The last week or two, a sort of time warp has wrapped every moment in as intense a grief and dark a depression as just after my mother and sister-in-law died a year and two months ago. It’s as though some parts of my mind and body have moved through the pain while others held tight to it, numb and dumb. And those parts awaken unexpectedly. Like a foot that’s fallen asleep prickles, hobbles, and limps, my life gets derailed for a while. And these times feel impossible to overcome, impossible to handle, like they will never end. No energy. Needing people while simultaneously being overwhelmed by them. Mortality’s hair shirt hugging me, stabbing every second. My body’s twinges amplified, nervous system twanging with even small stresses (like driving in snow and ice).
Every writer must conquer some fear in facing the page. In these times, my hard-won, muscular writing moxie goes weak in the knees and faints at the sight of the mountain of pages of The Book I Am Finishing. Self-disdain descends on top of the pain, making the emotional toll of writing a memoir, of digging deeper, something only other people could accomplish. Though I have been writing through this derailment, it’s slowed to a trickle the last couple of days, and the night before last was the roughest one, an intense breakdown making finishing seem not only impossible but untenable.
But last night, things shifted to the better, from talking with my ten-year-old son.
He emailed me from his dad’s house, saying, “I miss Nana.” And I called and we chatted and cried together. I told him the story of the time my mom climbed the tree twice as high as her house and hid for hours. And he felt better and hung up.
He called again a little later, able to clarify how he was feeling. He felt overwhelmed with projects at school and being behind from sick and snow days, and then tonight he started missing Nana, feeling the lack of her more than usual. “It’s just too much, too much. I can’t take it, Mama.” So we talked about what he had to do, about how he’s capable of hard work. And I said, “Xavier, I’m going to tell you the same words Nana used to say to me about how to get through a lot of work.” And then it hit me.
I said, “Xavier, Nana is with us, right now.”
And I laughed, even as we both cried harder. It was so clear.
“My mom said this to me so many times, Xavier,” I said. “To do just a little, to face it for only a short while, and then, with a little accomplishment, finishing happens.” And I could hear her talking to me even as I spoke to him. “So here’s what we’re going to do tonight.” And we agreed that he would do homework and I would write until bedtime. We would work together though a few miles apart. “We’re following Nana’s orders, Xavier, honoring her by doing this.” And we cried a little more, then said our I-love-you’s and hung up.
His pain was real, his anguish true, no reason beyond grief to justify it. But it felt as though my mom was doing all she could to cut through the darkness to reach me. Xavier’s tender heart gave her a path.
She spoke to me by speaking through me. She is with us. And I can navigate the darkness and the task in front of me. I can climb the mountain of finishing the book. I was even able to talk about it, in this post, to you…writing again, finally. And it is with her presence, not in spite of her absence.
I could refer to quantum physics at this point, reassuring you that your loved ones who have gone on are still here because light never ends, the photons that bounced off and through them are still going, how knowing that it’s measurable, not only metaphorical. But all I hope is to remind you of their presence in you, small as a smile, deep as a dream, great as a goal. Presence is more powerful than absence. She spoke to me by speaking through me.