And it was good. And it was...complicated.
And it was hard.
Naturally, I tell myself. How could it not be? She's not here. The person who bore me, who knew my birth, who brought me into this world wasn't here for this day. This was an anniversary I shared with her and today I celebrated it without her. And now I always will.
by the bay on a June afternoon
The day before she died, the day the surgeon overseeing her care in the ICU delivered the astonishing news that she was suffering not one but two cancers – in addition to the pneumonia that had landed her in the ICU – I went to the dentist. My dentist of about 15 years had a daughter who was a sunny, glorious, incarnate smile of a dancer at the studio and company where I danced, until she was taken from us in a car crash in 2006. Nine years after her death – to the day – I was sitting in her mother's office getting my teeth cleaned when my phone chimed, my stepfather texting me to tell me the surgeon really wanted to meet with the family after lunch. And I knew: nothing good would come from that meeting. Nothing.Visits to the dentist will forever be emotionally conflicted for me, now, a source of remembrance of these untimely losses, but also a point of connection.
connecting over the sea: a received envelope of little gifts
Leaving we passed Laura's photo, her story hung on the wall so incongruously in a dentist's clinic and I touched the wall beneath, brushing it with my fingertips in my passing, her smile shining out of greyscale newsprint. And my eyes filled. Because the loss is great and the voids left behind cannot be filled. That is the wound and the beauty of their legacy.
It is a legacy that endures. It lives on in the people left behind, in the people who remember, who carry on bearing within them a piece of the shining star that was that soul. The power – the value – of memory, of remembrance – cannot be overstated. It is why I record, the genesis of the drive to write and memorialize for posterity: to externalize that memory so that it will not die with me, as so much of my mother's memory died with her.
But I remember her.
birthday pointe shoes
She never described to me how she felt when she danced, only that she stopped when the pain became too great to be suffered. I do know that she danced in pain for a long time before retiring, so much was her joy in that movement. And I cherish her humble pride in recounting that her Nutcracker, with her classmates, received an acclaiming review. “Our fight scene was livelier than the professionals'.”
Art is my therapy. Finding my voice – truly – in my 20th year pulled me through depression and self-injury. Some fifteen years later, standing – often with tears streaming down my face – in the organ loft on Sunday mornings singing out anthems and hymns (oh, how the hymns destroy and heal me) has kept me on my feet through these shifting sands of loss and grief, mourning and existential confusion. And so, after a solid year of encouragement from the woman who runs the studio where my daughters dance – a dancer, teacher, friend and sage – I put the shoes back on. And last week, three months after I returned to the floor, my little family took me to the west end and I bought my first pair of pointe shoes. It seemed a ludicrous dream, that I could ever get on pointe at my age. I had abandoned the thought, until, in one of my earliest classes this spring, my teacher looked at me and said “I'm back on pointe: if you want...?” And so I have them. My shiny pink satin dreams. They'll hurt, and they'll blister, and my feet will be tortured, but no longer will I think “If only...” Because I will have.
I wish I could share this with her, wish I could tell her. Instead, it is a touchstone, a point of connection I have to carry me through, to keep her with me. I dance, and in some moments I am distracted and in others I can think of nothing but her. I don't dance so well, then, but I stumble on, losing my balance and losing my way until I recall myself and pull in, stretch out, take right steps. It's like living. Looking ever backward I lose my way but looking ahead, pushing myself through those motions I move onward, ever onward. As she would have me do.
I am learning that life after is emotionally fraught. There is an inordinate amount of inner conflict. I have learned that to embrace the bittersweet is both healthy and helpful. Every reminder of loss, every moment of sorrow represents an instant in which she who is lost is again foremost in my mind. It hurts. It crushes. But there is joy in it as she is never gone entirely if she can be so easily recalled in a sight or sound, in a movement, in a visit. She is gone, but also present, hovering just outside my peripheral view.
By late afternoon there was a strawberry cake in my kitchen – awaiting dinner and the dear and thoughtful gifts from Jon and the girls – as well as a preoccupying feeling that I had neglected to do something important before I realized it was the phone call that never came. And as gutting as that was, there was something reassuringly familiar in it, as well. I have felt that hollow thud of realization innumerable times since January 10th, and I will feel it innumerable times more. This is a sensation I know. It is not a comfortable companion, but is a familiar one, it's presence a reminder.
That I remember her. I carry her within me.