I was sitting at my computer, staring at the screen, unable to focus on the task at hand.
My attention was on the boulder of sadness compressing my body.
Heartache is physical, emotional and spiritual.
An ache in the heart is a real ache, a malady for which there is no cure, no quick fix, no remedy at all.
I lost my mother six weeks ago and am unmoored.
She was the person to whom I turned for advice, comfort and wisdom.
We talked for hours about everything; our conversations were substantive, thoughtful and deep, even when the topics on which we spoke were less so.
She had a way of injecting meaning into everything; in a good way.
Everything was an opportunity for reflection; teaching; connection.
She is the person I need to talk to about how sad I am right now, how I feel like I am losing myself, my purpose, my passion for life.
She is the person I need to bemoan to about what a lonely process grief is and how I don’t see any end to it.
She is the person with whom I need to share that it is too much to bear the almost simultaneous losses of my brother, my father and my mother.
She is whom I need to listen to, to be reminded of how strong I am and how much I have endured in life.
If I could only talk with her; cry with her, rage with her, laugh with her, count blessings with her.
Her thinking, analyses and perspective always impacted me.
It wasn’t that I just heeded her advice or always agreed with her point of view, it was that she created an environment in which I could think clearly and reach wise decisions, grounded in common sense and decency. We had different styles but very similar ways of looking at things.
I am proud to have four children, two boys and two girls, as she did, and talking about them with her was almost a daily occurrence for the last thirty years.
There is no-one else with whom I could or would spend hours discussing pre-school, playdates, sleep routines, middle school angst, high school fury, colleges, career choices, separation anxiety and boyfriend/girlfriend problems.
I am intensely conscious of the strangeness of the world without her in it.
Nothing makes sense at the moment.
I go down to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee, a love we shared.
My feet drag and I am dizzy with disconnectedness.
But it was something other than distractedness that drew me to the kitchen.
My mom would have called it an inkling.
I open the refrigerator door and am not surprised at the paltry array of nothing.
My love for cooking has not found a way into my being these past few weeks, suggesting that my inner life is as unappetizing as the inside of the refrigerator. Stale. Uninviting. Flavorless. Slightly nauseating.
I turn around to the sound of a tapping. Or it it a knocking? It isn’t quite loud enough to be at the front door but it is undeniable. I look around the comforting blue and white room but can’t tell where the sound is coming from.
It is mid-morning and the light is peeking through the large picture window in front of the table at which we eat almost all our meals.
It is a blond wood pedestal table, large enough to comfortably seat eight but which with a little maneuvering can accommodate as many as ten.
It is at this table that we would all gather when my parents would visit from NY and share stories and food.
When my parents sat around the table the kids would sit longer than usual and participate more whole-heartedly.
The tapping doesn’t stop.
There’s a sweet insistence about it.
I see outside the picture window an orange-y light which is attached to the beak of a small bird that is knocking on the window.
I have never noticed anything like it before.
I take a slow deep breath and commit to being present.
The bird is desperately trying to get into the kitchen, continuing to tap on the window.
The neon color is alluring; reminding me of the bouncing ball which used to be placed under the words of a projected song so that we could follow along.
I want to follow along now.
I walk over to the window and gently open it.
By now I am certain that my mother is in present.
Without fanfare, the bird hops in and lands on the windowsill, staying still and almost beckoning me to connect.
Tears are streaming down my face as I allow myself to feel the wanting, the yearning, the missing.
“Mom”, I finally say, without drying my tears, “Shall we make a fruit salad?”
Flooded with memories of countless meals, holidays and everyday moments, I gather all the fruit I can find, even the slightly bruised banana, and begin slicing. Exactly as my mother used to do. I use a silver bowl that my mom had for as long as I can remember, chatting about the perfect strawberries, the overripe blackberries and the not sweet enough apples.
Within a few minutes, the fruit salad is done, my crying has abated and my heart is full.
As I take another breath in, the bird flies off and my sweet encounter is complete.
I am not a big believer in magic or an after-life but I believe deeply in listening from within.
I know that on that day, my mother was with me.
My mother always turned to great works of fiction to understand life’s mysteries as I did in this moment.
Willa Cather captured what I feel about my mom.
“The idea of you is a part of my mind; you influence my likes and dislikes, all my tastes, hundreds of times when I don’t realize it. You really are a part of me.”
Virginia Woolf, in an essay about the sudden loss of her mother wrote “she was the whole thing.”
“I see you everywhere, in the stars, in the river, to me, you’re everything that exists; the reality of everything”.
So maybe seeing my mother as a bird is not a fantasy, it’s reality. The reality of loss, the reality of grief, the reality of love.
My mom is for me, quoting Virginia Woolf, “the whole thing”, and I will always see her in everything that exists. She is the reality of everything.
So, look all around you and be amazed. Marvel at who visits you, what lessons there are to be learned by opening yourself up and really seeing what’s there.
Love the people around you; those present and those you’ve lost.
Love will find you.
Let it in, event when it’s unexpected or unrecognizable.
Allow it to mesmerize you.
Allow it to alter you.
Allow it to awaken you.