Today I decided to visit my mom’s grave at the cemetery. I have actually only been there on a handful of occasions. You’d think I’d want to go more for the amount of time I spend thinking about her, but I haven’t gotten to that point yet. At first I’d go on holidays or important dates like near her birthday or Mother’s Day… But that didn’t feel authentic. Today I passed the exit on the freeway where the cemetery is, and I decided to go visit.

I was also inspired by my therapist. She asked me if I ever talk to my mom. “Not really,” I replied. And she asked me why not. “Because I don’t really feel her,” I teared up. “You don’t feel her or you don’t want to feel her?” she asked. It was a good question. “I think a bit of both,” I answered.

That was on Friday, and today is Monday. I decided to go see my mom and I tried to talk to her. I’ve “talked to” her before, both out loud, in my mind, and through writing. It always feels really good, and I always forget how good it feels.

I drove to the cemetery and walked to my mom’s gravestone. It’s not very pretty except for a little drawing of a sand dollar on a plaque beneath it. I started. “Hi Mommy.” The tears were already flowing. The crying that took place wasn’t loud but it was consistent. It’s still hard for me to even talk about what happened, 3 years later. I updated her on my life just like I would if she were alive, though a little more awkwardly as I am not getting a response. It was weird to hear my voice, too. I don’t normally talk to someone without getting a response for such a long period of time, and I noticed how young I sound, even though I feel so old inside. Like I’ve just been through a lot. And it’s weird to hear that really youthful voice come out, like it doesn’t reflect me accurately.

I told her how I’m starting a new job this week. How I’m moving to a new apartment next month. How I miss her and I wish she was here. How things aren’t really that exciting and yet a lot is changing. How my family is doing….okay.

It felt really strange at first. But no matter how strange it felt, it was cathartic. At first I worried that the woman I saw a few hundred feet away could hear me, but eventually it didn’t matter. I cried and talked to her, and I told how lucky I was to have her for the time that I did, and how I feel like I’m still trying to comprehend that she isn’t in my life anymore, at least not physically. It just feels like two different lives: the one with her in it, and the one without her where I try to find myself in a matter of a few years in a way that takes most people a lifetime. I felt like her presence helped define me, and without her a part of my existence is no longer here, but I have to now define that myself.

And it certainly makes me stronger in a lot of ways, but it doesn’t mean things are easier or better. Strength is truly born through struggle. And it’s not the fake it ’til you make it, emotionally disconnected, kind of strength either. That’s the kind of “strength” I used to think I had. It’s a strength of realizing my emotions, realizing what I need, and letting it all out. Giving myself the time to heal, the time to grieve, and realizing there’s a lot more time in the day than we believe. By allowing myself to let out these emotions, whether grief-related, work-related, relationship-related– I’m giving myself the time and space to be present for my life. Ignoring your grief and letting it bottle up is not the answer. It is often the easier thing to do, from both a time-management and pain-management perspective. But in the longterm it actually opens up your body and mind to be more available for other activities.

So I thank you, Mama, and even though I feel the pain of the loss every single day, I am also more able to be available to myself, my needs, and the needs of those who I love and care about. Thank you for that gift, and thank you for letting me talk to you today. It’s crazy how much you can miss someone, and yet it’s not obvious that a way to help is to remember them and keep them as part of your life. We often hear the term “letting go,” and “moving on,” but I think that’s why I’ve struggled. I haven’t been able to do either of those things, but by incorporating her into my life, I am able to move forward, knowing that she’s still by my side if I choose to let that happen.