There aren’t a lot of words to use ten years after the worst words are first spoken. What is there to say when I can hardly grasp that a full decade has passed since I held a very sick boy through the night wondering what could possibly be wrong only for our family to be ushered in the morning into blood tests and hours later an ER and an ambulance ride and an oncology wing of a children’s hospital?
I have written those series of words so many times that I no longer think them when I write them. They are a well-rehearsed script for a woman whose life I do not recognize. I was a mother to a boy who was very sick, but I am now a mother to a girl who is not, who is twice his age. I scarcely remember that scared mother. And I am that mother. My brain cannot grasp this with any amount of logic.
For the past few years it has been difficult to write or say much of anything. People grow uncomfortable talking about loss after so long, even if they miss him too. I grow uneasy not knowing what to say. I meet new people now, parents of my daughter’s peers, and I find myself reassuring them when they learn of my boy, when they are sorry for my loss, when they cannot imagine the depths of my pain. I tell them sometimes that it’s okay, that mostly I am okay. I tell them that it is awful, that they should not try to imagine because it is far, far, far worse than imaginations can entertain. I say too much. I say too little.
The words that carried me through the diagnosis and the treatments and the death and the grieving and the longing and the missing are themselves so fleeting.
I miss them. I need them.
I miss him.
I used to feel that in keeping the telling alive, I kept him here. I kept him closer to me, to everyone else, and that meant I was coping or healing or something. It was something to steady me when the pain rocked me hard. In losing the words, what happens to him? But it was easier then to talk about the timbre of the pain, easier to puzzle it out. It was fresher, the fluency crisp. Now, I go weeks without giving the grief a name. It takes the quality of sunlight shifting, calendars growing swirly with birthdays and school. It takes the days and my moods growing equally shorter and less predictable, tears coming easier, to begin to grasp that it is here.
Oh, hello, Grief. You are looking different now, aren’t you?
Crunchier, dustier, muddled and muddied up with new sorrows and losses. A whole pandemic. Grief begins to look like a stranger in a store coughing near still-masked me, and me feeling rage well up, and when it does, tears spilling out along with the muffled and fast-tracked words, “My son had leukemia and died,” and I am shocked and the stranger is shocked because I wasn’t expecting that dark visitor, and certainly neither was he, but there it is, ugly and uncomfortable, words sitting in thick air, and I am here still just needing to protect my living child and my dead child from invisible predators.
There is a shortage of eloquent words for this stage of grief. Apologies are about all I can muster.
Maybe it’s a supply chain issue. Not enough to go around for so much weltschmerz and a mother’s patina-coated grief too.
Maybe words are overrated. Maybe they will return. I try not to agonize over it too much until days like these when I need them so.
Ten years. Soon his thirteenth birthday. Another five months and the tenth anniversary. The years keep piling up; the words keep floating away.