Twenty Years

Do not lose time on daily trivialities. Do not dwell on petty detail. For all of these things melt away and drift apart within the obscure traffic of time. Live well and live broadly. You are alive and living now. Now is the envy of all of the dead. – Don Hertzfeldt

Twenty years is an inconceivable amount of time.

Yes, I do keep using that word and, yes, it does mean what I think it means.

Twenty. Years. Enough to drive, vote, almost enough to drink in the United States. Enough to go from young adulthood to early middle age and do all the living that goes with that – break-ups, career changes, life changes, marriage, moving, succeeding, failing, devastating heartbreak, inconceivable love.

So many of the critical things I’ve learned in life, most of the non-survival, the thriving, things, have been in the last 20 years. She’s missed them.

There is too much to say, so I’ll keep it focused on the events at hand…

You can imagine what it is like to lose one of the closest people in the world to you.
You will be wrong.
But you can try.

The truth is, grief is a million facets. It evolves with us, grows with us. It doesn’t become a speck in the distance, like a thing that happened in time from which we are inexorably pulled away through the simple act of living. It changes as we change, as we become aware of and work on our own flaws, and the people who have left us are no longer two-dimensional, they are complex, they are flawed in ways we wouldn’t allow ourselves to see in the first wash of grief.

And still.

There were misguided attempts, in the beginning, comparisons of a dead mother to an estranged one.

At the time I found it in such achingly poor taste that I felt sick to my stomach with it.

Now I see it more clearly. I get that there is pain, and that I can’t understand it, not because I had a great relationship with my mother – it was flawed, and the extent of those flaws I didn’t realize until well after she had passed – but because I never had the opportunity to explore those feelings while my mother was alive. I also know that, of the more-than-five people who tried to compare their relationship with their estranged parent to the death of mine, all but one has begun speaking to that parent, or their parents, again. Maybe tenuous, maybe uncertain, certainly not with all-encompassing faith, but still. The relationship continues. All but one has realized that, as final as things seem when we are younger, it’s still just a comma, a semi-colon. It’s not a period, it’s not the end of the sentence. And hopefully, these people have realized their own flaws, and those of their parents, and as we get older and our edges soften out, and things aren’t as black and white, we can forgive them, and ourselves, or at the very least move on so that the animosity isn’t costing little pieces of soul. But I can speak with as much certainly now as I did then – it’s nothing like death. Because, back there, I used the word relationship. It’s not a privilege I have.

The truth is, my grief now over Ellinor is multiplied by the fact that I know exactly how final this is. I have 20 years of nothing staring back at me and, if I’m lucky, forty more for both Ellinor and my mother, moving forward. Forty more of no conversation, of no cups of coffee shared, of no admonishments, of fewer and fewer people who’ve known me since I was born. Moving up into that next step, being the oldest one in the room, no one to look up to in terms of life experience, and moving right up into my spot in line. The finality is total, and while you can suspect that at 22 years old, or 32, or 42, if it’s your first Big Grief, the only thing that will sink that anchor to the trenches is looking back and realizing you couldn’t, at whatever age you were, fathom the darkness in those depths.

Don’t mistake me – my life has been good. Amazing. Full of the richness of love and purpose and care, full of wonderful, gentle moments, of fierce, bold ones. These things are not, however, mutually exclusive.

So here it is – 20 years, a day I remember, I can feel in me, at any time, the darkness, the heaviness, the final breaths, slowing to stopping, the relief, the guilt at the relief, the pain a slash into my soul that would heal, but not cleanly, nor without scars.

There are so many commas and semicolons in my life; so much to be continued. So many wonderful relationships that I get to dip back into over time, through periods of closeness and distance. It’s like re-discovering treasure, revisiting old friendships, finding new relationships in old friends. And then there are the new ones; when I think of “What would Ellinor do?”, so much of it is “take your friendships seriously – make new ones, ask questions, have friends of all ages, let fade the relationships that do not serve, and let your life be as enriched by relationships as it is by art and travel.” While Ellinor was 44 years older than I am, she adopted her first daughter when she was in her forties. The thought is staggering, intimidating, and inspiring, at once.

This is the beginning of part of a legacy. There may be other things, but this is, without a doubt, part of it. I have less vision for what my mother wanted for me – for me to be happy, able to take care of myself, less trusting, more financially secure. Ellinor knew more of who I am as an adult, had more to say about things that apply now. More time with Luke. Not making myself sick with work. Singing where I wanted. Traveling to learn – Fez sacred music festival. Kumano Kodo. Being more patient. Still being financially secure, self-sufficient.

I am so, so flawed. But I am learning. I have been so fortunate to be so wrapped in love. Wild, fierce, imperfect love. This is the legacy left by these two women, whom I mourn exponentially today. In the end, what is left is not our judgment, our thoughts, our opinions, our hopes, our dreams. The mark we leave is on those left behind; they are the living reflection of how we have spent our days. No ego in those ripples, just the simple giving of who we are. Who we are, as we age, whittling down to our core – no energy to feign interest or kindness that’s not inherent. I am honored to be the living reflection of two women who left their mark on my heart, my actions, and my life. I will, and will continue to do, my best to live this life in the ways that honor them.

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