when christmas comes

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(Because some feelings will only be processed in writing)
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I tell myself I’ll be just fine,

When Christmas comes to pass.

I’ll wear a smile above my scarf—

With mulled wine in my glass.

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I’ll play the songs I love the most,

But there’s one I’ll dread to hear.

The one with words I know too well:

“It won’t be the same this year.”

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I’ll wrap the presents up in bows,

String lights around the tree.

I’ll hang the stockings in a row,

Place the nativity.

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But as the day looms closer still,

My thoughts will linger on.

It was 12/16 I got the call,

And in five days, you were gone.

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My toenails, they were sparkly green

At your funeral last year.

I looked down with misplaced shame

At their burst of Christmas cheer.

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Now coldness taps the windows.

Winter looms in sight.

And I’m not sure how I’ll manage

On this year’s Silent Night.

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If you were here beside me—

Avoiding all that’s Mary and bright—

You’d whisper words like magic,

And make everything all right.

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Since you’re gone, I’ll just imagine

Those words that set me free:

“When you celebrate the memories,

You still celebrate with me.”

the pros and cons of writer’s block

I don’t have writer’s block.

Because that’s when you can’t write.

Where your mind is a crevasse, a pit, a canyon–

Deep and vast and empty.

Vultures flying overhead,

scouring for bits of creative roadkill

left among the dust and heat.

Circling, swooping, diving

On a mindless, endless loop

Of absolutely nothing to say.

 

I don’t have writer’s block.

Because my mind is not a canyon.

But a chalkboard in a first-grade classroom

Filled corner to corner, top to bottom

with only two letters.

Or a typewriter with just two keys–

Two options, two choices.

I hunt and peck just like the vultures,

but there are only two letters for me to find.

Of the 21 consonants and 5 vowels in the English language–

the language I learned to speak by mimicking my mother as an infant,

the language I learned to write poetry in by copying my mother as a young girl–

Of all the letters she taught me,

Only two are within my reach.

Two alphabet neighbors,

Making one precious word:

M-O-M.

I’m an artist with only two colors.

I’m a musician with only two notes.

I’m a daughter with only one parent.

Because M-O-M is gone.

 

No, I don’t have writer’s block.

Because I cannot block out grief.

And I cannot block out angst.

Or flashbacks.

Or nightmares.

Or the swelling of my stomach when I miss her more

than having 24 more letters to work with–

Than having something else to say.

 

I don’t have writer’s block.

Because I can write.

I can write anger.

I can write devastation.

I can write longing.

I can write memory.

I can write her.

I just can’t seem to write anything else.

 

I don’t have writer’s block.

But there are some days

I wish that I did.

 

revelations in grief

“You just don’t ever get over it.”

I guess that’s something I needed to hear.

Because each day the sun rises and pulls me gently from a dream, leaving your laughter echoing in my ears, only to rediscover that you’re gone, I know I’m not over it. And each day I creep along the Don Holt Bridge in rush-hour traffic, looking out my window at the diamonds blinking on the water below, and pick up my phone to call you and tell you about my day, I know I’m not over it. And as my mind races while I try to get some sleep, and when I forget to put sugar in my homemade oatmeal, and when I want so desperately to write about anything else, but the blank pages just stare back wanting only to hold more memories of you, I know I’m not over it.

No more than I was the day I let you go.

So when I heard those words – “You just don’t ever get over it” – my heart let out a heavy sigh. A burden I didn’t even know I carried, lifted from my shoulders.

For the rest of my life, my eyes may well with tears when I see a proud mother embracing her child. My throat may tighten like I swallowed a tennis ball every time I hear the singing of a choir. And our final moments together may always be the last thing I think of before I fall asleep.

And that’s okay. Because some things you don’t ever get over.

And now that I know, I can stop trying, stop hoping, stop waiting. For peace and normalcy and comfort that will simply never come.

You’re gone.

I’m not over it.

And I never will be.

My sweet mom, May 2013.
My sweet mom, May 2013.

the day before the longest night of the year

Some days grief swirls around me in violent bursts, whipping and stinging my skin in a fury of longing and dread. Some days I feel her warm hum hovering around my ears, singing sweetly that she has never left my side.

But part of her did leave. Silently and swiftly, my mother crept away from us. My sister and I by her side, clinging to each arm. Blevin softly singing hymns while the EKG counted down the time we had left. I pressed my face into her breast, as her bloated hand, shiny and rigid, rested stiffly, numbly on my arm.

I cupped her forehead with my hand and patted her soft, fine hair. The same hair as mine. The hair I always used to complain about. As I leaned in to kiss her cheek, I strained to breathe in her gentle scent and bring her back to me, even if only for a moment. And just as a sweet mix of Suave shampoo and Design perfume filled my lungs, she was gone.

When I was younger, I was scared of having children. My mom and I had such a special connection, I believed it impossible to have the same relationship with a little girl of my own. That’s how much I loved her. In an unmatchable way. In a way that could not exist twice in the same universe.

I loved her like an anomaly. And she loved me like I was still a part of her womb.

She had the perfect advice for every situation, every conflict, every worry. And when she wasn’t sure the right thing to say, she’d talk to my angels or do a tarot card reading or look up how Gemini’s are being affected by the moon cycle until she had a response she deemed acceptable, until she felt like she had helped.

She would advise me to write out my troubles, to jot down my dreams. When stressed, she told me to imagine myself as a hollow reed, letting calming air flow through my body.

She told me I was beautiful. She told me I was brilliant. She told me I was a writer. And whenever I was struggling to make a decision – no matter how big or small – she told me to do what my body told me to.

So as I stood paralyzed in that critical care unit, deprived of sleep and drained of tears and watching her struggle for every shallow breath, I whispered back to her what I thought she needed to hear:

My sweet momma, if you are tired of fighting, if you are weak and weary and worn, if you can hear the angels calling you home, don’t you worry about your little girls. Listen to me when I tell you, it’s time to heed your own advice. And do what your body tells you to.

"Harvest Queen," a painting of my mother's
“Harvest Queen,” a painting of my mother’s

it gets better

I sat alone in my bedroom. Not under the covers, but on top of them. No lights. Only darkness. And I let the music surround me. A frail, breathy a cappella voice singing a lonely song. I turned it all the way up, as loud as it would go. Too loud. I sat perfectly still. And shut my eyes. Her sweet, gentle voice. So vulnerable and strong at the same time. It glided around me as I breathed it in. Filled myself up with that achy ballad. And I didn’t dare exhale.

It was almost as if she was in the room with me. Singing to me alone. A disillusioned lullaby. A forgotten swan song. And as it ended, I tightened my eyes – forcing them closed. Willing her voice to come back to me. Willing the notes to go on. Just one more verse. One final refrain. Wanting to hear that sound more than I wanted to see or dream or think or be.

That feeling. That forsaken moment. I lived that for days and nights and weeks and months and years.

That feeling.  That’s what it was like to miss you.