by Amy Massingale
Yesterday was jagged. A lurching, jagged day. Yesterday was Jaws, my grief had teeth. What bit me was what I wasn’t expecting. It was that she would start to look like her. I’d never noticed a strong resemblance before, never once expected to turn to my daughter in the car and in her profile, in the hollow of her cheek, see my late mother gazing back at me. But as she is growing up and maturing, I see my mom’s flower of a face in hers.
I have compartmentalized. I have photos in the house that I have become skilled at striding by, averting my eyes. Mementos and keepsakes are in the closet and under the bed. I keep trying to unpack the grief later. But grief has its own way. And grief gets its way, every time.
There are different types of it, unexpected flavors of pain, textures of grief. It sprouts up like weeds, sometimes springing tiny flowers, in the cracks of my life. With the smell of pine needles, it pierces me. Christmas eve was guttural, a deep ache, heavy with the weight of want. It crushed me under “O Come All Ye Faithful” and lifted me during “Joy to the World.” It’s as mysterious and bottomless as the ocean and as sudden and unrelenting as summer hail in Texas.
Grief is a sucker punch.
And yet grief is not the enemy. In some ways, I’ve become strangely addicted to it and to those moments I give myself into when I wallow. I want to lose the pain but not necessarily the grief. After all, the grief connects me to my mother, so I hold it, a wailing infant, and try my best to love it, and to soothe. It cries when I cannot, when I fear that if I start the tears they’ll never stop.
Grief, they say, is the other side of love, it’s the B side, a forlorn tune, the needle traveling over and over the same record grooves, bumping along when the song ends, nowhere to go. It’s a letter, pressed between two books, that opens up a world to me dated 1968. It is a yellowed clipping showing my mother sharing a casserole recipe, smiling primly with a belly full of me. It’s the red coat my mom wore at Christmas, the one with the small stone in the pocket which sits on my desk. It’s rocking in the chair she once rocked me in. It’s turning the porchlight on as she always did for me.
For the church, I gather the fabric of her delicate clothes that will make a quilt – a patchwork memorial to a community that has died, its warmth and softness bringing comfort to those of us left standing. The lucky ones, I guess you could say, only because you cannot see our scars.
Grief moves with us when we move. Like my cats it finds its own nooks and crannies in new the house to claim. The basement, with the boxes of piano music, is a minefield. The painting of her in the window of my office, when the late afternoon sun shines through, transports me.
When spring comes, the two square off.
Spring is showy, fragrant, fecund. Grief lurks and hides, it is ashy, musty. Spring promises renewal, rebirth and light. Grief is her shadow sister, still hanging out graveside, smoking a cigarette.
My heart wants to open, to take in new life as the buds around me are doing, but shrinks as they do from the chill in the rain. It feels impossible that this battered heart of mine could hold any more loss, any more love. And yet, and yet. Though their songs may sound bittersweet to me, the birds still sing. And the dainty yellow daffodils and pink cherry blossoms and even my own daughter’s sweet face, say to me, every year, “See, silly? Nothing beautiful is ever really gone.”
It rains yet again. Only this time it is my face that is wet.
About the Author
Amy is a Pacific Northwest-based author and advocate, writing on love, loss and family.