Discover more from Michigan Girl - Written in the Mitten
I decided I would cry whenever I wanted. At first, I bit down the tears whenever they came, holding them in until it was late at night and I could turn the grief over to the darkness.
But one day, when sunlight broke through the gray sky and lit up the road in front of me in a spectacular shower of springness, I cried to know that my mother would never see spring arrive again.
My children sat in the backseat, just 2 and 4 years old. I continued driving, and no one said a word. I didn’t turn up the radio or turn it down. I didn’t hold still or press my hands to my face. Instead I drove on, my face wet, my eyes full, my hands on the wheel. It was a great relief, this letting go. I let it happen in waves, the crushing reality that this spring would be mine alone, no mother to share it with, to tend garden with, to pick lilacs with. A togetherness I had taken for granted for 32 years.
Some of those years spring had come and gone and I hadn’t even stopped to watch, so foolish was I that we would get another together. Now, I saw spring with exquisite clarity, its arrival, its show, its bullheadedness. It would come, whether my mother was here to share it with or not.
The children noticed nothing at first, busy punching each other or wrestling over a toy. Miles passed, where I let the tears come. We were in the middle of town, cars all around, traffic slow, and yet I didn’t bother to look normal. I let the tears come, one after another.
And, eventually, it dawned on the boys that their mother wasn’t refereeing. And when they looked at me, they could see by the carry of my shoulders that something was wrong.
“Are you crying?” Kendall asked, fear in his throat. “Mom?”
I thought about lying to them or distracting them, my first reflex. But then I thought of my mother and how I missed the simplest of things - the sound of her name.
“I miss Grandma Judy,” I said. There was nothing more to say, the answer was complete unto itself.
This settled over the two, and they sat so quiet that I wondered if they had heard me.
Then, Kendall answered.
This carried its own weight. I felt a shift, a warmth come over me. Of course they did. We all did. I was fooling no one. After that day, I decided I would no longer hide my tears.
It was freeing.
I cried at shows where the girl lost her mother or where she found her mother. I cried when I baked banana bread. I cried when I smelled lilacs. I cried whenever the phone rang and I forgot it couldn’t be her.
I saw it as a fitting tribute to my mother. If you couldn’t cry over losing your mother, what could you? This built my strength, my courage to let others see how much my mother meant to me. The loss was unexplainable yet it was built out of these little things along the way. And this crying, unchecked, started to smooth the edges.
The sadness came into my house and sat on the couch with me, and I let it, at last. And my family got used to it. They got used to my tears and my quiet and my simple answer, “I miss Grandma Judy.” They made room for it. I felt more loved then, than ever. They let me hold my loss there, in my hands, in front of me, instead of inside, buried.
As the weeks and months passed, so did some of the crying. It happened less often and no one said anything or maybe even noticed, not even me. It was as if I had been marking all the firsts, the alones, the one by ones. Instead of pretending like they weren’t happening, I took each one as they came and mourned them, one after another in line. First spring, then summer, then fall. All of it, all of them.
In that first year, I spent many evenings hugging my kids in my lap, looking over their heads as they watched tv, letting my tears come down on their little heads. The children took this for what it was, their momma sad but loving, their Grandma Judy here but gone, their family broken but healing.
And with each little vein of sadness let loose, it seemed, I made room for a bit of happiness to come back in.
Kandace Chapple, Michigan Girl is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.