Dichotomy. Distractions. The myth of closure.

I admit it. I am dreading Mother’s Day on May 12. The stores are full of big displays of pink and yellow. The restaurants are promoting their brunches. I am trying to ignore the whole thing. I am trying to figure a way to disappear that day, away from any signs of celebrations. We never made a huge fuss over Mother’s Day. We had the usual activities—flowers, lunch (usually I made it), and a relaxing Sunday. There were even occasions when I’d take my mom out on Father’s Day, seeing as she was both to me. Even now, well into middle age, Father’s Day is bittersweet and I usually try to avoid that, too.

I am not sure just what I will do, but I am giving it some consideration.

This weekend I went through the painful task of going through mom’s clothes. It was a modest collection, for sure. Some things I’d given her still had tags on them—a classic example of her “saving it for a special occasion.” I went through the varying sizes of clothes too—the bigger sizes from when she was healthy, slowly moving toward smaller and smaller sizes as she lost weight. I went through the dressy clothes and smiled at the travels she enjoyed while wearing them. I would reflect back on the photos of her in them, standing at the base of the staircase on a cruise, or on a hillside in the Acores.

The most painful process was tackling the plain brown paper sack with her last name written on it, which contained the clothes she had on for her final trip to the hospital. I’d helped her get undressed and into the hospital gown in the emergency department, then I folded her clothes into the bag and wrote her name on it. That process had become a sad routine in the last months of her life.

It’s been difficult going through her things, which I’d expected. There’s a strange feeling I have of distributing parts of her, letting go of her in increments. I know she is not her belongings. But they are evidence that she was here. I divided her clothing into categories based on the charity to which I would donate them. I am sure she would appreciate knowing that someone else would make good use of her things. Her handiwork items—knitting, crocheting, embroidery—went to my aunt. With that, the closets and dresser drawers slowly empty.

I have reflected a lot on the issue of closure lately. You read about people who just want “closure” after the sudden or tragic death of a loved one. Closure can mean watching your daughter’s murderer executed. Or it can mean simply finding the body of a lost loved one. Or having some kind of answer to the basic question, “what happened?”

My loss was not nearly so dramatic. It was an expected “cycle of life” type of loss, felt by millions of others before me, and in fact something I had thought about my entire life. It was as good a death as anyone could hope for—in comfort, in peace, at home, with loved ones. I have much to be thankful for. But I do not feel closure. Nor do I expect to ever feel it. It’s more of an open-close-open-close-open-close experience. The times of closure last just a little longer now, nearly three months later. And the openings are not the big, gaping, throw-the-door wide-open types of searing loss I felt in the weeks just after she died.

The feeling I had at Easter—of feeling both her presence and her absence at the same time—continues. It was a serendipitous exercise in my meditation class, actually—to learn to experience two opposites at once. While I found the class only marginally useful, there was an uncanny coincidence in each week’s lecture in that something came up that related to exactly what I’d been working through that very week. Despite the somewhat Marin-crystal-hippie feel to the class that was a turn-off, I felt I was in the place I needed to be at that exact moment.

So my exercise, my work, is to learn to simply “sit” with the dichotomy of mom’s simultaneous presence and absence. And somewhere in that margin is where I think I may find “home.”

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