My mom died. I feel like I have it branded across my face. The enormous fact of it covers me like a cloud. The hole she leaves is somewhat bigger than I expected. Most 30-somethings who lose a parent do not act as primary caregiver, cook, chauffeur, and entertainment for the last months or years of the parent’s life. It is more like losing a child or a spouse, someone who shares your home and your routines and whose absence you feel in a million everyday things. Even when my dad died suddenly, I left my life in Alabama to deal with it and then returned home afterwards, where my routines continued as they always had. His everyday life was not entangled with mine.
Most days, I’m okay. We’re okay. It’s a new normal, but logistically much simpler than the old normal. In the evenings, after we put Hazel to bed, we have a whole hour (or two!) to ourselves. Previously, we’d put Hazel to bed and then start mom’s evening routine, which took all the available time until we went to bed.
Our dog, Boots, died three days before mom. I still cannot muster the bandwidth to properly grieve that loss, but our new normal does not include feeding, medicating, cleaning up after, and letting the dog out.
Basically, I feel like I have so much free time I could seriously address world poverty. And then I feel crushed with guilt for feeling that way. And then I make plans to use my time, and feel better about having some purpose to my life.
And then I pick up the phone to call mom, or start to walk to the guest house to see if she needs anything from the grocery store, or think of something I’d like to ask her. I suddenly have 39834598798456 questions for her.
Oddly, going to church is the hardest thing I have to do every week. Both my church and mom’s church in Jacksonville have been incredibly kind to my family, providing meals and hugs and cards and kind words. My mom loved church, and her faith put mine to shame. I feel her absence most acutely during worship. I can’t get through a hymn – even ones I don’t like – without crying. And then I get embarrassed, and then I get sweaty. It’s awesome.
I have met people since she died, who have no idea about the journey I have just completed. A new woman cut my hair two weeks ago, and I struggled to make small talk without screaming MY MOM JUST DIED AND EVERYTHING IS WEIRD. I went out to lunch with some ladies I only know casually from the gym, and it never came up. I don’t want sympathy, but the fact of her death, and the road we took to get there, are a huge part of my identity right now. I don’t quite know who I am without the role of caregiver.
I am sure this will feel less weird with time. I will fill my time with new activities, or resume activities I have neglected for the last year. But now, in the early days of the new normal, I’m still getting my balance.