It has been slightly over a month since my mom passed away and it doesn't feel as if she's gone. I've written about the concept of "ambiguous loss", first introduced by Dr Pauline Boss. It is that kind of loss one experiences when someone is gone, but not gone or conversely here, but not here. An example of the former might include someone who disappears on a plane over the ocean, the latter could be someone with Alzheimer's. It is a loss unaccompanied by societal support of grieving.
So now I'm on the other side of this equation, unambiguous loss. I was with my mother as she took her last breath. I spoke about her at the funeral and have been the recipient of others' support. I must confess that it still feels quite ambiguous. Death is such an inconceivable concept to wrap our brains around, perhaps it just won't seem real until time has passed. I may need to go through a Thanksgiving without Mom at the table for reality to set in or perhaps that week that looms on my calendar, scheduled for disposing of my parents' belongings, the detritus of long lives. In the middle lives their negative space, the outline of their presence like the chalk figure at a crime scene. I've written of my mother's daily collaging, her cutting and pasting. It sits on her kitchen table undisturbed, cut out images waiting to be secured to the page in an unfinished collage. Neither my sister nor I can yet bring ourselves to dispose of it lest we lose the fragile sense of her presence that lives in that space.
With both parents gone, I've been thinking a lot about parent-child relationships, what we know of each other, or think we do. When my father passed, I was struck by how little I knew the man that the outside world knew. I wished I had known him in that way. I was also suddenly aware of our similarities. Much of my understanding came from the paper trail that he left. His meticulous nature, echoed my own or rather I suppose mine echoed his. There were many flashes of recognition. I was also struck by his understanding of me. I was surprised to see that he had named me as his executor when I was in my 20s, newly out of college with a social work degree. I had always assumed it was based on my later career in finance. He knew his children and their potential better than I realized.
It was different with my mother. We always understood each other. There was a similarity in our wiring when I was a child. An introspective nature, a love of books, a curiosity that was fed by a love of learning. We also shared a certain unease with the world, a shyness that friends now often fail to see in me. My mother saw it and recognized it as her own. She worked hard to not let it imprison me and to do that she had to work to not let her own nature imprison her. I was a child who was hard for her to raise because she had to try so hard to give me the courage she struggled with herself. Oddly my ace in the hole was my father's nature. He just plowed ahead and did what he wanted to do. I grew up witnessing that foreign quality and over time began to own it in myself. I am a mix of them both and that is a good thing. They tempered each other and now they temper me. I don't need to look far to see my parents. I wear them like a well-fitting suit.
There are differences as well. Some qualities I would do well to emulate. My mother was a much kinder person than I will ever be. I have my moments, but for her it was a fundamental part of her gentle nature. In yoga when we set an intention, I used to send her love and energy. Now I decide I will try to honor her with kindness. To find those opportunities in everyday life to reach out to another.
My parents live on in the temporary space of things, in the temporary space of me. It is what I do with their presence that matters now.