Would my life have been different if my mother had lived beyond my 14th year? She was my universe, and I revolved around her like a planet orbiting the sun. It was safe and predictable, and I knew where I belonged.
My mother died suddenly, after a five year illness that was kept secret from me. At the time, all I could feel was shock and disbelief. I no longer knew who I was, what was real or who I could trust. So I looked for people, performance and academic achievement, to reassure myself that I had a right to keep living while she could not.
My grief was so deeply embedded that I couldn’t shake it loose. So I shut it down and kept it inside. I developed a polished “false self” that brought me external success, but internal emptiness. Because she wasn’t there to cheer me on, I never felt good enough. As Maya Angelou said, “I was reduced to the unutterable ignorance of dark, cold caves.”
I made it through college and even started grad school, still trying to find my place in the world. When I got married at 23, I started to figure it out. My career took off and I had two beautiful kids. But I hadn’t dealt with my grief, so my default mode was to avoid getting too close. We inevitably divorced and I vowed to learn from my mistakes.
And then I met Rex. I was 39 and he was an artist–a deep creative soul who allowed me to be honest, to take down the façade and be authentic. And he thought I was wonderful. He thought I was the smartest person he ever knew, the most talented, and with him by my side I was also the most loved. Yes, he was troubled, and not an easy man to be with, but I loved him. I loved him so much that I almost lost myself in the process. He died 2 years ago, and I still can’t always find myself without him.
Rex, I visited you at the cemetery Tuesday morning. As I drove through the gates a familiar calmness swept over me, not unlike the feeling of coming home. The grounds are lush with green rolling hills and tall leafy trees. How can a place that is so beautiful hold so much grief? I drive to your spot and grab the burgundy towels that I brought from home. I spread them out like a blanket, softening the blow of the hard, rocky ground.
As I sit facing your gravestone, I notice that dirt has accumulated between the raised letters of your name. Why isn’t there more grass close to the stone to absorb the water from the sprinklers? You’re in the shade, so the surrounding dirt turns to mud and never has the sun to harden it. Damn, that makes me mad! I pour out some water from my bottle and start scrubbing with one of my towels to clean it up. Have I neglected you by not coming here more often? Do you miss me my love, or has your spirit long flown away to be with the angels?
I lay down on top of the earth that holds your remains, where someday I too will be buried. I feel your presence so deeply; you are embracing me from below. It reminds me of the many times we held onto each other in bed. “What happens when you die?” I’d often ask you. “Oh darlin’,” you’d reply. “We will fly through eternity, untethered by appetite or earthly restraints. We’ll be together in a place where there’s no judgement, no need to impress, just acceptance, freedom and love.”
You are in my heart as I yearn for that freedom to soar. I sit up and search for the stone I brought from home. “Here’s a special one from Hart mountain, your favorite place on earth. I’ve cut it open and polished it, so the colorful pattern can shine with your brilliance.” I place it on your now clean gravestone and dig up 2 more with my fingertips. The stones are a symbol of permanence; unlike flowers, they will never die. I’m counting on that, Rex. Please wait for me, so we can share your dream of the everlasting.
I hope my mother has found the soul of my dear husband. He’s not who she would have imagined for me, but he was good and he loved me beyond anything I ever thought possible. I want to be with him NOW. Some days that’s all I can think about, just being together in another dimension.
My dearest Rex, losing you has cracked me open in unexpected ways. I’ve faced the unimaginable and instead of destroying me, I am still in one piece. When great souls die there is grief and loss, but there is also hope. Besides getting stronger, I am helping others to cope with their grief. Try not to worry about me, Mother. I am being sheltered by Rex’s love. He’s helping me release the darkness and ease through the narrow opening towards wisdom and light.
Sydell Weiner, July 21, 2018
Inspired by Maya Angelou’s, “When Great Trees Fall.”