Unfinished Business

My life has been marked by endless feelings of unfinished business. I am certain I will be a ghost when I die.

As a child writing stories about my silly dog Midnight, or a superhero named Ernie the Goose that saved Michael J. Fox from muggers with a Super Soaker 2000 (you know, the squirt gun with the water tank backpack), I never stopped editing. It was never done. I read and reread every Shel Silverstein poetry collection trying to find something I had missed the first, second, third time. There was always work to be done. When my mom died in high school, I appointed myself as the healer. Her reach was infinite. She was so much to so many that the void was overwhelming. There were so many people to fix.

My ex-boyfriend called the night she died. He was sobbing. I listened. I let him cry. He cried and cried and I listened. I lied to him and said that it was going to be okay, because that is what you say. I remember watching three of my classmates huddled together at the cemetery falling into themselves in tears. I looked at them and wanted all of the crying, broken faces to be happy again, to stop looking at me with their heads cocked sideways trying to figure out when I’d be better. In one moment, I aged 10 years and gave myself a psychology degree.

“I am fine, but are you okay?”

I took on the world’s problems. This gave me a sense of purpose, chores and tasks to check off instead of letting myself rot. In ways, it was easier. I figured time would take care of my innards and the world needed me more. I had nightmares for years about my family dying. I attached myself to examples of my own reflection: hollow and reckless with a bravado about having fake, thick skin. I mothered the world in meaningless ways. I was terrified of loving anything.

But you can’t really decide not to decompose: it happens on its own. It’s taken me more than a decade to understand what I need and that those needs are important. I had to deconstruct myself much like I deconstruct what I read, look at it at every angle, analyze, hypothesize, test, repeat. I heal through reflection, solitude, reading and nature, then I give it all away. It’s like I have to forage for food for my survival, but instead of eating, I feed everyone else until there’s nothing left.

The day before she died, in a flash of lucidity, my mom told me I was an amazing writer, that I was so smart, and that I would do great things. I am starting to accept that maybe she was right. I get lost in counting all the ways I miss her and will miss her, how the loss has changed and will continue to change but never get any smaller. I’m learning to hold a space for her legacy instead of her absence and remembering how my father instantly turned into two super parents to a lost, shell of a daughter. I’m lucky to have a host of cousins, grandparents, and surrogate moms that stood behind me and took care of me when I was sure I didn’t need care.

Grief has been somewhat of a circle of healing and bleeding and repeating myself, telling the same stories until they become braided into the wallpaper of every house I’ll ever live in. My breath still gets caught in my throat when a mother and daughter show up in a story I’m reading. I worry if I’m emotionally prepared to be a mother myself, if I have miles more to go, if I’ll ever be ready for a child.

But maybe this is a never ending part of my life that I will forever have to navigate as I’m always remembering details about her that I want the world to know, that I want to remember, what she smelled like, how she hung a spoon on her nose, how she made me laugh until my stomach hurt, where she always left her shoes, our Queen sing-a-longs and soft serve ice cream fights, trying desperately to quantify in eighteen different ways how much it still hurts like the moment she left, my unfinished story, our unfinished story....

My mother was made of equal parts belly laughs and bear hugs and she loved me so completely that it shakes every step I take….