My mother’s death was a seminal moment in my life. It was sink or swim, and at the time, I was not sure which way I would go. Fortunately I learned to keep my head above water, but I didn’t do it alone. I needed a rescue. Well, two rescues.
Part I – that time I ran away to Texas
One of my closest friends, Squirrel, was living there. After the funeral, I remember texting her that I was coming – I didn’t ask, I just told – and she just asked when she should be at the airport.
For two weeks, I waited until 2 a.m. when she was asleep to cry. I spent most of the days in her apartment watching Babylon 5 on VHS, but sometimes she took me to the school where she was teaching, to get me out of the house.
At the end of the planed two weeks, I wasn’t ready to go home, where the reminders would be inescapable. So, I extended my stay another two weeks. I got to know her now-husband, Moose, and they both helped me celebrate my mom’s birthday before I left. I was relieved I didn’t have to do that alone. (Mother’s Day is still difficult.)
I was lucky – I had foregone a job in favor of caring for my mom after college and had no responsibilities at that point. I was allowed – and allowed myself -- to grieve and zone out of my life until I was ready to regain my feet. It was a soft landing after what was probably the worst experience of my life.
Part II – drifting
Evolving into my new reality was a process. I was looking for a job, but as many current and former job seekers know, inertia and apathy work against you. I didn’t go out much even though I knew isolation was bad.
But then a friend I had known when I was growing up invited me to come over. Well, not exactly then. It was an open invitation, extended at the funeral, but I didn’t immediately take her up on it. I thought I could pull myself up on my own. I’d had time to decompress and gather myself, more than most. I should be ok.
Nope. I’m strong, but not that strong, and grief is a process that comes towering waves and riptides. Even then, I had plenty of experience with the deaths of loved ones, and while experience is always a good teacher, nothing could have prepared me for this.
I think I started by going for dinner. I thought spending time with someone who knew me and had known my mother would be nice. Besides, they had a new baby, and it was an irresistible draw.
And it was nice. They immediately adopted me into their family. I got to know my friend again, and her husband, who I had met only briefly before then. He was a new quantity, and quickly a new friend. In a life that had become very difficult, it was just easy to be with them.
I don’t remember a lot of the details around those early days. Eventually, I started staying overnight, sometimes for a week or two at a time. I became the free babysitter, and I loved it, cuddling and playing and carrying until my arms ached and I had taught the baby a word or two. (There’s no therapy like baby therapy!) The baby was a bright, cuddly escape, untouched by the kind of darkness I was fleeing.
It’s only now, with nearly two decades behind me that I understand how much I needed that. I felt like my family was broken, and we were. We had gone our separate ways, each at a different stage in our lives, dealing with our personal tragedy in our own ways. It would take a while for us to gel again (which we did). Until then, I had to figure out emotional health for myself.
I couldn’t have done it without them, you know, without my chosen family. We are not related by blood, but by love, acceptance, and the knowledge that we will be there when one needs us. I am wealthy in ways that money can’t buy. From the soft landing in Texas to the reboot in Virginia, there was never question or hesitation when I took from them what I needed. They rescued me, when I didn’t even know I was drowning.
[Note: These families (including a new member!) and I have only grown closer as milestones pass and life changes. I will be grateful every day for what they gave me.]