30 Jun
Sunset on Lake Erie

I’m starting to realize that there’s no coming out from the other side of grief. At least, not parental grief. It’s not a thing or an emotion or even a concept – it’s a seismic shift in perspective. I’m having a hard time adjusting to the new tilt of my world. I often lose my balance.

The other day, as I was filling the bird feeders, it occurred to me that my best years are behind me – those first sixteen years when the girls were born and we grew into a family, orbiting each other, our own tiny solar system. I stopped, closed my eyes, and imagined two bright-eyed girls circling around me as I poured black oil sunflower seeds into the hoppers, imagined them fighting for the chance to slide a new brick of suet into the woodpecker feeder.

Sometimes it feels like I’m all that remains on these summer mornings. It’s just me and Roo blinking into the relentless June sunlight as we traverse the yard together. I try to tell myself that this is okay, that a little time to myself in the mornings is healthy, that it’s something I used to crave. But it’s a lie. It’s too much of a shift, too soon. I want my tiny solar system back.

I once had a premonition of my life to come. It was right before I met Jim. I was about 24 years old and living in a basement apartment on Long Island. I was lonely. My parents had moved to New Jersey four years prior, I’d broken up with my high school sweetheart, had dated off and on and I’d found myself truly single for the first time in my life since the age of 15. My best friend had recently moved to Denmark.

I was home on a weekend with no plans, feeling sorry for myself. But, in a moment of clarity, I’d thought, “Enjoy this time. Soon it will be filled with other people and their needs. Some day a family will dominate your days, including your weekends. Time will be precious.” I don’t remember thinking about it with a sense of longing. It was just something I felt coming. I met Jim a few months later.

And now? I can’t imagine my life in the near or distant future. When I try looking forward, I don’t like what I see. I have no sense of family or community, no sense of what’s coming. I’m afraid because it feels like everything’s leaving. Everyone’s leaving. It is just me in the mornings – me, with my rituals and the dog Ana loved and that’s not enough. I’m not enough.

I know this is the way grief colors my perspective, painting a wash of despair over everything, making me look back with longing. I know this, but I’m still stuck in the midst of it…sinking.

A woman in one of the online grief groups I occasionally visit said that she couldn’t find happiness after her child died until she accepted her new life without him. But it wasn’t just about acceptance, it was about letting go. She had to rebuild everything – her entire life and the expectations that came with it, only then was she able to embrace living and rediscover joy. I suspect I’m at a point right now where I have to separate letting go of my expectations and my past with letting go of Ana. I’ll never let her go – not her memory or my current connections (real or imagined) with her spirit.

I must let go of my idea of myself (real or imagined) that drove my identity for the first sixteen years of motherhood. I need to get to know myself as I am now. I suspect this is how I’ll find my joy again.

I wonder, can I do that? Can I build a new life at 47? Can I find joy in the future and in myself? I hope so. I think that’s why I love the birds – they hold the key, somehow – and Emily and Jim and Roo. There is a path forward. I just have to find it.