There are facts in life. Irrefutable facts that no amount of argument or debate will ever change. Sometimes facts can be comforting when there is a dispute to settle or uncertainty in the future. I am certainly a dreamer, but I am also a realist. Realists prefer facts most of the time. Except when we don’t. Some facts gut me every time.
When they’re gone, they are never coming back.
They may find ways to intervene in your universe, but when people die, you keep living.
In the living part, though, there are still times, little slivers of existence where the facts feel inconceivable. And it won’t matter if the facts were just established five minutes ago or five years ago or five centuries ago. It feels unreal to think that certain facts are true. And in the moment when I remind myself about their truth, I am sometimes crushed by the weight of those facts.
My mom died. It has been eleven years and she is still gone. Her birthday just passed and she would have been 71, but she’s not here.
I don’t dwell in the bargaining phase of grief, wondering what could have been, wishing it would have been different. I might have a moment here or there where I see friends with their parents and wonder what life would be like if she was alive. But I rarely beg the universe for consideration of facts. It hurts too much. There is no alternate universe, only this one. Wishing is like suffering. So I don’t typically choose wishing. I choose facts.
But periodically, and when I am least expecting it, I rattle the facts. I tip them on their side and consider them from another angle. I think about that alternate universe where things may have been different. And in those moments, I feel completely lost.
This weekend, one of those moments popped up. It was a wildly, unremarkable Saturday. We had a litany of little things to accomplish: donate blood, pick up a birthday present, trip to the public library, pick up things for a trip we’re taking, birthday party, visit from family, meals. We tackled the list together as we tend to do, rolling from one spot to another. There was no space to think, really. So I didn’t.
We didn’t stop to take a breath until mid-afternoon when we got home. We were unloading and straightening and puttering around the house since we have been out of the house all day. I brought oodles of flowers into the house last week knowing spring was on its way. And here they had all bloomed in force. They needed water and as I drenched their little pots, suddenly the afternoon weighed down on me.
It was any other Saturday, sure, but it was also my mother’s birthday.
I knew it from the start of the day but kept it to myself. Running around, I’d hardly considered the date. But seeing the flowers all in bloom, listening to my girls in the next room, settling into the couch next to them as they colored and read books, I wanted to cry.
I looked at them and surveyed the room and thought to myself, “You will never get to see this.”
I didn’t think, “I wish you could have known them.” It hurts too much to think that sentence. Even as I type it, I hate it.
And then, close behind, another thought cropped up, “You never get to see me be their mother. You never get to meet my family.”
I change rooms. Being near the girls makes the pain of the moment more palpable. I find my husband in the sunniest spot and I rest my head on his shoulder and explain what’s happening. I don’t normally think this way. I feel like I have a good handle on where I stand with my mother. I feel lucky to feel settled with our relationship. My husband listened and mmm-hmmed in response.
Giving voice to those thoughts scares me. If I question those facts, I feel like I have to go back over lots of other facts. And maybe do some hoping and wishing. Wishing makes me feel like I have to question everything.
But there’s no time to think these thoughts out loud because the girls are upon us in an instant. I wipe away the tears welled in my eyes and start reading the first chapter of a new book to my youngest as she climbs over my body and rests her head on my collarbone. Her sister sits beside me. I am in the nook of the couch nearest to the three people who matter more than everything. Nothing can make me worry in this moment.
So I don’t worry or wish. I concentrate on where I am. I read the new story and out of the corner of my eye I watch my husband work the Sunday crossword and I exhale.
She can’t see me now. She can’t know me now.
But I know me.
That has to be enough.
No, it is enough.