I’m into a new phase. I’m past that early acute grief. It took over two months for the shock to wear off…. for my brain and my heart to know that my mom and uncle were dead. In that time, every day I was constantly bombarded with, “Mom and Uncle Rob are dead? Mom and Uncle Rob are dead!” I was constantly wondering how this could happen, why it would happen. Though, of course, no good answers ever came to me.
Those early months felt like a dark, weighted cloud was sitting on me, pushing me down. I was split in two. A part of me wanted to feel joy again, to get past the pain. An equally strong part of me never wanted to feel any happiness again, wanted to stay in that pain. Staying in that pain felt almost like a way to make this not real. Like I would wake up one day to find out this had all been a terrible nightmare.
The weight of that dark cloud made it feel like grief was happening to me. I felt so out of control. As the weight slowly lifted, I was able to see that allowing the weight to lift didn’t make this any less horrible, sad, or tragic. It didn’t make me miss my mom or uncle any less. It didn’t mean that I loved them any less. It did give me some breathing room. I no longer feel like grief is happening to me. Now I feel like an active participant in my grief. I’ve established a small sense of control in what still feels like a chaotic and unsafe world. I feel like I’ve gained control over my grief work, setting aside time each day to work through whatever my mind and heart needs me to.
Right now I have two ways of being: deeply sad, angry, or anxious, or, distracted from sadness, anger, or anxiety. I am able to take interest in things, but it’s active and tiring, and I have to pace myself. I still don’t feel real happiness or pure joy. I smile and I laugh, but it’s smiles and laughter that are fragile, the pain just under the surface and threatening to break through at any moment.
The lifting of the weight has started to bring my memory back. For three months the accident acted as a broken sieve, holding back memories that I desperately craved. I wondered if my memories would ever return, despite the assurance from my grief counsellor that they would. It felt like my memories were just another thing that the universe was taking without my permission. Perhaps our bodies are designed that way to protect us from the massive pain that we surely couldn’t endure all at once. In particular, my mind craved the memory of the last time I had seen my mom and uncle, just a week before the accident. Despite my efforts, that visit had become a blur and no details were within my reach. The details are starting to come back. Though not complete, I remember a lot about that last visit now.
It was Thanksgiving. Madeleine and I spent the afternoon sitting on the floor of my parents family room, making beaded necklaces and bracelets. The last gift Maddy would give my mom. After Maddy lost interest, she asked my mom to help her find specific beads, whatever her favourite of the moment, all of the butterflies or all of the hearts. My mom joked with me that she’d be finding beads under her furniture for months (without doubt, after every visit I would get a text from my mom about her decorative marbles Maddy loved to play with, and all of the bizarre places my mom was finding them).
Eric and my brother, Scotty, took Loki to the dog park. While they were out, Madeleine kept repeating to everyone, with incredible enthusiasm, “Welcome home!” Mom and I convinced Maddy that she should run to the door to say that to daddy and Uncle Scott when they got home. Alas, she forgot by the time they walked through the door.
We all sat together for dinner, dad taking one of his “table pictures”. Prior to the accident, my dad’s insistence on having the same photo at every family gathering was annoying. Today, I’m so happy we have that last photo together. I only wish my oldest sister and family were with us that weekend. After dinner, as usual, my family sat around the table chatting, nibbling on dessert and enjoying some drinks.
Eric and I decided it was time for us to leave. Maddy had had enough and it was starting to show. We started pulling our things together. I kept getting side tracked, and by the time we were walking out the door, I hadn’t even really said a proper goodbye, yelling to everyone that we were leaving because Maddy was grumpalicious (and I was halfway to grumpy pants). As I walked out the door, my Uncle Rob called to me. I remember turning to him and letting out a huge, “Ugh!” I then apologized and said Maddy was freaking out and I needed to leave. His response, so clear in my head now, “I just wanted to give you a hug goodbye.” I went back in and gave him a hug and kiss. I can’t remember if I hugged my mom. As I walked to the door, my Uncle said he’d email me to set up a weekend to visit, hopefully in two weeks if we were free. That visit still sits in my brain… the visit that never happened.
While we were driving home, I called my mom. Madeleine was in total panic that we’d left a bag of chocolate at the house. Maddy wanted us to turn the car around, but Grammy assured her that she would save it for our next visit. She promised she wouldn’t let Grandpa eat it. I told my mom that Madeleine was crying because she forgot to say “welcome home” to daddy and Uncle Scott. My mom responded, “Better hope she doesn’t remember that we didn’t make purple play doh!” Every visit home, Madeleine would tell my mom what colour play doh she wanted to make, and they would make it. Maddy began to equate a visit at Grammy’s house with helping Grammy make play doh, and helping Grammy make everyone banana strawberry smoothies. A week earlier, we had called to let Grammy know that we felt like purple play doh next week. Madeleine never brought up the purple play doh. I don’t remember how that phone call ended. I like to believe that I told my mom I loved her, like I often did when we would hang up. I can’t be sure though.
We got home that night tired, and a bit grumpy, but it felt like every other visit. It didn’t feel like the last one. There were no signs that this was it, that I would never see my mom or uncle alive again. I didn’t know that the next time I would see them, they wouldn’t really look like themselves, they wouldn’t be smiling and laughing. They wouldn’t tell me that they wanted to give me a hug goodbye. I didn’t know that that was my last chance for everything.