Updated: May 29, 2020
I wrote this essay over three years ago, on Oct. 15, 2015, a few years before my mom died on May 5, 2018. These words ring as true for me now as the day I wrote them. This piece was buried deep in my computer and I stumbled upon it by accident last week. Here goes, and thanks, as always, for reading:
I cry at everything these days. It’s not a sad cry, necessarily, although tears of loss are definitely in there. I guess life can simply feel unbearable lately, but in a beautiful way. Everything feels so fragile, precious, fleeting, delicate, just waiting to break and decay into the place from where it once came. The fact that the things that mean so much to us can all be lost in an instant can make me cry at just about anything, mourning loss before it even happens, or mourning losses that aren’t even yet mine.
I cry at commercials, movies, my nieces, my cat—nothing escapes my tears, it seems. And forget funerals. Last week I attended the funeral for a friend’s father, who I didn’t know well at all. It was a Jewish ceremony, and while all of those sad songs were being sung in a language I didn’t understand, I thought of all the Jews who died horrible deaths at the hands of other humans, and I sat in awe of these brave, loving people, so tolerant despite the hate that always seems to come their way. When I think lately, I tend to go big like that, and it’s all just so sweepingly heartbreaking.
Even when I look at my cat, Olive, she can seem exquisitely poignant, not only because she’s cute or loving or oddly human in her behavior, but because I know that she, too, will one day pass, just like all of the other wonderful cats before her, who mated throughout the millennia until one day she was born. Like all of us, she was set in motion at the Big Bang, which means she and I are made of the same stuff. Naturally, these thoughts aren’t on my mind when all ten pounds of her walks onto my stomach while I’m napping, staring into my face for God knows what reason. In that moment, she’s just incredibly adorable (and most likely hungry), until I stare into her olive eyes and feel something else emerge, as if I’m haunted by how beautiful she really is.
Because of my blood clotting disorder, I’m perhaps aware of loss a little more acutely than most people my age. In the last ten or twelve years, I’ve felt many things slip away, and the single focus of my existence lately seems to be to get something—anything—back. I will begin a day with dogged determination to accomplish a goal—to finish a painting, to work on a song, to get together with friends or family—only to be felled the next by acute pain or overwhelming exhaustion that can put me into a deep sleep for 36 hours. I awaken feeling crushed, like a failure, until I realize I’m not the person I used to be.
I don’t have the energy I once had, I don’t have the strength I once did. I fight such thoughts, and I fight the language that could potentially define me, rarely using words like illness or disease in descriptions of what I deal with every day. But in not using them, I can end up taking responsibility for things out of my control and thus believe myself lazy instead of just genuinely tired. It’s a tightrope I walk all the time—to be honest about what’s happening to me without letting the illness, or its losses, define me.
Curiously, my 81-year-old mother and I have more in common than most mothers and daughters, as we can talk about loss on the same plane, with complete empathy for what the other is going through. Of course, I’m painfully aware that in the not-too-distant future, I will lose her, too, and this bond that has sustained me through the most awful of times, this love that has truly been the love of my life, will also be torn from me against my will. In an instant, she will be gone, and I’m aware that nothing can prepare me for the shock and awe of that moment in time.
If I’ve learned anything from my mother at all, it’s that there’s no greater emotion than compassion, which I should perhaps dispense more of to myself. Maybe I shouldn’t struggle so much to try to get the old me back. I suppose it’s only human, though, to rail against loss, especially when it happens long before it’s supposed to. One can’t help but feel cheated, which makes that dogged desire to declare “I was here” that much stronger. My intellect knows that legacies don’t matter, that absolutely everything that we think is so important will one day be obliterated and forgotten. But what we humans know to be true and what we do or want can be two different things. If we all settled into a resignation that all will one day be lost, while we might feel a certain amount of acceptance and peace, I’m not sure we would have made as much art, music, movies or math, or put a man on the moon.
We all seem to strive for the impossible against staggering odds, for when we do accomplish that goal that’s larger than ourselves, we get a glimpse into something transcendent, and that makes us hungry for more. That’s why I can’t stop reaching for the carrot dangling before me—I can’t look away from all the creative dreams as yet unfulfilled and resign myself to this fate of interminable pain and fatigue—at least not yet.
I suppose I’m grateful for these tears, for being able to see this beauty all around me. More than
anything, I feel such compassion for all of us, because no matter what someone looks like on the
outside, more often than not, he or she is also feeling the pull of a type of dark gravity that seems to want to take us down, and I’m not sure what that force is exactly. But we all grapple with it in one form or another in our quest to find out who we really are and what we really want.
For some of us, the journey is just so very difficult, particularly if one was raised with criticism. When cruel words are written on the blank slate of a child, the damage can take a lifetime to undo, if it can be undone at all, even with great effort. Maybe that’s part of the pain that I’m feeling these days—this realization that time is running out, and I might never get well, or never fully recover from my past before I fulfill my life’s true purpose.
But something about that is okay, too, because billions before me have suffered similar fates, and their lives and souls are no less beautiful because of it. In fact, they give me a type of peace as I don’t feel so terribly alone as I endure this frustrating quest. I like to think that they’re waiting for me, having created a unique little club of souls who felt that they, too, had so much to give, but were undermined by a fate that had other plans. Like everything else, it seems, they are heartbreaking and beautiful to me, and I’m so very grateful that I can see this.
I’m not sure where I go from here, but I’m not going to fret about it. I have Olive here to comfort me, to remind me of the larger questions in HER life, such as…what’s for dinner? As I stare into these beautiful muted green eyes, I’m reminded that life does have its priorities, and I get up, I move, and another day begins. I'm quite sure that something at some point, probably sooner than later, will make me cry.
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