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  • It has been almost a year since my mother’s passing. It is a strange amount of time. A time that oscillates between ‘just yesterday’, every moment of her last week in hospice a sharpness that takes my breath away, and ‘another lifetime ago’, did that really happen to me? Yesterday and forever: both are true.

    I used to find it hard to explain to people that I was grieving long before my mother passed away; now I know it was my own guilt I was trying to come to terms with. I am no longer filled with the kind of sadness I had then. The sadness I felt after she died was nothing compared to the sadness I experienced when she was sick. The sadness of dying is worse than the sadness of death I have discovered. The sadness of death is a kind of shock, a hole. It is the absence of something. The sadness of dying fills you up till you’re suffocating, it crams itself into every orifice in your body until you are weak and exhausted. It is a relentless pounding sadness that doesn’t leave even in sleep.

    Now I only have my own suffering to contend with. I am no longer confronting my mother’s suffering as I once did. My mother was rightfully indignant that something like ALS could besiege her. If I were to be afflicted with something as horrible I can’t help but feel I would meekly submit to my fate. I’m not a fighter like my mother was. I don’t have as much anger in me. I had too good of a childhood. But however horrible my mother’s childhood was she never experienced the death of her mother at 23. Two of the most important women in my life were taken away from me within a few years of each other, so there is no way I can deny that bad things happen, they can strike at any moment. I am certainly not immune to the possibility, which makes life all the more surreal.

    I am still here.

    On Christmas day I look out on Lake Eerie in Port Stanley, Ontario where my aunt lives. The lake stretches to the horizon, fooling me into thinking it is the ocean. Strangely warm for Ontario at this time of year, I close my eyes and delight in the sun dancing behind lids. From this vantage point I can hear the flapping of wings in the water. In this vastness the birds have existed since the dawn of time. Have I existed since then too?

    At the one-year mark there is much incredulity in life. There are moments when I am overwhelmed at the beauty of the world. I can’t feel into anything else except gratitude for my existence. Then again, there are times when the pain of loss comes out of nowhere and hits me like a freight train in the dark. In between these extremes is a sort of limbo that has become my life. I have not totally grown accustomed to life without a mother, yet at the same time it is becoming more familiar, sometimes so familiar it scares me. Was it always this way? Have I always been alone? Have I become the amnesiac, the demented? In some ways I think my brain has reconfigured itself to accommodate this new reality. As an animal every fiber in my being is geared for survival. The memories are still there, but more and more they are like images on a film reel. I watch these things happen as if to someone else. Because I am someone else, every day I am becoming less of the person I was and more of the person I am becoming. In 7 years none of my cells will be the same as they were when my mother had ALS.

    I look forward to vantage points further along the path of time. I assume I will know more then. I will be older and wiser, I will realize what this time was for me. I will come to understand why I was meant to experience a mother dying a slow death at the age of 23. But a part of me doubts this. There will be other vantage points but I doubt I’ll ever reach a point in my life where I figure this one out.

    I have been marked forever by incredulity. It is something I will never be able to shake. This is the legacy of death. And sometimes I do see it as a gift.
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