Does Grief Ever End?

I was walking home from the library the other day when I thought “I should call my mom.” I hadn’t spoken to her that day and I wondered if she was okay. My mother is not okay. My mother has been dead for eleven years and yet the realization in that moment – that she is good and truly dead – somehow felt shocking. Even now, even more than a decade later, I still have moments like these where I forget she is gone and then have to remember all over again.  And then, after remembering, I want to tell her about these momentary lapses. I think she would find them funny.

In the year or so after my mother died I felt completely suffocated by grief. It was so overwhelming. I would see all these people going about their usual days and I would want to stand on the street corner and scream “how can you all act so normal!? My mother died! Can’t you see the world’s fallen off its axis!?” This neighbour who had lost her mother a few years before came to visit us at the shiva. She popped in and then was heading out to live her daily life and she acted so ordinary, with her speech coming out in regular sentences and her clothes on straight. I honestly couldn’t understand how she could be okay when her mother had ever died. I could never imagine that the pain could be anything but so raw and intense and all-consuming. I couldn’t sleep all night and then morning would come and I couldn’t believe I had to go through another day. The sun felt physically painful on my skin. I was so numb and just moving through the motions. I couldn’t taste food or feel like my feet were ever rooted to the ground.

I can’t say exactly when, but the throbbing agony eventually turned into a stubborn stitch in my side. A dull sort of ache that isn’t crushingly present but present nonetheless. I’ve done such hard work over the years, burrowing through my pain and I will get to a place where I feel like I’ve made my peace. I will congratulate myself on emerging through this vast tunnel, from darkness to light, and I will pat myself on the back for making it through the other side. “You have reached the end of your grief!” I’ll tell myself, “There’s no more to be had!” I imagine hanging a certificate over my desk upstairs: “This hereby certifies that Wendy has completed the grief life cycle. She no longer mourns her mother.” With all my heart, I will believe these words to be true. I will feel strong and weathered and so very adult. And then of course I will hear a song my mother used to dance to or read a book she would love or think I need to call her and the hurt comes back. Sometimes it’s a tidal wave and sometimes it is just water lapping at my feet but either way I feel wet and cold and sad.

I have been wondering lately if grief really does ever end, if we do ever reach a point where the weight of our love and memories outstrip the pain of loss. I was talking to this amazing girl who also lost her mother a long time ago too and she was saying how she used to feel so sad for herself but now she just feels sad for her mom and everything her mom has missed. I don’t quite feel that way yet. Selfishly, I still feel so sad for me and my own loss. But I do feel it shifting. When I see my brothers’ children all playing together, I feel sad for mom and the fact that she won’t get to know these four beautiful souls and that pain is a softer one.

I don’t know if I will ever get to a point where I stop grieving my mother. I don’t know if I will ever look behind me and say ‘well, that was that.’ I think the loss will continue to recede and dilate in turn from peripheral to profound. I think that’s what it is to lose someone you love. I think you just learn to manage grief so that it hopefully becomes a piece of who you are not the definition.

This Mother’s Day, instead of mourning the mother I lost I want to celebrate the mother I had. Because she deserves to have a glass raised to her. Because I want the pain to stop.