loss and gratitude

This is a delayed post from two weeks ago… the rawness of the subject made me hesitate before hitting the upload button. Now I find I must honor the death that prompted me to write.

———

This past week a dear friend’s niece died suddenly of uterine cancer at the age of 18, which has brought grief into daily life. I knew this beautiful woman-child, but not well. I’ve met her mother, but only briefly. Yet her extended family is like my family, and what happens with them matters to me. The week has been a blur.

Clichés about mortality and loss apply here, but what is new to me is the haunting fear of a mother hiding behind this tragedy. No one knew what was growing inside this girl until it was too late. This could happen to anyone.

Not one to live in fear, I am blindsided when it crosses my path. I react badly, hiding behind whatever is there: a blanket, false bravado, someone’s empathy. Once when a dog lept out of the darkness, barking viciously at us from behind a chainlink fence, I threw a friend of mine in front of me as a shield, out of instinctual, selfish terror — not my finest moment. This week I’ve been hibernating, numb and dumb in empathy for my friend and her family. Grappling with fear and loss is exhausting.

My friend, a wonderful writer, sent me an account of her daughter’s goodbye at the funeral home. The 15-year-old lovingly adjusted the body and accoutrement that would accompany her cousin to the flames, releasing her soul from its terrestrial anchor. As a mother of a 12-year-old, I can’t imagine how to parent someone through this kind of anguish. This family will do it well, and yet I weep for them. No one should have to do such a thing.

The clichés about death being part of life are true, of course, and I think about my life and where I am today. I am a fortunate parent of a happy daughter, with a relatively amiable separation and co-parenting relationship, and a job I enjoy for the most part. I didn’t buy into the American dream and follow a money-making path, but I am otherwise successful in my career. My budget is tight, but I have enough to educate my daughter well, rent a falling-apart cottage in an expensive city, and pay insurance on the car my brother loaned me. I have friends and family who laugh with me a lot. I escape into nature frequently and travel when I can. As great as it all is, there are things I want to change. My love life suffers from several thousand miles’ distance and decreasing financial ability to bridge the gap. My job depletes me, leaving me little energy to balance my life, and my future there is uncertain. My landlord is selling my building so I may have to move soon. My parents’ health is failing, and I am too far away to support them much. I feel powerless much of the time.

And yet I am lucky, because above all, we have life, my daughter and I. And that could be snatched from us at any minute. I will not live in fear, but I will be conscious and grateful for these truths. And I will strive to make life better before it is too late.

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