Last year on the anniversary of my mother’s death, I wrote “The in-between day” about my grief and my perspective from the other side of that 365-day transitional time. This year I didn’t write anything.
February 28th came and went pretty much like a normal day. Late at night, when the clock neared 12:15 am on March 1st, I started to cry but said nothing, wrote nothing. I didn’t reach for Aubrey, I didn’t talk about it for an hour. I just sat silently, trying to feel my mother’s presence, trying to hear her voice. I couldn’t feel her and I heard no sounds that might have been a sign she was with me. I felt lonely.
Now as I begin my third year of grieving, my thoughts are pulled back to the cancer time. The diagnosis, the fear, the treatment, the hope, the reality and trying to figure out how to help Mom live and die in the way that was important to her. As I reflect on those events, the images in my mind are of the ocean.
The cancer time, from diagnosis to death, felt to me like being on a small fishing boat just floating in the middle of the water.
Unlike my sea-worthy mother, my stomach does flip flops on the ocean and it’s not a comfortable feeling for me. But without any motion sickness drugs, I had to find a way to relax into that rocking sensation and just stay on the boat deck and be present. Sometimes the ocean was choppy, the waves were high and threatening, and I felt like I would sink and drown. But I never did.
On good days, if I was present and I stayed on the boat, I could enjoy the sunset or notice how beautifully the lights reflected on the water. My family could talk about the day they saw the dolphin, or how amazing it felt to nap in the sun on the deck that one afternoon.
On the bad days, I rode out the storms that came and kept telling myself that no matter how bad it got, the boat would not sink, I would not die from crying, somehow my life would carry on.
Having someone you love be diagnosed with cancer feels frightening and out-of-control, and it is just that. The overwhelming grief and fear can throw your boat around on the sea and leave you bruised and battered.
The only thing you can really do is to hold on, remember you will not sink, and be present enough to experience the joys you’re not expecting to happen.
Because when you get to the third year of grieving, your boat ride may be the only part you can remember for a while.
And there is great reassurance in remembering that you did not miss the sunsets.