In case anyone was wondering, this whole grieving thing does get easier. Until suddenly it doesn't.
I should have seen what happened yesterday coming. Through the entire first week after Mom died, my sister and I searched for contact information for one of Mom's dear friends who we knew simply as "Donna." We could not remember a last name, but remembered that she had recently moved. We had both heard Mom say that their contact over the last couple of years, since Mom developed a boyfriend, had been limited to marathon phone conversations two or three times a year lasting upward of 3 hours. I hoped she read obituaries and would see the news of her friend that way, but after she didn't make an appearance at the funeral, I sort of forgot that we were supposed to be looking for her.
Turns out she found me.
While in the area for one of her foster kid's soccer games, she ran into a mutual acquaintance of my mother's. According to Donna, the conversation went like this:
"I've been trying to call Joan for months. I know she went to her boyfriend's a lot; did she move in with him? I really need to catch up with her."
"I don't know how to tell you this, but...Joan died in April."
And that's how someone who once called Mom her "Other Mother" found out she was gone.
Donna couldn't remember mine and my sister's married last names, either, but she found the obituary and did enough cyber-stalking to find me. So at 5:30pm yesterday I re-lived the pain of losing my mother all over again as someone she loved and who loved her had to hear it all from me for the first time.
Grief is a funny thing. Like all the oil that washed up in the Gulf oil spill, you might think you've got that mess all cleaned up, but then along comes a tropical storm and tar balls unearth themselves on your once-recovered beaches. Shit washes right back up on your shores, and you stand there, gritty and blackened, and realize the clean-up never, ever ends.
So many of the things Donna said to me over the phone took me right back to April 2nd, sitting in a quiet office in the hospice center, making phone calls to her closest family and friends before driving home and letting myself begin to grieve.
I loved her so much. I can't believe she's gone.
She was one of the most caring people I've ever known.
At least I know she's in a better place.
I'm sure you'll be fine. Joan always said you're the strong one.
A few minutes after we hung up, I didn't feel very strong. Jason came home, saw that I wasn't doing great, and offered to take me out for wings and beer.
"Good, because I don't think I can do this."
And by "this", I mostly meant the dinner I was half-heartedly starting to cook. But also "this" as in putting one foot in front of the other, keeping my chin up, and soldiering on. I'd been doing so well; for the last week or so, I've been feeling like maybe I turned a corner. Like I had moved from the darkest room of grieving into a place where I could see a little pre-dawn light in the eastern sky. Like maybe, just maybe, I could feel joy and hope and wholeness again. And yet some, if not all, of that progress came crashing down at my feet with one phone call. The person on the other end was living my mom's death right there in that moment; by proxy I was, too.
There will be other moments like this, I know. There's more tar beneath my feet, I can feel it. I will learn ways to cope over the years and as time goes on, maybe these storms won't make me feel quite so weathered and worn.
In the meantime, I guess Jason will just have to keep taking me out for beer and wings.