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(yearning)

there's such a sense of emptiness when someone dies. I know that might seem like the most obvious statement of 2007, but it's true. it's a hollow spot, a space where there should be none, a lack of warmth and fullness. there were some doctor-slash-brainiac-deluxe types on npr the other day, tuesday I think, talking about the typical stages of grief. and one woman put it so well, she said that we experience pangs of yearning for whomever had died, and that then filtered to a memory of them, and we become happy or sad or both as a result of that memory depending on... well, depending on whatever. a bunch of things. I was sitting at the atm doing a deposit, and I cried. and then I went to visit my mom.

it's been such a blur since wednesday. lots of people read my blog. cousins, strangers, friends - it made a few appearances in some conversations this past week, and it compels me to update. I'll post later about the email I got after my last post, and what I wrote the next morning in starbucks. where was I though? right. the blur. the last five days have been a dream, or an underwater show maybe is more accurate, of all the Things You Do When Someone Dies. there was the Day After, where you go to the funeral home and pick out prayer cards and make decisions about flowers, and music, and what the newspaper says. then there was The Day Before, where we had to go and get clothes and pictures and find appropriate things to wear... in the middle of all of that, there was Food Time. everyone I knew wanted to love us and feed us. as it stands now, I have two trays of italian pasta dishes, various stuffed breads, fruit, and four flower arrangements filling our refrigerator and home.

I don't quite know what to say about the wake and the service, except that it felt like it was happening to someone else. when my father died, I was present for the whole thing. every moment was real, it all happened, I felt every second - every everything. from the moment in the hospital, the hour or two and then the whole day before that, and then the after and the days waking up bursting into tears. the letter for the eulogy I sobbed through the writing of, how my mom looked as we stood next to her, the breakdowns in the grocery store, the tears and the journal entries. this has been much, much different. more hazy. I have glimpses and snapshots, but it felt much more robotic. thank you for coming. thank you for coming. then realizing what was happening, and falling apart, and thank you for coming. the restaurant and the haze of food and friends, lesley coming up from the vineyard, erin flying in, my cousins taking the trip up... and sunday with the nothingness that sunday brings from time to time. and now today, a true snow day, complete with sledding and hot tea.

everyone has been so shocked and sad, and part of me thinks on some level that my mom knew this was coming. she's been dying of heartbreak a little bit at a time ever since my father passed away, and being able to go, while she was definitely scared and unsure, must have been a relief on some level. every day I will take with me the knowledge that I passed through this time in my life with dignity and grace, just the way my mom would have wanted me to. it's hard to be sad when someone you love that's hurting doesn't hurt anymore, if the option of taking the hurt away some other way isn't there. I'm a good daughter, and I always will be - I can't bring myself to say I was a good daughter yet. it's too past tense for me. I suited up and showed up, and in the end, took care of her like no one else could. I spent every morning and every day with her, and let her friends and my other family members see her at night, because it was the only time a lot of them could come. I rubbed her hands and feet and brushed her dentures and sat there with her so she wouldn't be alone when she woke up. I mean, a bunch of other people did too, but I don't live in their heads or their lives. I brought flowers on valentine's day, I brought pictures of her and my father to catch her eye, I helped her roll over when she couldn't lift herself up and I helped her drink water until the last few days when she couldn't swallow on her own. I did those things. she allowed me to do those things for her.

all of a sudden my mother went from sick to dying, and all of a sudden she was gone. she'd been slipping away a little bit at a time these last few months, sick from the chemo she thought was saving her. she was pulled away from the haven of home that she treasured so much, and when we pick up her ashes tomorrow, my sister and I are going to make sure we put them on her bed instead of on some shelf. it was all she wanted those last few days when she was still able to talk, and when she wasn't talking anymore but trying to push and pull her way out of the bed, I knew - she just wanted to be home, with her own pillows and sheets and the familiar smells and the steps you could take with your eyes closed because you've taken them so many times. we'll put her on the bed, and then in her armchair, because it's the last thing we can do for her before we put her out to sea. and then, in the truest sense, she will be home in so many ways.

mom, I'm sorry I couldn't pick you up and take you out of that bed. I wanted to steal you away and take all the hurt out of you, even if just for a second so you didn't have to feel sick anymore. I did the best I could, and I brushed your hair and made sure you were the way you wanted to be, even when you couldn't speak to tell me, or when I wasn't sure you knew I was there or not. a man at a meeting last night (I had to speak the day after your wake and service) said we get so many lessons from our parents, and for most of us the last one that they teach us is about death and dying. you've changed me forever, not just in the obvious ways from the women you were and the woman you taught me to be, but for allowing me to flourish in taking care of you in ways that I never knew I could. if any good can come from such tragedy, I'm a better woman for it, and I'll spend the rest of my life trying as best as I can to fill the shoes you've left me. I'll always love you, and always remember you like I told dad I would that night in the emergency room, when the important times happen that you should be there for. funny thing is, since I promised him that, it's almost been that I haven't been sad for him not being there until whatever it was that was important was over - almost like he made it so the sadness would come after, instead of during. at least that's what I think it is, even though I'll never know for sure.

oh, and one last thing - I'm getting all the signs. I'm sorry for thinking people (you included) were crazy when they talked about loved ones who had passed away "being with them" in various forms - now I know it's true. I saw the owl and the navy car and the tetons sticker and all those undeniable and bizzare signals you sent, and they made it okay. you made it okay. all the way to the dream a few days before you died, when you told me you were going to be leaving us soon. all of that made me know that everyone that said you were in a better place now weren't just some fruitcakes that were trying to make me feel better.

and to everyone else, thanks for being there for me, and sticking it out, and sending notes of encouragement - even the strangers. all these little things are adding up to the sea of love and compassion that's getting me through, like a giant cushion that I can't see but I can feel making it possible to live every day out loud instead of slipping into silence under the safety of my comforter. instead I'm going to go back to class tomorrow, and to try to make it work, and I've even got tickets to fly to arizona in a few weeks. who knew?

you did, I guess.

v.

Victoria Uhl