My father passed away six weeks ago.
The first time I typed out that sentence, I accidentally wrote, “My father passed away six years ago.” And if that isn’t telling, I don’t know what it is.
Anyway, while dealing with my own grief and of course everything else all other Americans are up against this unsettled spring (pandemic, social unrest, an upcoming economic depression, etc.), I’ve also been talking a lot more to my mother.
My parents had been married for nearly 50 years when Dad passed away. (Mom was sad they didn’t make that anniversary, but I told her she had my permission to round up.) They started dating in high school. The last time my mother was single, she was a child.
She has never cooked for just one person. Ever.
Despite our troubled history, I’m doing my best to support her. Because it’s what my father would have wanted. She doesn’t really know how to take care of herself in a lot of ways I take for granted. Because she never had to learn.
And now the bottom has fallen out.
She gets lonely in the evenings, so I call her to talk on the phone, keep her company. And it’s many a late night on the couch when she’ll spontaneously start texting me, and my husband will ask me what’s wrong because I’m typing furiously and have tears running down my face. Because I’m trying to support her through something bigger than me. And I’m not always sure what to say.
And goddamn, I miss him, too. And I’m still contending with a love that feels unrequited, even now that he’s gone. Because he was a very big part of my psyche, and I am almost certain I didn’t occupy much space in his, as the child who lived far away and was easily forgotten (the buffer zone was a great help in certain aspects). He had his marriage, four children, a fulfilling career, and so many interests.
I don’t know what to say when my mother despairs. I do my best, but I’m never quite sure it’s good enough.
And as I support her, I’m hit with my own fear-fantasies of being widowed myself.
Okay, Buddha. Okay, Queen.
I’m talking later with a friend who’s worried they’ll never find someone to be with, who thinks they’ll never have a long-term fulfilling relationship. I’m not so sure. Nothing’s guaranteed of course, but it takes only the slightest twist of fate to end up with something that exceeds your expectations.
That’s how it worked with Justin. I didn’t think I’d meet someone who is so much like me in all the important ways. (Fun fact: When he’s drunk, he acts exactly how I do when I’m sober, so it would appear that through a certain lens I’m basically him with less of a filter.)
Because as much as I kvetch sometimes, have my bratty moments, he really is perfect for me.
“It’s just hard…” I say to my friend. “It’s like… if you stay together, if things are secure and you manage to be with someone in the long haul, one of you has to deal with so much grief. And it’s kind of breaking my heart.”
“Yeah, yeah, attachment is the root of suffering,” I say.
“Okay, Buddha,” my friend interjects.
I laugh. “Zacly,” I say. “And yeah, yeah, grief is the sign of great love. The price you pay for it.” Or whatever the queen allegedly said.
“But it’s also just so damn sad,” I say. And mean it.
I know that when it comes to love, no matter what ,there’s sadness. Whether I’m one of the lucky or the unlucky, there’s sadness, if not now then eventually. Because you either go without happiness or that happiness ends. Or perhaps transforms into something else. Something you weren’t expecting.
I suspect it will be a long time before my mother’s former happiness can transform into something else. And that’s IF it’s going to.
But until then, I’ll be here, doing the work Dad would have wanted me to do.
It’s not the first time we’ve had our roles reversed, where I’ve been in the parent role, and she’s been the child.
Sometimes I wonder if that’s why I’ve never longed for children. Why I’ve never dreamt of being a parent. Perhaps I walked that path early and continue to walk it, even if my time as a parent looks a little different than what people normally envision.