Last week was a hard grief week. It marked the one-year anniversary of Mom breaking her arm and moving to an assisted living facility.
The day she moved, we got her settled by mid-afternoon, where she enjoyed ginger ale and an egg salad sandwich at the facility’s daily afternoon social. I documented the day with photos, like a proud parent whose child is at their first day of school.
Fred and I enjoyed a slow dinner with her; she marveled over the desserts—her favorite course.
That night, we returned to her condo to pick up the last of her things she’d need immediately. I stood at entrance and cried. The room was not warmly lit, as it had been all those years when we’d watch TV and chat during my sleepovers. All that made the space hers had evaporated.
My brother and I reflected on the move-in when we spoke on the phone last week.
“It was supposed be a new beginning for her,” I said.
“It was,” he offered, “It was the start of her new beginning.”
Last January, I knew she would not likely live to see 2018, but I’d hoped a change of environment would prove me wrong. I wanted her to embrace assisted living as a fresh start: new friends, activities, community, and excitement. Instead, the change twisted her into a withdrawn and tired state.
Grief is triggered by a remembrance of these kinds of days. It’s not necessarily the loved one’s birthdays or anniversaries, but the seemingly plain dates that plot our lives in one direction or another.
Writing Born Dying mid-grief means that I am forced to confront this kind of loss calendar. There’s no hiding—even in the days and weeks when I feel paralyzed. Yes, grief is fluid—some days are lighter than others—but diving into those red-circled days helps me wrestle with the reality of deep loss. In turn, I hope my wrestling can be meaningful and useful for others.
I meet with a hospice grief counselor every two weeks. She and the book-writing keep me on target. On my toughest days, I hug Mom’s ocean sunset cremation scatter box tightly and tell her everything I’m feeling. It’s ridiculous, but healing. That’s the thing about grief: even the most absurd of rituals is comforting—because each journey is unique.
“You got your new beginning,” I tell her as I hold the scatter box. “It’s just different from what I expected.”