It has been twenty years since my parents have died and I almost forgot. The thing that reminded me was a notice from AAA telling me it is time to renew my membership. I’d gotten it after my parents died because I realized I didn’t have anybody to call if I was stuck somewhere with a broken down car.
They died six weeks apart. Mom died first of lung cancer and then Dad died of a heart attack. Mom’s was an expected death, Dad’s wasn’t. It wasn’t a total surprise – he’d never taken care of himself. But I hadn’t prepared for it like we’d had to do with Mom’s.
I remember the first few years after they had died. Every year when the date for Mom’s death would come up I would dread it. I didn’t have to write it on the calendar to remember it. It would rise up, unwelcome. The memories of my loss would come to visit and stay with me like a crazy relative who overstays her welcome. Then, because my Dad died six weeks later, I’d be in a holding pattern. I’d feel like my life had been put on pause for all that time. Six weeks of feeling my feelings, of holding them and examining them. Six weeks of waiting.
What was I waiting for? It was like I was holding my breath until the day that Dad died would roll around. Somehow that day was the day that the strange double-grieving period was over in my head. It was time to start life again then. I was released.
This pattern went on for years. Sometimes I would meet up with a friend of my Mom’s on her death date. We would console each other over a beer and a burger, or a trip to a craft show. Sometimes I would do something in honor of Mom and Dad. I’d listen to their favorite music, or try a hobby that they liked. They were ways of trying to bring them back to me, if just for a little while. It helped.
But this year I’ve forgotten. This year I’ve found myself in the middle of their death days. This year nearly two weeks have passed since my Mom’s death day and I missed it. I figured that this year would be extra different because it was twenty years.
Every year it has gotten easier. I’ve heard there is a sort of half-life to grief. However long you knew the person, take that time and divide it by two. That length of time is the length of time you will grieve for that person. I’d known them for twenty-five years – so twenty years grieving is way past that time. By that reckoning I should be over it.
You aren’t ever over the death of your parents, or of anyone who meant something to you, who impacted your life. Their loss will always mean something. There is a hole that can’t ever be filled.
The hole does get smaller. It can’t ever completely go away, but it can get less like a gaping wound and more like a scar. It will never be perfect. You’ll always know it is there, but it won’t cripple you like it did.
Maybe this is why I felt the need to make lemon delights this weekend. Maybe in the back of my mind I did remember. This was my favorite dessert that my Mom would make. I’d ask for them for my birthday instead of cake.
A few years ago my mother-in-law tried to make them for me when we were visiting around my birthday. She didn’t have baking powder and used baking soda instead. They weren’t the same, but she got bonus points for trying to console me anyway. Even if she had made them exactly according to the recipe, they wouldn’t have been the same because she isn’t my Mom. Nobody can ever fill that spot. But her trying to soothe me was kind.
But somehow, this week, I got the hankering to make them. I’ve never made them before. I haven’t really cooked before, so I haven’t had flour or eggs or baking powder in the house. I hadn’t thought about buying them because I thought it would be wasteful to have these things here just for this one recipe. But this year I’ve been cooking, and with that, baking.
I talked with my Mom while I made the lemon delights this weekend. People rarely tell you that the relationship continues after the person’s death. They don’t tell you how to do it, how to communicate with them and have a relationship. It turns out that they are still with you, in your heart. You can talk to them, and if you are quiet enough, you can hear them. It is beautiful and sad and special. You can work things out. And that is what we did.
I followed her recipe, that same recipe card that she used, in her funny squiggly handwriting. The card is smeared with stains from dozens of years of use. My husband had gone out on a bike ride so it was just me and the recipe. So I started to talk to my Mom. I told her how sad I was that she had not taught me to cook. I told her how hard it was to be without her, that I wish she could see how well I’m doing now. I wish she could meet Scott. I wish she could read my writing. I wish I wish I wish.
And I heard her. I heard her back, gently, lovingly, sadly. I heard her back in my heart as I mixed and blended and sifted. I heard her tell me that in everything I had ever done I had surprised her. I heard her tell me that she thought that because I was “gifted” that I didn’t need to learn these simple basic things like cooking and housework. I heard her tell me that she was sorry, that she didn’t know. She didn’t know that just because I can grasp things quickly doesn’t mean I don’t need them to be handed to me first. She didn’t know, because she couldn’t know.
And I forgave her. And I move on in my grief. I move on in my loss, the loss of my Mom at a young age. I move on in my loss of all the things I wasn’t taught and didn’t even know I needed to know. I move on, but at the same time I’m moving on I’m moving back, and in, and within. I’m moving around inside this hole that was left when my Mom died.
Maybe she was the one prompted me to make lemon delights this weekend. Maybe she knew that I’d come to in the middle of this time and be sad that I didn’t remember, didn’t memorialize it. Maybe she knew that I would need something to hold on to.
She has given me something in this. This isn’t a blanket or a talisman. This isn’t a token or a fetish. There isn’t something to point to or to work with like worry beads. What she has given me is the knowing, the sure knowing, that she is not gone. She has come back to me in my heart, and in that coming back she has restored a bit of myself to me. She is filling that empty hole that was left when she died. She is filling it with herself.