They say the first year is the hardest as you slog through each anniversary, birthday, and holiday without your loved one for the first time. One article I read a couple years ago said, in fact, it was the second year that was harder. The first year, your friends and loved ones are still watching you carefully, checking in and inviting you to things. The second year, their lives return to normal and it can get quiet. I am not thinking that far ahead. I am trying not to look at the long empty hallway of the year ahead without mom. I have to take the grief in small sips.

Easter was the first major holiday I had to face without mom. We were generously invited to join JS and her family for the day. We had all spent many Easters together and the familiarity was warm and welcoming. But there was no denying the empty space that my mom left. I felt both her presence and absence at the same time, creating a sort of surreal and dreamy quality to the day.

Mom, Easter 2001
Mom, Easter 2001

Ever since I was three years old, I have helped my mom make the traditional Portuguese Easter bread (massa sovada). Last year my mom was too ill to help much, but she sat with me in her kitchen, pouring melted butter over the dough as I kneaded it. She got up at five in the morning to watch me make the loaves for the second rise. And she was up again at seven to watch them go into the oven. She was so, so sick. Yet she was fully present. I don’t remember us talking much.

I had the sense that it was likely the last Easter we would have together. So I wanted to soak in every moment. I hope that someday I will be able to reach further back and remember the happier versions of Easter. But for this year, it was difficult to get past last year.

Making the bread on my own for the first time was painful to say the least. I knew I had to do it, and I deeply wanted to do it. I felt a sense of tradition and knew my mother would want me to push ahead. But it was clouded with some of the deepest grieving I have felt so far. The longing (in Portuguese, saudade) was crushing. Rather than a sip of grief, it was a huge, choking gulp.

2013-03-31 09.38.41
Portuguese sweet bread, Easter 2013

Now I am back to my week, trying to focus on work, feeling emotionally spent, and building strength for the next wave—Mother’s Day.

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