Six years ago tonight I laid down next to you for the last time. There are more lasts than firsts, it seems, with you, Donna. That compounds my sadness around your death. I am still learning about grief and each year, each birthday and anniversary, feels a bit different.
The deep sadness over your death didn’t hit until just a few hours ago. I was alone in the car, driving, off to meet a friend for coffee and talk about writing. The tears finally found me. I was wondering when they would, and there they were. I fought them back until the drive home when I had no more reason to fight them off.
I surrender. For now, in the quiet of the house, typing these words in the bed where six years ago tonight you breathed your last breath, I grieve unapologetically. I cry the tears, I feel the feelings. I miss you and I still struggle trying to remember the time with you, trying to conceive of a life without you.
You made me a mom, my girl. You teach me, still, every day. I try so hard to be worthy of you. Some days I nail it, other days I fail terribly. Six years is a long time. My heart is full with your absence. The love I have for you remains even though the memories of you fade.
The specifics of you, Donna, are fainter, fuzzier, like a Monet painting. I ache for the clarity of you that I will never have again. I must make do with the memories, even as they get further away with each passing day. I hear your brother breathing heavily on the baby monitor and it reminds me of your last days, how your little lungs, laced with cancer, labored to fill and empty, fill and empty, fill and empty.
My life is full and empty at the same time. The days are busy with your brothers, but always, whether in the forefront or the background, you are there, guiding me, chiding me to be better, kinder, more patient, more loving, more giving. I am grateful to you for that. Without you, I fear I would fail.
One day last week a mom remarked how lucky I was not to have to worry about raising a girl, the idea being, I think, that boys are easier. I smiled and didn’t say a word. I know that I had a girl, once upon a time. She was you. Her words unintentionally cut like a knife, ripping off the scab I work so hard to maintain that keeps the grief in check.
Some days I want to scream. Some days I want to hide. Some days I can’t get enough of this beautiful, wondrous world we got to share with you for four years. Some days I think I can’t possibly bear another moment playing the part of a busy mom of two active boys.
And then I breathe, and think of you, and do as I always did with you — find my strength in your example.
You have been gone longer than you were here with us. How is that possible? I think it must be related to that new math that your brother brings home that I don’t quite understand. No matter what angle I try and approach it, it doesn’t make sense, it is counterintuitive to every rule I know to be true. Just like your loss, your absence.
And again, I breathe, and think of you.
While the specifics are not as clear, and they continue to fade as time passes, you are, gratefully, still a part of me. You will, I hope, always be there, a part of my maternal DNA.
I miss you, girl. Six years is a long time to feel your absence. But every day, even with empty arms that ache, my heart is full.