Goodnight, Mama

‘No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.  I am not afraid but the sensation is like being afraid.  The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning.  I keep swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed.  There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me.  I find it hard to take in what anyone says.  Or perhaps hard to want to take it in.

It is so uninteresting.  Yet I want the others to be about me.  I dread the moments when the house is empty.’

-C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

She hated cut flowers.  She’d send them to other people to let them know she was thinking of them.  But it seemed to irritate her when people sent them to her.  A single stem, one perfect curvature of orchid, she could tolerate that.  But she was quite hard on an ostentatious armful of cut flowers.  I don’t think she could see the kind intention behind anything beautiful that would soon be dead.  Why don’t people just leave them in the garden, she once said.

Wandering about her house late at night while she slept, always on high alert, listening for anything unusual, feeling like a naughty child because she wouldn’t like me wandering around her house at night.  She’d think I was up to something.    Eyes burning from lack of sleep, rocking myself the way she once did, second guessing every decision made and unmade and made again.  Now still, vacillating between the yeas and the nays even though she’s dead and it won’t make a lick of difference.  Except it does.  Would she want that? Would she prefer this? Seeing that stutter in a sister’s eye and withering with the pain of believing you are not only ticking off the dead but irritating the living.

Folding up her clothes knowing she wouldn’t like the way I was folding this blouse and it shouldn’t be folded anyway, it should be on a hanger with soft arms that won’t ruin the fabric.  Only it doesn’t matter anymore.  But she’s like a hangover I can’t shake – “No, Di-dee, let me do that.” – and my fingers become brisker and all-business until I’m shoving stuff into plastic garbage bags and criticizing my sister for doing the same.  Dad tells me he’s leaving her books for the nursing home library, and he’s so fragile he’s almost translucent.  ‘We have to flick through them,’ someone says.  ‘She used to slip important photos inside her books.’  And I don’t stay for that in case there aren’t any of me.

I take her hairbrush and her glass nail file, which are still powdery with her, and brush my hair until my scalp hurts. I understand why people cut.  At the moment she stopped feeling anything I started feeling everything.  The air is a different colour, and those kind condolences seem to be coming from a long way away.  I respond the way I have been taught how, to comfort those kind voices.  I’ve always had good manners.

‘She’ll always be with you.’  ‘She’s in a better place.’  ‘You’ll see her again.’  I know it’s not true.  Mama knew it wasn’t true.  She’s gone.  She has ceased to exist.  I’m careful not to disillusion the god-botherers though.  No need to upset anyone.  I’ve always had good manners.

It’s a kind of madness, you know.  I have gone a little bit mad.  This isn’t grief – it’s a bomb-hole, a yawning pit girdled by jagged edges and you climb and climb and all the climbing in the world will do nothing but fill your mouth with dirt.  There’s nothing for it.  And I am completely alone.  We all are.