“I have completed earthly mothering, but I still have an intense mother-child relationship with my son.” -a mother’s quote from The Spiritual Lives of Bereaved Parents by Dr. Dennis Klass
Tomorrow marks one hundred days without Ana.
I’ve read three grief memoirs written by parents who lost children (in addition to Dr. Klass’s book about parental bereavement). I also listened to an audio-book written by a terminally ill brain surgeon – all since Ana died. Each of these books force people to look at death in a society that really, really doesn’t want to do that. Even the surgeon – a man who worked side by side with death – still grappled with the reality of his own mortality when he realized he was dying.
It’s been difficult to separate what I already know about death and dying (having watched Ana go through it) and what’s new for me. Sometimes I find myself nodding along with the texts, relieved to read words that capture exactly what I’m feeling. But sometimes…sometimes…I don’t recognize myself when I read about other people’s grief. Part of it is that everyone grieves differently. But, mostly, I think it’s impossible to accept reality 100% of the time–to think the awful words and know they’re true: I’m a grieving mother. My daughter is dead.
I read these books because I’m trying to understand where I fall within the arc of grief and what to expect in the next hundred days, and the next. Parents do go on. They begin to live again, often with newfound meaning in their lives. But I’ve also read (and heard) that the grief gets worse after the first three months. I’ve heard–over and over again–that the second year after a child dies is far worse than the first. One friend said to me, “People stopped asking about him after a year or so.”
Don’t stop asking me about Ana, okay? Not ever.
I picked the quote above because it made me profoundly sad, but also hopeful. The woman who wrote it was about five years along in her grieving process. She’d accepted that even though the days of parenting her child were done, she could still maintain a relationship with him. “I have completed earthly mothering,” she writes. Her words stopped me cold because they made me realize that I’m not ready to stop mothering Ana yet. I’m not ready!
She was only fifteen. I needed to see her reach sixteen. I needed to see her start her junior year of high school. I needed to take her out for lunch and shopping therapy when her first true love broke her heart. I needed to see her get better. I mothered her through cancer for nearly five years. How can I stop now? It’s why I keep drawing hearts on her chalkboard wall, and straightening the covers of her bed when the cats mess it up. It’s why I smile when I see a glimpse of her friends on Facebook–in their prom dresses, traveling to new places, getting older and closer to adulthood. Their faces are changing. I imagine Ana is with them sometimes, maybe she’s taking the picture. In those moments, I’m mothering her again, but then she’s gone in an instant.
There is a painful shift happening now. I’m mothering Ana as she was–my living child–and I’m mothering what Ana has become: light, energy, eternity, my child (gone) but with me always.
This duality is at the root of my deepest grief. I know that if I allow it to exist for too long, it will rip me in half. Letting go is so hard. Knowing that someday I might fully accept the words, “I have completed earthly mothering,” hurts my heart. It breaks me open. But I don’t have a choice. The process has already begun. A few weeks ago I ordered the memorial plaque that we’re going to install on an existing rock in Willow Kiln Park. It’s beautiful. I think Ana would’ve liked it.
What a relief to see her name spelled out again. It feels good to do this for her. It feels like I’m doing the right thing, working toward the goal of creating a spot where people can visit, look at Ana;s name, and feel her presence. The actual plaque was shipped yesterday and then we’ll pick a day for the three of us to visit the park, secure the plaque, and bury the box of items that our family members filled on the day of Ana’s memorial service. Doing this for Ana, and for the people who love her (myself included), is the beginning of my new relationship with her. It’s a bridge between earthly mothering and spiritual mothering. This is everything because it means I can keep mothering her after all.