It’s been a while since I sat down and wrote to you all about my grief. Usually I consider that a victory, a sign that I am healing and moving forward and living a regular-person life, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that too there are times when I worry that I’m forgetting things, like what my mother’s laugh sounded like or how her hands looked or even, maybe, the ways she hurt me.

We went on vacation last week, a hop skip and a jump from where we used to go when I was young. I meant to bring the bag of her ashes with me that I have sitting in the cabinet in my house next to the bathroom cleaner and the extra set of sheets, but in the chaos of packing I forgot. I’d planned to scatter them into the sea, still do, but this marks the third time I’ve been ocean-bound and ‘forgotten’ them at home.

“I forgot my mother,” I texted Nick from the rest stop. We make the 7+ hour drive in separate cars because we want to stay married. “Again.”

“Maybe it’s not time yet,” he said back.

Maybe it’s not. Maybe there’s still work to do before I can let go. Maybe, if we’re going to be honest, I will never be able to let go and someday my own kids will be cleaning out my house after I too am gone and they’ll find a dusty Ziploc bag next to the plunger and wonder what I—the woman who throws everything out—could ever have held onto for so long.

When we made it to the sea we walked the beach, the kids and I, them looking for seashells and me looking for little more than peace. They filled their pockets and pails to bursting, but only once did something catch my eye enough for me to bend and pluck it from the wet sand. It was a small piece of sea glass, pretty in the sun and worn smooth at the edges.

I let it roll in my fingers.

I remembered.

I remembered sitting on the couch one night shortly after she had died. Luca was only a few days old then, and he slept on me, still halfway latched on. Nick had brought me a small glass of wine that I had sipped after Luca had dropped off, trying to remember how simple pleasures like the bite of a good red or the stillness of the house at night could ease the exhaustion off my back, if only for a moment.

It wasn’t working.

When I picture myself in my memory I can see so clearly how I was brittle with sleeplessness, my own grief-madness sitting so heavy on me it is palpable in the image, a black and ugly mass swirling threateningly. But if you’d have asked me then how I was I would have laughed too shrilly or smiled a little too eagerly and insisted I was okay, really, getting along just fine thanks for asking now please go away.

I’d convinced myself of the same, carrying on with folding the laundry and making the coffee and waking every hour to nurse and every morning to get three kids off to school, but I could taste the metal of insanity in my mouth and feel the buzz of exhaustion in my bones. I’m convinced now that the early days of grief are spent tiptoeing around the edge of a hole so deep and dark you can’t see the bottom, all while knowing sooner or later you are going to drop in.

Luca stirred in my lap and I held my breath, willed him not to wake. The house creaked. The baby settled. I held the glass in my hand, now empty, and eventually even the weight of that was too much.

I threw it against the wall.

I don’t remember why. I don’t remember who cleaned it up, or if the sound of the glass shattering woke the baby at my breast, but I do remember then thinking how jealous I was of the glass’s ability just to burst into a thousand pieces with no pretense of having to hold it together required at all.

It’s like that, isn’t it, losing someone? Where once there was a whole there now is just pieces, each of us breaking apart in a different direction.

And for a while you are this jagged, ugly thing, something that needs to be handled with extra care lest you cut. Lest you draw blood.

But time passes, even when it seems like it won’t, even when you can’t imagine ever being anything other than sharp, and the waves of a regular-person life will patiently lap at your edges, gently turning you over and around until you find yourself worn smooth like the piece of sea glass I’d tucked into my bathing suit top, nestled next to the breast no longer nursed from.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to fully let her go. I don’t know if those ashes will make it seaside or if they will stay in that cabinet next to the other makings of a regular-person life.

But I can tell you this: nestled inside that Ziploc bag now is the prettiest piece of sea glass I’ve ever seen.

My beautiful Mother in her favorite place, the Cape.

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5 thoughts to “From Shard to Sea: the Evolution of Grief

  • Alexandra

    Dear Liz,
    What an inspired and great personality you manage to remain despite your loss and suffering! Although, I did not expect anything less from you judging by your writing all this time! To my point of view, this was a wonderful gift you decided to sent to Paradise to your mother!

    Reply
  • Karen DeBonis

    So beautiful and so raw, Liz. I could feel your pain. I think you’re right – you’re not ready to let go. And it’s OK if you never are.

    Reply
  • Rasha

    I don’t know where to start with this, Liz. As someone who has yet to experience this kind of grief, you gripped me with your words. I felt like I was experiencing this with you. Tears in my eyes xx

    Reply
  • Lori McCullough

    My mother is in a very nice box in the top of a closet. She’s been moved a few times over the years. She needs to be in the ocean. I’ll get her there. I may not have cared for her much, but adults forgive and it’s the least I can do.

    Reply
  • Amanda @ The Farm Wyfe

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I lost my mom 3 years ago and it still hurts. Thank you for this beautiful picture of your relationship and how these broken pieces can still be used and smoothed.

    Reply

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