The Surprise of What We Knew All Along

Oops.  I forgot to post last Friday.  I’ve cut down from every week to every-other-week, as some of readers may have noticed—but this is the first time since beginning this blog 18 months ago that I’ve completely forgotten.

Last Friday, October 26, marked the twelfth anniversary of my mother’s death.  She died at 11:35 a.m. on a Thursday, less than a month before “hanging chads” became front-page news and less than a year before my father almost boarded UAL flight 93 from Newark to SFO.  Events of enormous consequence.  Events that ushered in a new world.  I would never minimize the significance of Bush v Gore or of 9/11, but when I think about the changes since both milestones, I think as well about the differences of a world with a mother in it from a world without.

Twelve years is a long time, and a blink.   Plenty of time to adjust, but the enormity that stunned me on the day she died—a world without her in it seemed as alien as a sky without the moon—remains.  I’m used to it, and the implications still sneak up on me.

Such as:  I forgot to post to this blog last Friday.  I registered that twelve years had passed; I lit a candle to mark the occasion; I mentioned the anniversary to several people.  No big deal, and yet the biggest deal of all. Hardly earth shattering, my forgetting to post reminded me how grief never goes away.  It changes its stripes, but it never vanishes.

One evening soon after learning that Mom had stage IV lung cancer, I put broccoli on the stove for dinner.  I trimmed the woody stalks, cut the florets into roughly uniform size, poured them into the steamer basket, set it on the stove, turned on the flame, left the room.  About ten minutes later, I smelled something funny and went back to investigate.  I’d forgotten to add water to the pot.

Not long after, after a swim, I stood under the shower—the one along the wall where swimmers rinse before and after laps, the one in full view not only of anyone in the pool but of the lifeguard and the passers-by on the other side of the windows.  I let the warm water beat against my shoulders, cascade down my neck.  And then I did what felt completely natural—I was in the shower, after all:  I pulled the straps of my suit from my shoulders and started rolling off the wet Lycra.  I’d gotten as far as my waist when I realized what I was doing.  I don’t think anyone saw, but I got the message. Distraction lurks everywhere.  You are not yourself right now.

This is a long-winded way, perhaps, of explaining my absence from the blogsphere last Friday.  Some might say, an excuse.  My mom died twelve years ago.  Neither excuse nor explanation is necessary, of course—and neither brought me to the keyboard this morning, to post on a Monday.

I think of other recent out-of-the-ordinary events.  The wonderful yoga studio around the corner, closing.  A warm day at Stinson Beach in late October, complete with sightings of starfish, anemones, and nudists.  The Giants’ winning the World Series for the second time in three years (not to mention the fact that I recognize all the players and refer to them by nickname).  The fact that I just celebrated a year of marriage with the man I love, the man I’d thought at times I’d never meet and then—gloriously, blessedly—did.

I’ve long ago accepted the fact that I can’t share those, or other, events with my mother.  And that’s fine, really. But next time I tell myself that loss attenuates over time—which it does—I’ll remember the heel-of-the-hand-to-the-forehead realization that brought me to this topic at the keyboard this morning:  It’s always a big deal.

I’ll be back on track on Friday.  Or that’s the plan.

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About lindseycrittenden

Lindsey Crittenden is the author of two published books: THE WATER WILL HOLD YOU: A SKEPTIC LEARNS TO PRAY (Harmony Books, 2007) and THE VIEW FROM BELOW, a collection of short stories (Midlist Press, 1999). Her personal essays and articles – on topics such as prayer, the pitfalls of too much California sunshine, and visiting a group of lifers at San Quentin – have appeared in The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, Image, Real Simple, Bon Appétit, East Bay Express, Health, and Best American Spiritual Writing. Her fiction has won national awards and has appeared in Glimmer Train, Bellingham Review, Quarterly West, and other publications. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, she graduated from UC Berkeley, moved to New York City as soon as she could, and returned to California for grad school. While in the graduate creative writing program at UC Davis, she discovered (much to her surprise) the fun of teaching. She lives in San Francisco and teaches at UC Berkeley Extension. She has completed a novel, and is writing new short stories and a (very early stages) nonfiction exploration of spirituality & sex.
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3 Responses to The Surprise of What We Knew All Along

  1. calliefeyen says:

    Oh dear, it is always a big deal. My aunt died four years ago today. I keep walking around today thinking that I need to go to the doctor because that’s where I was going when I found out she had passed away. I was pregnant and I was going to tell my doctor that she would need to induce me so I could have the baby and fly to where she was. It seems I’m still trying to make some sense of it, make it OK somehow.
    I think I will send this post to my cousin who I know will appreciate this today. Thank you for writing it.
    (PS I don’t mean to take away your grief by adding this comment. I just hoped to share in it, I suppose.)

  2. Callie, I’m glad to know that we share this late-October association. I remember well your essay about your aunt & going to the doctor & Friday Night Lights… we already had the “Fount of Every Blessing” connection, and now we have this. As for your taking away, nothing could feel farther from the truth. Thank you.

  3. katieleigh says:

    These losses never do quite go away. Glad to see you back here, and to know this piece of your story.

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