Wouldn’t it be great if there were a lost and found box for life? You could occasionally peruse its contents to locate “things” you’d lost along the way: “Oh, look! It’s my self-esteem! I can’t remember the last time I saw that” or “Hey! Look at those life goals! I’d completely forgotten they existed!” Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. While we might find a pair of sunglasses or a phone in a state similar to that in which we lost them, it’s unlikely that we ever find these other intangible things—if we find them, that is—in quite the same condition.
Around here, 2013 has been a year of profound loss as I said goodbye to my mother, and it’s been extraordinarily difficult, over the past few weeks, to see beyond that heartache. The thought of entering a new year without my mother is unfathomable. I can’t help but think of all the things that she’ll miss. I keep expecting her to call. I keep picking up my phone to text her the latest pictures of Bennett’s antics. Most days, I’m still waiting for the weight of my mother’s absence to sink in, the loss suspended somewhere just out of grasp. Other days, however, it knocks me over and takes my breath away.
But it has also been a year of equally profound discovery, and I would be remiss if I didn’t let myself acknowledge those things that, in my mother’s absence, have sprung up quietly, dissipated suddenly or simply ceased to matter. In some ways, I’ve grown up occupying the negative space around my mother. I’ve spent time trying to shape myself around her, in relation to her, against her. My choices, though they’ve been mine, have always found her at their center in some way, wondering if she’d be angry or pleased, disappointed or proud. Like any tiger mom with *real* skills, she always claimed that the pressure I felt to “perform” or “succeed” was somehow a thing of my own creation, and sometimes, I actually bought into that. Sometimes, she actually bought into to that. Despair and loss, however, have a way of bringing us face to face with those things hidden in the otherwise unfathomable depths of ourselves. During those last few months together, she began the process of making space for me. It was an uncomfortable and disconcerting experience for someone so used to being constrained by the shape of another person’s desires and demands. Gone were the caveats and qualifications. Gone were the insurmountable mountains of her expectations. And eventually, of course, she was gone altogether.
Losing my mother has felt very much like a void that no amount of time can fill. But lately, finding no resistance in that space that she once occupied, I’ve begun to discover the potential for a kind of fullness or wholeness. What have I kept back? What have I denied or written off for fear that it wouldn’t be enough…that I wouldn’t be enough? This is what she offered me in those last months. After a lifetime of “buts” and “if onlys,” she said simply: “you are enough.” My mother can’t be replaced, and I’ll never stop missing her. But the funny thing about absence is that it always, inevitably, makes room for something new. She understood that as she chipped away at the hard lines of herself. She’s given me space to grow into myself more fully, to see around those things—be they hers, or mine—that took up so much room.
People say that “time heals all wounds.” I’ve begun to think, however, about the way that it is time, itself, that wounds us with its relentlessness. So many of us spend our time looking back, planning for the things to come and trying to keep up with the everyday. There’s never time enough, money enough or peace enough to assess the damage incurred daily. Certainly, there’s even less time to reflect on the ways in which things wear on us year after year. We patch ourselves up, push things aside and power through…at least I have. And suddenly we find that we’ve lost whole parts of ourselves, whole histories, whole lifetimes of desires. No, what’s lost can’t always be found, but as I enter 2014, I’m fortunate enough to have found some time. The hard work will be accepting it without guilt or shame, without pressure to perform in some way, without buzzwords like “idleness” or “privilege” compelling me to fill my time endlessly and frantically. Instead, I’ll try to spend some time breathing into that space of being “enough.” Perhaps I’ll rifle through that box of old selves, discarding things that no longer fit, exploring things that might be worth trying on. Whatever it is, after a long season of loss, of losing, and of feeling lost, I welcome this season of discovery, of finding and of being found.