Today marks a decade since my mother was alive.
“I just can’t imagine how that feels,” people tell me. “I just can’t imagine how I’d cope.” They told me that on the day she died and they tell me that now. I don’t have the luxury of not being able to imagine. But, knowing that it was going to happen – and perhaps that is the faint positive of a long illness rather than a sudden death – I tried my best to prepare for it.
I was lucky that we essentially got to say our goodbyes. We got to make things right between us. And she was lucky that she was able to die at home, surrounded by love, and we were lucky to share that with her.
That doesn’t make everything okay. The lottery of illness is unfair and she still had a lot of living she wanted to do. And my family nowadays is small and broken and I don’t know if it can be repaired. But those of us who are still in contact with each other, we do our best.
She is with me when I try to be kind, despite my rage and hurt. She is with me when I bite my tongue and try to be patient. She is with me when I use her funny old phrases, talk to cats, or smile for a photograph. I see her in me, then.
I know that she was proud of me, despite the fact that I made a whole lot of choices she wasn’t thrilled about. I know that she believed I was fine; that, even though I was the youngest, she didn’t need to worry about me because I would always be okay. And I know that she was right about that.
Today I went to the Thai Buddhist temple and kneeled before a monk while he recited a prayer and sprinkled holy water. Even ten years on, it is not possible to avoid crying when I mark her birthday or anniversary. I wrote her a letter and then burned it. The flames took to it so quickly. I regretted that I was not fully present this time a year ago, when I went to light a candle in a church, because I was there with my ex who had just broken up with me and I could not concentrate, was struggling to process two kinds of grief at once. But I also knew she would understand. Of course she would understand. We had a bond.
I’m far away and I am carving out a life for myself in a place she’s never been to. I experiment with churches and temples and quiet spaces to myself, with candles and burning things. Today I think of us, ten years ago and before, at the beginning of this journey. There was always love. There will always be love.