time goes by

This picture was taken the day my mom turned 75. That was seven and a half years ago now.

Four years ago this afternoon, we sat together – my mom and dad and sister and I – in a puke-coloured room in the cancer centre as the doctor delivered the news that her cancer had returned and the options were bleak.

It’s true that these things play out in slow motion. The room sort of felt like it had a slow leak in it and then, suddenly, all the air was gone.

As I walked along the salty sidewalk on my way back to the car, I happened across a feather. It floated just ahead of me, dancing and tumbling across the asphalt on an invisible breeze before disappearing into the snow. Feathers make me think the angels are near.

Right then, the tears fell like raindrops, dripping off my chin and getting caught on my knit scarf before melting into it. I climbed into the chill of my Jeep and finally bowed to the grief that had moaned inside of me those last 11 years since her original diagnosis.

But this time, I cried for the long run she had. For the privilege of more time. For all the things we’d done over those extra years, and for those we hadn’t — and those we wouldn’t. The tears came in sheets for things said and unsaid, seen and unseen. For her fighting spirit and the pain she had endured just to stay with us longer. For the unknown number of days we had left, each far too precious little for my liking. For everything she had been to me for my whole life. And for my dad, who had suffered along with her, in his own quiet way.

I cried til I felt like I didn’t have any bones left to hold me up. And then I went home.

I was afraid that day. Afraid of whatever was coming — ending or beginning. But I’d been afraid of lots of things before and done them anyway. Because my mother taught me that courage is just fear walking.

It’s so hard to fathom that it’s been nearly four years since we last saw her or heard her voice. But she still shows up sometimes. In the aisles of stores we once went to together. In a whiff of perfume. In this streak of grey hair that’s the same as how she went grey. That summer day we bought my daughter’s wedding dress.

Unfortunately, you can’t live your life skipping the awful parts. You have to find a way to go on loving this life, even when you have no stomach for it. When the things that you hold dear seem to be crumbling like burnt paper in your hands, your throat filled with the silt of it. We all somehow have to learn to accept life as a whole – with all of its rotten and beautiful parts – kind of like the world, or the people you love. And, in some weird turn of events, maybe one day you learn that the hardest things were actually what made it all worthwhile.

And you learn that you don’t get over losses like this one. You don’t move on. Or get back to normal. Instead, you integrate the loss as part of who you become afterwards.

You are forever altered by the loss. As you are by the love.

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