I had a wee breakdown in a big-box store yesterday.
This was not the heaving sobs of a year and a half ago, when I felt so bereft after my mother’s death it sometimes manifested as a sharp physical pain whenever something reminded me of her.
Which was all the time.
No, this grief was quieter but more surprising. It was all so mundane. When I was placing an order at Lowe’s, the clerk found me in the computer from the last time I had placed an order at Lowe’s – which was when our family was fixing up Mom’s house to put it on the market.
So there on the screen was the contact information that Lowe’s had on file for me, which was all my mother’s. Mom’s street address. Mom’s phone number. Mom Mom Mom.
I had to turn away so that the clerk wouldn’t be alarmed that his formerly normal-seeming customer suddenly looked ready to weep buckets.
These episodes don’t happen very often anymore, more than a year and a half after losing Mom. I can have whole conversations about her now without visibly losing it. But the grief is always there, gently submerged, biding its time. Sometimes it lashes out unexpectedly, a sudden onslaught of memories making it difficult to breathe.
I’ve learned to just accept these times, and to actually cherish the triggers that prompt them. It sometimes happens over things I’d like to share with Mom, like how beautiful my teenager looked on Homecoming night, or how terrific the new Marilynne Robinson novel is so far, or how she needs to watch this funny new Weird Al grammar video.
“Grief is the gift that keeps on giving.” Those wise words were uttered by a friend at some point last year. At that stage, though, grief did not feel like a gift at all, but a burden I could barely carry. Now I think I understand a little better.
Grief gifts me again and again with reminders of how much I loved my mother and she loved me. These weepy moments of remembering reinforce the truth of that bond and also remind me that all the old clichés are true: Life is short, and precious. We have to be grateful for our family and friends for the times we’re blessed to have them in our lives.
But another reason that grief is the gift that keeps on giving is that it’s empowered me to become THAT friend with THAT shoulder to cry on. In the last few months two close girlfriends have lost their mothers to cancer just about as quickly as I lost mine. It’s been a privilege to help them walk through this journey. I never was so honored as when one of them told me she knew, when her mother was dying, that I would understand what she was going through.
I don’t know if I would have thought to be so involved (intrusively so, if I’m being honest) with their pain before I had to say good-bye to my own mother. Grief has kept my heart softer, more open.
So I remind my friends, as I remind myself, what the journey of grief has daily taught me: It’s not just that “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning,” as we’re assured in Psalm 30:5. It’s that we will cycle through that spiral of grief and joy many, many times, even in the same day.
Our only task is to listen and to love.