I couldn’t think of anything to say but I sat there. I sat there by her bedside and I held her hand. I whispered prayers for her — praying for light and assurance and for peace.
I thought that she would die last month. I thought she would have one last, beautiful Christmas with her sons and then she would make her peace with this world. But, that’s not what happened. She has improved. She still has a brain tumor and it’s clear that her body and her voice won’t do what she wants them to do, but part of her is still very much alive. Trapped, as the hospice nurse described it, in a body that won’t cooperate. (That seemed funny to me because that’s how Janet would have said it herself. I can see her saying just that in the same frustration and disappointment.) But, she doesn’t say much anymore. She sleeps mostly through each day. Each day passes with a X crossed through the date on the calendar across from her bed. It was on that calendar that I realized that her birthday had just passed. I squeezed her hand as I wondered about how time passes.
How do you celebrate the gift of another year when you’re not fully aware of each day passing by? It feels so arbitrary. It feels so completely random. They are just Xs on a piece of poster board. They mark when the sun rose and when it set — but nothing about what happened in-between that rising and that setting. Maybe because we can’t really measure what happens in-between. Maybe because all that we can really do is notice when the sun has set and the day is done. Or maybe that’s just me.
Because I spend a lot of time and energy thinking about how to spend my days. I want each and every moment to count. I want it to mean something. I don’t want time simply to pass. I want each second to pass filled with wonder and love and laughter. I want to live even though I’m not really sure what that means. Because I don’t want time to simply pass. I want it to be beautiful because those Xs on the calendar are something my mother missed. She died 27 years ago on Sunday. 27 years ago. I remember when I was so terrified that that number had become greater than the number of years she was alive. I was 7 when she died. It wasn’t long before I had been alive longer without my mother than with her. But, I still can’t believe it. Logic be damned. I can’t believe that is that it was 27 years ago. And this is what I don’t understand: How do you celebrate the gift of another year when you’re not fully aware of each day passing by? Because — even though I have tried so hard to make each moment of my life beautiful and meaningful — I don’t think that I’m fully aware of each passing moment. Maybe it’s not possible. Maybe we don’t have that capability. But, here it is, another year since she died. It’s a gift for me. Another year for me to remember what it means to be alive — but it comes first with tears. Because I miss her. Because I wish that she were here even though I really don’t remember her. I don’t know what she would say or how she would feel. No matter how many times I ask family members these questions, I’m never satisfied. It’s something I’ll never really know about her. So, instead, I grieve the passing of time that I don’t understand. That it’s been 27 years and I still feel an absence that I can’t or won’t understand. That I have made so many Xs on so many days that she was never there to see. That time passes and life goes on but we are never the same.