I’ve been feeling my mom a lot lately. I think the luxury of slowing down has allowed me to listen for her. This photo was taken when she was around my age, traveling and meeting relatives abroad like I am. I think of the privilege of travel, of the relative safety we both hold/held. I think of her travels later in her life, how many airport bathrooms she was chemo sick in before flying to present at her next conference, how many backstages she straightened her wig in, plastered on a smile, and stood in front of hundreds – thousands across the country – to share her love of getting kids excited about reading and writing. How when the disease crept in her cells, she kept writing, book after book. I’m winding through the countryside in rural Georgia, deeply humbled, reflecting on maternal strength. As if on cue, with no shared language between us, my Georgian taxi driver scrolls through his playlist and puts on “I’ll Be Missing You” by Puff. And then the world winked at me.
To be clear, I don’t share about my mom’s death for sympathy nor attention. I share because death is woven into the fabric of life, and her death was a profound stitch in mine. Grief is a place beyond sadness; it is not always present, not always loud, but its waves do come. Like healing, grief is not linear. Like healing, grief is weathered more easily through connection, through community. I share to disrupt the shame we have in our culture around grief and death. Grief doesn’t dissolve when the funeral ends, and our healing processes shouldn’t either. Our culture asks us to stuff our sadness away from view, to go back to work the day after the casket drops, to not feel. I have stuffed away my sadness, my grief, for almost two decades. I have busied myself with the problems of my clients, with the grief of the kids I work with, as a distraction from my own. This is a reminder for myself, and for you, to feel. Sit with your sadness. Sift through your grief and listen to it. Let it move through you, and give it a home. It has been 18 years since I hugged my mom. But when I listen, she’s right here. She’s always been right here.