Somewhere between the first anniversary of your death and the second anniversary of celebrating your birthday without you – I have moved into a better space. The astonishment of feeling guilty for not missing you is not something for which I had prepared, nor was the feeling of overwhelming nostalgia for you as I sat with a crying child today. When I get tired I miss you the most because that is where I felt your soothing words calm my weary soul. When I am tired I lose my senses, and as my mother you always knew me better than I even knew myself.
So, today as I began the second week of my new job as a school counselor, I was drawn to a little girl that was sobbing out loud. Her other Kindergarten-aged peers were eager to tell me about something that she had done that “wasn’t nice.” I was quick to shush them where before the teacher in me would have listened. But today the counselor in me, fueled with your wisdom, dove me into her pain. I could barely understand her words through her very real struggle for air. “I just” ffff ffff ffff gasp “really miss” fff gasp “my mommy” fffff ffffff gasp whimper gasp “because I just love her so much!” And then she melted into a puddle of pain all over the cafeteria table. She could have been me a day ago, a week ago, a month ago, a year ago. It took the strength of the Universe and perhaps God Almighty to hold me steady while my heart shattered across the distance between life and death, heaven and earth, to let you know that I miss you too.
I rubbed her back as I brushed her tear-stained hair away from her face. I talked to her sweetly the way I wanted you to talk to me. I asked her if her mom was going on a trip, when she would see her again, etc. She assured me that she would see her after school. I was relieved that she would see her when for days I have fantasized about hugging you after such a long absence.
Quickly, I was able to wrangle her mind back into the present moment. Her pain easily seemed irrational to the unfamiliar heart that has not felt the depths of the darkest corners of agony. But I held and honored her pain, regardless of the catalyst.
As a child I was inconsolable when my mother left me to go on trips that would better her career and financial outcomes for our family. I was terrified that she, too, would die like my father had. When she was safely home, I stayed up throughout the night sobbing in her arms that I didn’t want her to die, that I was scared and afraid. I distinctly remember at the age of eight what she told me. “Arlis Ann, if you can learn now what has taken me most of my life to learn then you will be at such an advantage. You choose how you feel.”
I hated hearing that I had the power to no longer be a victim of my father’s death. I hated hearing that the responsibility of future responses was my own doing. She held me and rubbed my back anyway, knowing I was not ready.
Even today, it was so hard for me to choose to not cry side-by-side with the little girl that could have been me. She was a former version of me.
When I saw her at lunch, she was all smiles. I asked her about her day. She said, “I still miss my mom, but today has been a good day.” Me too, baby girl, me too.