In my twenties, I decided I didn’t believe in an afterlife.
In my forties, I lost a parent.
I was taught early on that principles are only principles because you stick with them even when it’s hard. You’re anti-death penalty? That means you may find yourself fighting for the life of a rapist murderer. You’re pro-choice? You stand up for women who have had 5 abortions in 3 years, and you don’t ask them why. Love the first Amendment? Then you fight for the KKK’s right to march.
All of these examples are outliers of course, none are in any way representative of the bulk of what these principles protect. But protecting the outliers protects the center. So that’s what you do.
Losing a parent is an outlier, in this example.
The afterlife is so….prevalent. Omnipresent. “Look for signs from the Universe! She’s always with you.” “Happy Birthday to your Mama in Heaven!” “They are running that 5K beside you.” The super weird & creepy idea that you should be good, so you can be reunited in Heaven one day (conversely, don’t be bad, you’ll go to Hell and be alone forever). That’s a head trip.
Not believing in an afterlife, it seems, is pretty lonely.
Sometimes when I hike – often, actually, in a way that feels contrived by my brain or my heart or the aforementioned Universe – I see butterflies. And not just fleeting away out of the corner of my eye – they’ll loop around me twice, or follow me on the trial for a half mile. How does one NOT assign meaning to that? Butterflies were my Mom’s thing. Well, first they were my Aunt’s thing, and my mother took her passing very hard, and they became my Mom’s thing. Much like her things become my things. But…pictures of butterflies. Calendars. Little 3-D butterflies with one-sided tape for her bedroom walls. And now it seems they find me far more than they used to, and they like to stick around, and it’s weird.
Do I welcome them? My heart welcomes them as my mind rails against them. (Lois would know this, so if she did have a hand in it, touché Mom). Even that comment feels like…a dangerous slip into self-soothing at the cost of truth, at the cost of my soul that is me.
So…I’ve read all there is to read on Grief. I get it all…it’s like ocean waves, it’s a bottomless pit, it will always be there but it will change, it will lessen, it won’t lessen but it will become more bearable, you will grow, you will shrink, you will purchase luminaries and wear pink ribbons, you will HATE luminaries and pink ribbons, you will become more of a mom and less of a daughter, you will become less of a mom because you’re less of daughter. It’s all there.
I want Grief to be linear. My Dad is sick, turns out, same disease different place. And my mind wants to unpack, categorize, re-pack, and bury all the boxes of Grief for my mother. I need to make room, you see. For my boxes of Grief for my father. There’s no space here for both.
Maybe it’s like having babies. You have one, you think “I could never love another the way I love this one.” Then you have another baby and realize your folly. Maybe Grief is the same way. Maybe there’s an endless capacity for it. Maybe the reason your heart can grow enough Love for more babies is the same reason your heart can grow enough Grief for all that you’ve lost.
I don’t know yet, I don’t have to know yet. But I like my buried boxes, they’re tidy and out of the way.