It’s American mother’s day.
They say nothing prepares you for losing a parent. Theoretically, I should have been prepared: ten years of pulmonary fibrosis, a double lung transplant, a rollercoaster of ups and downs that took me away from my life in Scotland and made me a part-time carer. From 2011 to 2021, her journey was my journey. Still, her loss ripped a hole from me. I’ve wondered if it was so profound because of that extra time; I’ll never know. Thankfully, I have nothing to compare it to.
I’m pretty good at putting on the appearance of holding it together. At best, it’s a sort of mask, but a magical one that only I know I’m wearing. I’m still not sure I know what grief is, exactly, and maybe it’s different for everyone: my flavor is a feeling of being untethered, like I’ve found myself in a parallel universe where everything is wrong. There’s no way back; no leap home. The only way through is forwards, and I resent it.
By far the worst part is the expectation of coping. Because I’m wearing that magical mask, I look more or less like an adult human being who is getting through his day. But because I’m untethered, because I feel this new distance between me and the world, I’ve been operating without a rudder. I’ve been alternately numb and in pain, and looking for things to make me feel anything else. I’ve been deeply unhappy with my life - all of it - but it’s hard to figure out what to change, or how, when a bomb won’t stop going off. I’d hoped to have time and space to breathe this year, a way to regroup, but there’s less than I’d hoped.
People expect men to cope; to be stoic; to just get on with it. And I am. But I want to disappear. I had this giant loss, and the world has carried on regardless, and I’m expected to carry on with it. I resent that. It’s driven a wedge between me and everything. Above all, it feels incredibly lonely.
I know my father and my sister feel their own versions of this, too, and I’ve been spending a lot of time with them. Family is powerful at a time like this. We understand each other.
Ma saw good in everyone and was able to cut through bullshit with a word. I can hear her say “oh for goodness sake” and tell me what I just need to go and do to give myself that space. I’m even doing some of them - I’ll write more about work in particular before too long - but there’s so much that feels askew.
My parents taught me to have wide horizons and not to be bound by the norms of the mainstream. It was an important lesson, but also one that ruined me for a “normal” life: I haven’t had a normal career, and I wouldn’t feel satisfied living in the same place forever. There are so many adventures to be had out in the world, both figurative and literal. We only get to live once, and life is fleeting. You’ve just got to go for it. Live big. Nothing is really that scary.
And maybe that’s the lesson. If everything feels wrong, if everything is askew, I need to spend the time to figure it out and forge a life that works for me. My worst tendency is to erode my own boundaries to make other people happy: self-destruction in kindness’s clothing. She was always worried about that, and I should have paid more attention.
I miss her. The usual platitude is that she’s right here, in me. But that’s only true if I live up to her; if I live up to myself. I’ve got to be my own tether and find my own happiness; build a life where there is no mask.
If your mother is still with you, I hope you can find a way to hug her and hold her close. If not today, then soon.
She was never really into Mother’s Day. It was a Hallmark holiday to her. But it feels like a good time to say that I miss her, and I miss everything she meant to me. And I’m still figuring out what happens next.