Packing & cleaning & grieving

It has rained for the past three days in Ann Arbor. Not warm, spring rain divided by bursts of sunlight and marked by the scent of fertile soil. But cold, chilly rain. Constant drizzle that never ceases, seeps into everything slowly and quietly, keeps the sky dark and gray at all hours. During these past few days, I've tried to immerse myself in the punishing task of packing and cleaning our rental house for our return to St. Louis tomorrow. I've also spent the time trying in vain to tune out the special tone of spam, commercials, retail displays and the general sense of pressure and guilt that settles upon the nation in the last few hours leading up to Mother's Day.

This is the third Mother's Day since my mother died. The first year was, as they said it would be, the worst. And last year was less worse. And so, this year, has been less worse again. But there is an undeniable strangeness in simply not being able to participate in this silly holiday. As I wrote in a column that first year, I simply no longer qualify as a person with a mother.

And that I have not yet been able to get used to. I miss my mother. And I miss having a mother. They are not the same thing.

From the time I was little, Mother's Day has been a day to acknowledge. From earnest but messy hand-made cards to a gaudy cut glass ashtray purchased with my own pocket money. No matter how sullen I grew through my teen years, even I could not deny that kudos were owed to the person who brought me into this world.

As a grown up -- depending on the phase of my life -- Mother's Day meant a phone call, a card, ridiculously expensive last-minute flowers or terrible guilt for not mustering up a phone call, a card or ridiculously expensive last-minute flowers.

But I had something to do for Mother's Day. Now I don't.

I tried just to think of my mother today, the person she was. But I'm not sure I'm far enough along in the healing process to be able to think of her without the dark shadow of her sudden death clouding my memories. I can't think of my mother most days (and certainly not this day) without sadness encroaching, without a slight nudge of anger in my belly and that last remaining nugget of incredulity. My mother's dead?

My friend N. lost her father very unexpectedly recently and I've come to the conclusion that it is -- despite what those who have anguished through the lingering death of a sick loved one -- the cruelest cut. There's an extra undercurrent of shock, a violence to the suddenness. I envy no one the loss of a parent, but the advantage of the time and opportunity a little warning affords seems undeniably precious to me.

It probably doesn't help that we're leaving this lovely place, that moving is a stressful time, that I'm going to miss my friends from the fellowship more than I can even bear to think about. It doesn't help that all my things are in boxes and even if I could name one thing that could bring me comfort, I probably couldn't find it anyway.

It does help, however, if in only the smallest way, that tomorrow morning we will head out towards St. Louis. We will stop in Indianapolis and hug my little nieces whose busy lives don't pause for such silly things as grief and self-pity. We will spend the night being fought over for affection and then, in the morning, before our novelty wears off, we will get in the car once again and point ourselves towards our tiny blue house in St. Louis. We will point ourselves home.