Next Monday will be the seven-month anniversary of my mother’s death. Strangely enough, it seems to me that even more time has passed since that day, and I have no idea why. I remember a dear older friend telling me many years ago about her own mother’s recent death–”It doesn’t matter how old you are,” she said, “when your mother dies, you feel like an orphan.” I was in my late twenties at the time but her words had a lasting effect on me. The prospect of either of my parents dying was safely in the future, but hearing this from someone considerably older than I was unsettling. I had expected that I would somehow be armed and ready to face my parents’ deaths by the time I’d reached my friend’s age.
My father died nine years ago, very suddenly but not entirely unexpectedly. He had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure the year before, and one morning in November, a week after his eightieth birthday, he collapsed at home. He was doing what he loved to do, puttering around the house with my mother nearby. He did not have an advance directive–the EMT’s were called and he was rushed to the hospital but I think he had died before they put him on the stretcher. Thank God. As incredible as his death was to me, I was deeply grateful that it had been sudden, that all the decisions had been taken out of our hands. My grief was low-keyed. Once the shock wore off I was left with the phantoms, some of them pleasant and some of them hollow.
And I still had my mother, so–at 46–I wasn’t an orphan yet.
Now I am, and I think I understand my friend’s long-ago words. I’ve lost the first love of my life. This is still way beyond my comprehension, and my grief is like curtains that blow open and then close with the draft, letting in just a little bit here and there. I’m not much of a crier, but every so often I startle myself with the reminder that my mother is no longer here and I feel very close to tears. That’s all I can say right now.