I recently learned there’s a five year grief timeline – a predictable set of stages one goes through after a loss. I don’t know the details other than around the five year mark you gain perspective on both the loss and the relationship you had with the person who is gone. You should be proud; I’m right on track. The five years since you left us have gone something like this.
Year One – Shock and the Business of Death. I didn’t realize how much being your caregiver dictated every aspect of my day-to-day life until you were suddenly and unexpectedly gone. Before I could adjust to the new normal, I first had to get through the business of death – funeral arrangements, legal this and legal that, and going through your things.
Year Two – Grief. The distractions of year one gave way to the pain of grief. Maybe I’m slow or maybe as a society we’ve got it all wrong. After the first year, even the most well-meaning people expect you’ve cried the tears and felt the sadness. To still be grieving or in my case to just begin grieving makes people uncomfortable. They start to worry you’re stuck and the unspoken message of “you should be over it by now” is clear. I quickly learned to smile nicely and assure everyone I was fine.
Year Three – The unfolding began. I don’t know how to explain this other than to say there were glimmers that I was being unleashed for something new. Somehow, your passing opened up new possibilities for me that I didn’t yet understand.
Year Four – Just as those glimmers were coming into focus my life fell apart. I’m so grateful you weren’t around for The Great Divide. You would have raged, and I would have felt it was my responsibility to keep you in check. But, to be sure, there were times I secretly wished you were here. You would have spoken and acted with open hostility – uncensored, in a way I couldn’t be. Primal. Sicilian. Even our sweet boy would often say, “If Maw-Maw was here. She’d…”
Year Five – Perspective. Around the four-and-a-half-year mark our story tumbled out of me, begging to be told. It’s still patiently sitting on the page. I know exactly how and where it wants to be heard, but I’m stuck, taunted by the whispers of, “Who do you think you are?” We both know the origin of that question, but I won’t spoil our story. Its time is coming.
Of the lifetime of memories, the one that comes to me most often is of us standing at your kitchen sink the night before you passed. Everything about that night was ordinary, yet different. We all had dinner together as usual, but at your house instead of mine and you cooked instead of me. As we were cleaning up, standing side-by-side at your sink, you turned and looked at me. I felt that look deep in my bones and five years on it’s still pulsing through me. It was the last time we saw each other.
Not long ago I shared that moment with my friend Tamara. You met her a few times. Has she found you yet? Did you know her family and Maw-Maw Ferrara were from the same little village in Sicily? Anyway, back to my story. I shared that moment with her and without hesitation, she said, “She was studying you, remembering your details. The angels knew it was time.”
I think she was right. You were studying me. Yes, for the eternal memory, but let’s be honest, you were also still trying to figure out what the heck I was all about. Mama, the two of us, we were the ultimate odd couple. Pairing us as mother and daughter was some kind of cosmic joke and we both got a good laugh from it all.
You were always baffled by my “being so serious all the time.” My favorite thing to do was surprise you with unexpected silliness like impromptu kitchen dance parties or goofy games with the kids. Do you remember the backyard Easter Olympics? You crushed it on the bucket game!
You and I both mistook my naturally reserved (cautious?) nature for being too serious. I now understand I need permission – in the form of a safe place – to relax, be playful and reveal my softer side. I really like that about myself. It’s like having an inner homing beacon. On the exceptional occasion I find myself in that safe place, the signal is unmistakable; I’ve found my people.
I used to think I didn’t get what I needed from you, and in some ways that’s true. But as I continue to evolve I’m starting to see a bigger truth. I got exactly what I needed to shape me into the person I am today. From our deficit I found abundance.
For that I am grateful.