We’re twenty-six days into the new year, and fourteen weeks since my mother expired. Fourteen weeks doesn’t sound like a very long time. Does three months and nine days sound longer? It doesn’t matter. The weirdness of grief is still fresh. I say ‘weirdness’ because some of the things I do regarding my mother still surprise me. I shake my head and say, “Weird.”
My tenant is all moved in, but I seldom see her. She works twelve-hour shifts; she’s out of the house by 6:15 AM and returns around 8:00 PM. I had no delusions of making a new friend or sitting around drinking tea with her, but I did hope my mother’s room would be more lived in. She has an adorable Chihuahua mix rescue that my mom would have loved. The bedroom door is closed 24/7, I haven’t been in the room in weeks. It has helped – I no longer have the urge to go down the hall and check on her. I don’t listen for her at night. I’ve stopped preparing her coffee in the morning. I seldom think of her dietary needs, likes and dislikes when grocery shopping or cooking. However, that’s not to say I don’t think of her all the time, because I do, constantly.
Christmas was especially weird. I bought a ‘Mother’ Christmas card, wrote in it, then read it aloud to her ashes. I never thought I would be ‘that’ person – the person who talks to ashes. About forty cards came in from our friends and family members (not local family, only from England). I read all of them to her. She would’ve been very happy with that number; she obsessively counted them. I remember sitting at the dining room table and she’d stare at all the cards taped to the front door. She loved giving and receiving cards, I think she passed that tradition on to me. In this age of social media and texting, it’s nice to know someone took the time and made the effort to think of you and write a personal note.
I woke up early Christmas morning, posted some festive greetings on Facebook, sent a few texts, and completely lost my composure. While my mother was alive, my brother would come over early with cards and gifts, before the festivities at his own house. I hadn’t heard from him and I didn’t think he’d come this year, but a tiny voice in my head said, “He might.” I took a shower and put on my Star Wars Christmas sweater just in case. But he didn’t come or call or anything, and I had no desire to call him or anyone else, I don’t think I could’ve spoken. I didn’t want to sit in this house alone yet didn’t want to be with anyone either.
**Edit: I was invited to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day festivities with my nieces. I chose not to go.
I spontaneously jumped in the car and drove to Venice Beach, about ninety miles away. The freeways were empty, a rare sight in Southern California. Surprisingly, every damn thing was closed. I never think of Venice Beach, or Los Angeles in general, as being closed for business – ever!
My plan was to walk along the beach, take photos, and find a restaurant for breakfast or brunch. After a very long walk to nowhere, I went back to the car and looked online for an open restaurant. I lost patience because I was starving and getting hangry. Ninety miles later I was back in my hometown and found an open Asian buffet. Emotionally, I was slipping between incredulous chuckling and misty-eyed crying. I loved the food, the wait staff was excellent, and the price was lower than usual. There wasn’t one Christmas decoration, no carols playing, no telltale sign of the holiday – the Holy day. It could’ve been any other afternoon. I’m not a Christian, but the season and traditions are engrained from an early age – it’s Christmas! It should feel like Christmas, look like Christmas. But it didn’t. I sat there eating coconut shrimp, orange chicken and chow mien, and lots of it. I wanted to vomit.
I came home and posted my photos of Venice Beach, then waited for comments: “How nice that you got away!” – “So glad you had a fun day at the beach!” – “What a great idea!” Yeah, I rolled with it; not confessing my misery, but not lying about the nice, fun, or great time I had. My niece sent me photos of the family smiling and opening presents, I know what I missed out on, but the trade-off in emptiness wasn’t worth it.
My great-nephew will be sixteen next month. I remember telling Mom last year that her great-grandson got his driving permit. I showed her a photo of him at the DMV. Her eyes went huge, she couldn’t believe he was so grown up. Then something amazing happened; she looked closely at the photo and said, “He got his braces off.” I believe this was late August, shortly after our five-day respite. She was seldom lucid in August, yet she remembered he had had braces and noticed they were gone. I was dumbfounded and giddy – those moments were so rare and getting rarer. Now he’s almost as tall as his father, getting his license next month, and went to homecoming last night – his very first date. And once again, my initial reaction to the homecoming photos was to run to her bedroom to show her. Every time I tamp down those split-second thoughts it fucking hurts.
Besides having a tenant, I’ve made another change in my life – I traded in the Toyota Yaris (formerly my mother’s) for a Nissan Cube. I always resented selling my previous Cube, but the Yaris wasn’t paid off and was close to upside-down; there wouldn’t have been any profit in selling it. If I wanted to pay my rent and bills, I had to sell my Cube. It broke my heart and my spirit – the first in a long line of spirit busters. I tried to be logical about it: the Yaris was newer and had nearly half the mileage of the Cube. I wasn’t happy but had no intention of selling it. A couple of trips out of town (including Venice Beach) convinced me I would never be able to take a road trip. It’s too small and I’m too big – it’s as simple as that. I started looking at used Cubes and bought one within a week. It was impulsive, I know.
Speaking of road trips… I have been trying to go to an annual conference for four years. I considered going when they held it in Chicago, especially since I had friends to visit as well, but my mom was hospitalized. It was in Las Vegas the following year, so close! I was determined to go. I booked a hotel room and was days from going, only to find out that there was no one available to take care of Mom. When I say I was her ‘sole’ caregiver, this was proof. No one else ever took care of her. No one. Last year the conference was in Pittsburgh, so that was out of the question. Then they announced the 2020 conference would be in Albuquerque – within driving distance! If Mom was still in hospice care I’d take a five-day respite for the conference. Needless to say, I have all the time in the world now: five, ten, twenty days. And… if I’m going to Albuquerque, I may as well head to Denver, then to a see a friend in Nebraska, and a few friends in Chicago, and so on, and so on. By the time I plotted out a perfect course, it spanned from California to Maryland. I’m sure it sounds insane, I’m not so sure it isn’t.
And, in other news, I’ve booked my flight to England to take Mum’s cremains home. I decided to wait until May in hopes of decent weather. (Yeah, don’t laugh.) I contacted my family to see what timeframe would work best for the majority of them. The latter part of May and early June looked most promising, so I booked it. I found out that I can’t just scatter my mother’s ashes on her parents’ grave, that was a bit presumptuous on my part. (And very American of me to assume I can do whatever I want in a foreign country.) The graveyard is on the church grounds, so the vicar will take part in a short service. It’s yet to be determined if her ashes will be scattered or buried in a small hole. My cousins are working on renting a hall and hiring a caterer for a family gathering after the service. While there, I’ll bounce around the countryside at the gracious hospitality of relatives who barely know me. I’ll only need a hotel a few nights while I’m playing tourist.
It’s pretty obvious that I don’t have a job yet. I’ve got a few online gigs that give me a small income. Having a tenant covers the rent and utilities, for the most part. The gas and electric bills have shot up because my mom qualified for discounts that I was unable to renew. I do have money though, not much, but enough. I’m going to sell this house eventually; I don’t know when. I have to have a game plan before I do that. If I can make a steady online income, I may keep traveling. Even though I grew up here and have family here, I don’t feel rooted or settled or welcome. I don’t feel anything now that my only reason for being here is gone.