Friday was my Mom’s birthday. The first birthday we haven’t spent together and also the first birthday since she passed away. It rained a lot here and it was, without doubt, the hardest day I have had since she left us. Way harder than Christmas.
Grief Finds You in the Card Aisle
One week ago I was standing in the grocery store when it hit me. I stopped to buy a card for my niece’s birthday and then I realized the date. Stupefied and frozen, I stood there. Paralysis at Food Basics. Grief starts somewhere near your stomach and curls up around your heart squeezing so hard that your muscles are lead.
It comes at you like a ball hurled angrily through the air. That schoolyard game of dodgeball when you are distracted and a classmate catches you square in the side of the jaw. Sucker punched. She doesn’t get birthday cards this year, I thought. She doesn’t get to buy them for my brother’s kids, or for my girls. How unfair for everyone. For her, for them, for me, for my kids. I bit my cheek so hard I tasted blood and swore inside my head like a sailor. It’s a trick I do so I don’t cry in public. A crying lady in the card aisle of Food Basics is creepy and sad.
Oh my God, she loved cards, I thought. We were a Hallmark and Carlton Cards family. I kept a box with all the cards she gave me over the years. Every single time I see them or read them I realize how deep and constant her love for me, her daughter. Unconditional love feels like that.
OH But I miss a lot about her. I miss buying her a present, although I never knew what to get. In the last few years we realized tickets for skating always worked. The last year we bought her a birthday present it was tickets to a beautiful skating event at Budweiser Gardens. She told me: “hold onto the tickets so I don’t lose them.” The month before the show she asked a dozen times if it was time yet. “Don’t forget,” she warned. “Don’t let me forget.”
I miss taking her to those events. I miss her phone calls and the way she called both of her kids: Love. That was ours. Hugs, how I miss her hugs, her pride, her eyes, her smile. In the last two years she visited often. I miss how it felt to hold her arthritic hand loosely as I guided her into a theatre to watch her granddaughter sing. When I close my eyes I can still remember how it felt in mine.
Shopping, Chocolate and other Triggers
Sears – how I miss taking her there. Sears was her favourite store. I miss driving her to get her hair set, and permed and I miss the hairdresser, a kind woman who called her Norma and went at the right speed explaining everything patiently. I miss the routine of it all and the appreciation after. The window shopping. Chocolate cake makes me miss her. It reminds me of all those times baking her a cake and the number of times she requested chocolate.
And all of it comes rushing at me in the card aisle. Finally, I miss her telling me how they celebrated all the March birthdays in her retirement home.
Before we moved I found a bag of her scarves. Ainsley and I opened it and out wafted that scent, the perfume and baby power so familiar. Her. Perfectly preserved. The bag moved with us. It hangs in my closet and we visit sometimes to check if her scent is still there.
I feel her sometimes still nearby guiding us, supporting us and even just saying hello. The day we moved into our new home there was a magical heart on the rooftop of the neighbour’s house, written in the snow, and my daughter yelled to me: “Look, Mom, it’s grandma.”
Every rainbow we spy my kids say the same thing. Sometimes I take comfort in telling my kids: Your grandma would be so proud of you grading to black belt/ performing/getting an award at school. My youngest daughter occasionally says – sometimes when I think what I should do at school I ask myself what would Grandma do and it helps. She has had an amazing year at school. That’s no accident.
The First Days After the Funeral
Days get longer and life is faster each year, sometimes each week. Those first weeks after her death were filled with so much activity. Empty the retirement home room. Plan funeral. Pick her clothes. Sign papers. Attend funeral. Thank everyone. Pay bills. Thank everyone. Lawyers. Forms. Visit the cemetery and choose the saddest gift ever. Decide what to do with the furniture stacked inside my garage. Sell a few things, donate others. Sort, pack away, stop and sniff the clothing. Cry. Explain all of this to my girls. Discuss why sad things happen. Try to make the words take the right shape for an eight-year-old. Hug my girls every time they cried and assure them it was okay. Move forward. Breathe.
Time Moves Quickly Even Through Grief
Time marches fast and you think it’s been the longest time since I have felt any of that. Is it slipping, fading? You permit your heart to ask – is she okay? Is she somewhere being sad missing us. Is she worried? Hurt? You are a child again wishing for a dream of that toy you covet more than anything. The thing that makes your heart light and brave and bright. You will it to appear in your dreams so you hold it close, hug it.
And Then it Finds You in the Card Aisle
Then you hope so hard for a sign in the card aisle of the grocery store and close your eyes. Make a wish. You whisper Happy Birthday Mom! Hope she hears it, then you pay for the groceries and leave.