purse and greeted the Easter Bunny with gusto. I held our new daughter on my chest while our slightly older one hid under the table and opened her eggs in secret, eager for the candy inside. We were on an outing as a family of four - celebrating with friends and neighbors the newness of spring and the upcoming Easter holiday. Feeling good just to be together.

I look at the girl in these photos - a mother of two, yes, but still just a girl of 25. I see her and think, "She was so happy. And tired. And blissfully unaware of what was about to happen."  

Is that why it happened? Because I let my guard down? Because I was enjoying my life? Should I have known that innocence like that can never last?

Of course not. But those are the questions I have when I see these photos.

Worn out from my newborn baby, I hadn't yet known the exhaustion of grief.

Still changing and adjusting to our new life, about to be knocked to the ground with the hardest news.

I've looked at these pictures a lot in the last year. There I was, the day before my world came crashing down.
 Those beautiful cheeks, that cheesy grin - the moment I took this photograph I thought of my mom, knew how much she would love it when I sent it to her.
My heart was so full on this day. And the next day it was broken. These photos still leave me with a strange mix of emotions: A longing for the days before pain was visible in my eyes, sadness for the girl who doesn't know what is to come, anger for the babes that would witness their mother's consuming grief. There is also a sense of wisdom and peace. A feeling that I am so far removed from the girl in these photos. So changed. And that isn't such a bad thing. Growth means change.

Tomorrow marks a year since Mom died.

I've had a year to live this new version of my life. I've had one year to think about the effects that her life and death have had on me. At this point in the journey I think I will pause and try to write a bit about what it all has meant to me thus far. Not to memorialize her, per se, but to check in with where I am. To write a bit about the things I've been avoiding writing about for the last months. To try to organize some of my thoughts - while understanding that none of them are finished. The emotions are still shifting and probably always will.

One year is not the end of my journey, but it does seem a good time to look back and reflect.