The date has been there in my head for weeks (months), approaching quietly, a little irksome reminder that it has now been two years since my mother died. The truth is, I keep thinking there is a certain way I should feel. The reality is, I haven't known what to expect and have been confused by feeling almost nothing as June 3rd draws nearer.
But it isn't nothing. It's fear. It's complacency. It's acceptance. It's a lingering sadness that it has been two years since I last spoke to her, and two years and two weeks since she last spoke to me. It's a mixture of so many different emotions and thoughts that I can't figure out what it is and it feels like a large wall in my way, which is being interpreted as nothing.
Even though she passed on June 3rd, it was June 2nd that I last saw her alive. We had been taking turns staying up all night with her for weeks, waiting for the last breath and constantly checking to see if she'd already taken it, hoping desperately for a rally that never happened with her, and that still brings grief and sadness over not getting that tiny blessing in her last days. On June 2nd, tension was high in our family. The longer she lived, the more terrible the situation felt, the more her upcoming death hung over every moment, every word and every thing we did. We worried that she was suffering and so wanted her to pass and told her, if she could hear us, that it was okay to go, but that very feeling is a terrible one that you don't overcome - even two years later.
That night, our dad insisted that the guys go home and sleep, that the girls go back to their childhood rooms and take a break from the all-nighters we'd been pulling. For the first night in weeks, we didn't fight it or feel guilty for doing it. We needed sleep. She'd held on this long, she'd hold on a few more hours.
Except she didn't. We don't know what time she passed. Her death certificate says it was around 9am, but what you learn when someone close to you dies is they don't put the actual time of death down on a death certificate, they put the time that death is declared by a medical professional. In her case, we waited until the family could all come back and spend some time with her before calling her hospice nurse later in the morning.
My dad woke me up around 3:30 or 4:00 am in a panic. He thought she might have died but he was too stressed to be able to know. We woke up my sister and ran down to the living room where she was, already gone. Dad was anxious and apologetic. He had fallen asleep from about midnight until a few minutes earlier, and when he woke up, she wasn't breathing. He didn't know when she had died, and he regretted falling asleep and not being with her when it happened. We'll never know how she died. If it was just one last small breath, if she struggled for awhile. We can never know. But what we do know is that she waited to go until everyone in the family was asleep, after weeks of keeping vigil. She would do that. She always was a very private person, and what could be more personal than your own death?
I think now about how to honor her best on the anniversary of her death. I don't know. I really don't. Flowers? I get flowers all the time because I think of and miss her so much. Do people even care anymore? Am I allowed to still be in mourning? Nobody ever knows what to say, and if you say something first, they get awkward. Sometimes you don't want others to be sorry for you; you only need a little acknowledgement. June 3rd is a difficult day. Every day is a difficult day, really. Everyone else moved on, but she never got to, and the close relationship I had with her became an untouchable and impossible to understand unknown.
There are things I want to say about her on June 3rd, but I struggle to know what it is I feel needs to be said. I struggle to understand my emotions. I miss her deeply and desperately. She was there, and then she wasn't there, and she never will be there again. How is that ever okay? And yet, here we are, two years later and life is normal but missing someone important.
The last few weeks she was here were hot in Kansas. It was May and early June, when the temperatures become uncomfortable, the bugs reappear in multitudes - the locusts were obnoxiously but nostalgically present two years ago - the plants are wilting under the sun, and everyone is locked away in their air conditioned homes, waiting for a break. That morning she died, the heat did break for a few hours as a thunderstorm threatened to roll in.
After strangers came to take her body away, I went back up to my old bedroom and lay there looking out the window, the world upside down from my vantage point. I pushed the window open, wanting to feel and smell the fresh air, finally cool that morning after days and days of sticky heat. Do you know what thoughts go through your head in the hours after your mother dies? The same thoughts that go through your head two years later. "Is she really gone? What does that even mean? How can she be gone? Where did she go? I'm never going to see her again. Ever. What do I do now? What are they doing to her body? Can she feel it? Don't be absurd, of course she can't. But how can we know? Does she know? Is it possible to know after death? I may not even see her in some sort of afterlife, because what happens when you die? That's it. That's final. Gone. Dead. But where is she? How could she have been here and then just not be here anymore? Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead."
A two year long morbidly repetitive conversation with yourself. There are no answers, so you keep spinning the thoughts on repeat.
There was something special about that morning though. I don't know why it was that morning. I don't believe in signs and I really don't believe dead people do things for us, but the atmosphere of the morning didn't go unnoticed as I lay there in my bed trying to process what I find two years later still can't be processed. The birds were chirping as the sky rumbled with a distant agitation and the leaves on the trees I had climbed as a child whipped around in a beautiful discomfort.