There was a time that I wondered, “is my identity forever going to be defined by our tragic loss?” Here we are, over five years since Maya left us, and I am answering my own question. Simply put, yes. With time, my relationship to being the mom of our precious teenage daughter, Maya, who took her life has shifted.
My pain is still deep. With each passing day, I continue to learn how to live with pain. Edges of my shattered heart pieces feel a little less jagged most of the time. Then there are moments that I get slammed. My analogy of being hit by a tidal wave is the closest I can come to the experience. I get pulled under and the current is so strong that I wonder if I will ever make it up for air. I feel as if I am drowning in an ocean of grief. Time has given me the gift of knowing that if I allow myself to go under without fighting it, I will survive. It is a wonder. Years ago, I could not imagine living for another day. I have survived many moments of this form of grief; remarkably I can find joy and gratitude.
There is no planning for when the tidal waves come. I have learned of patterns that I experience. Birthdays, Mother’s Day, other holidays and October 2, are so charged. Somehow, my mind/heart/body experiences something different. I don’t always get hit on these particular days. It is during the days leading up to these dates on the calendar. Somehow, the internal flood gate opens up in anticipation of a date. Still, there is no planning. I had loved the book, “A Wrinkle in Time“and read it to all of our children as well as others. There was a term, “tesseract”. As I recall, this was when time itself could be folded or wrinkled; one could jump from one part of time to another. My wish is that I could jump over these dates and the days leading up to them.
Just last week, I got hit. I wasn’t aware or prepared as I navigated new waters. Over the years, we have attended a few small family gatherings (Thanksgivings, Seders), but this was our first major family celebration. We flew to Oregon to witness and celebrate the wedding of our nephew, Noah. The last wedding our extended family celebrated was that of Anders and Sasha, Maya’s sister. Maya was there. I see her so vividly, with such beauty and ecstasy. The ceremony and reception of Noah’s marriage to Ashlyn was full of such joy. Then the moment of taking a photo of “all of the cousins” came. Wait! They are not “all” here! Do we hold a place for Maya? Do we honor her by naming her? Would we be bringing everyone’s mood down? How do we recognize that as our family is growing, there remains a hole? I do not want to skip over this. I feel as if not acknowledging this emptiness is not being true to my experience, and our collective loss. Do I hold this feeling quietly or share with others? I continue to work on balancing my grief with gratitude. Do others know this dance? Do I take care of them, or are they responsible for themselves? Are we all tip toeing as we all experience this? Like so many other moments that have brought me to this day, I realize that there is no manual. It is up to us to create our own manual.
After the event, Sasha, Mathew and I had the opportunity to share these sentiments with one another. I was comforted in knowing that I am not alone. There will be other occasions like this. We will find a way to be true to ourselves, honor the grief, feel the gratitude and joy and recognize Maya.
The, “yes” that I mentioned above, I now embrace. After all, we are all defined by the stories of our lives. I am stretching in all different ways. I am learning that I am still mothering my daughter and mothering a part of me, as Maya is a part of me. I can weep, I can climb mountains, I can fall and I can dance. Yes, I can dance at our nephew’s wedding.