I've written two obituaries, both for the people who gave me life, so it's always seemed fitting that I use whatever words I can to muddle together something that would celebrate their lives. Here's what they don't tell you: no words are good enough to do that. We can come close, of course, and the attempt is honorable and important, at least to me, but we don't ever get it quite right, and thank god for that, because how could a jumble of characters ever put a person's complex and beautiful life on paper completely?
It's been a week now since mom died, and I've been thinking about what I'd want to share of her since the moment it happened, because though they may be imperfect, words are my way of making it through the world, through grief, and really, through love.
Here's what I would tell you about my mother if you were sitting next to me: she was outrageously alive, even at the end when cancer was unforgiving, she was flawed and complicated, stubborn and unforgiving at times, mouthy and bold, but she was all these things with the heart of a self-aware, self-loving warrior. She was not afraid of the parts of her that weren't shiny and smooth, no, she took them and made them into the cape with which she flew through the world. She took on one challenge after the next, one project, then another, she learned new skills and tasks before we'd even considered waking up for breakfast, and she made darn sure that if you wanted or needed help to do the same, she would not only cheer you on, but she would herself be the wheelbarrow that hits you behind the knees, tumbling you in, and carrying you forward. She was the voice for those who could not or would not speak, the legs for those who could not or would not walk, and the spirit that refused to be shuttered, regardless of the changing, often tumultuous winds.
My mother would not have wanted me to come to you and tell some sappy, drippy diatribe that made her sound angelic, and in fact, I can hear her groaning even now, urging me to just tell the truth. She was a truth teller, and accepted no less from anyones else, and when I think about all those signs that urge us to live our best lives, I think that her unflinchingly honest approach to making her way through this world is the most accurate form of that phrase in action that I've ever seen. She gave, and was, her best at every moment, never hesitating, never waiting for someone else's approval to go on. My mother, my brave and beautiful mother, went on.
I've spent the week back home with family, crying, sharing stories, laughing unexpectedly, healing, doing the kind of grief work that tumbles you around like a rock in the river, slowly, slowly, slowly, smoothing out the edges that felt as if they'd always cut as sharp as they did the moment she left. When we tell her stories we find ourselves lost in the life of a true original, and I think, though none of us have said it out loud yet, it makes us all want to do a little better, to be a little bit more of who we are, who she loved; she made and makes us want to be...bigger.
Grief is not new to me, nor is the loss of a parent, but she was more than my mother, more than anyone's mother, or wife, or daughter, or aunt, or friend, she was a force to be reckoned with, a ray of light and a bolt of lightning all at the same time, and I will miss every piece of her.
The last time we were together she grew frustrated with me for being so agreeable, for being "fine" with so much, wishing I'd say what I wanted a little more, to, as she put it, fight for my life a little more. It wasn't the first time she'd asked me for this, it was one of the greatest ways we different, her too brave to ever not speak her mind, and me too concerned about others to really say what I wanted, or needed. I've been thinking about this because it might be the first and best way I can keep her close, and finally, finally, take on a little of her charge, to fight for my life just a little bit more with her spirit in my heart.
I'm so grateful for the support and care that'd been shown to me and my family these last few weeks, and really, these last few years as she fought. It's been such an incredible salve to our very tender hearts.