Even in joy there is a shadow of sorrow once you have experienced great loss. This week that shadow hung over me as I prepared to depart the plane at SeaTac to visit my dad. I knew ahead of me in the airport was the spot I had stood when I first realized my mother was dying over four years ago.
In January of 2011 I stood outside the gates at SeaTac waiting for my parents to come off the plane from Hawaii. They were returning home early because my mother was in severe pain. I had seen her a few weeks before in Hawaii. She had been weak from pain, but nothing prepared me for sight of her. My mother appeared in a wheelchair as the automatic doors parted. My dad was walking beside her while an airport employee pushed her wheelchair. His posture was that of a man guarding the very frailty of life as he leaned in towards her.
Neither of them expected me to be there and looked right past me. I took the moment to absorb the impact of the sight before me. My mom had withered. She looked small, frail and weak. I had cared for her years before after her open-heart surgery and had never seen her so close to the doors of death as she appeared that day.
That day I had texted my husband, “If this isn’t the end, I can see it from here.” And so began the journey of goodbye more than four years ago.
This week ahead of me was a journey of new life, joy and precious time with family. I simply needed to walk past those memories at SeaTac to start the new journey. As I stood on the plane I choked back tears as the memory resurfaced as clear as if it had happened only yesterday.
I was excited to be arriving to visit my father. And still there was the knowledge that even in the joy there would still be the absence of my mother. No matter how many blessings fill our lives today, nothing ever fills the vacancy of a loved one. And so, even in joy, I was acutely aware of her absence.
This week as we hiked in the Pacific Northwest I saw several nurse logs with new trees growing out of dead logs and stumps. It is wonderful that new life can flourish even after the impact of death. At the very moment of loss it was hard to imagine there ever being joy again. But joy happens, at first in glimpses and later it flourishes, and still always there is absence that can be felt through every moment of tomorrow.
Loss is hard to describe, despite time it often feels as though you said goodbye only yesterday. And ever present is the missing, the absence, the void of your loved one. I heard someone describe it today as “forever yesterday.” It feels like the moment of loss was only yesterday, forever, even now.
This week I stood at my mother’s grave and went to our beach to build a new memorial stack of rocks, but realized it isn’t in those moments that I miss her the most. It is in the everyday moments she is absent from.