From a distance
February 09, 2023
In the photograph attached to the email that I just got, they're both in the living room. Sitting comfortably, talking with family. It's an action shot, not a candid, which makes it seem all the more real. I can hear their voices. They could be right there! I know they're not. But I wish they were.
One of the things I never anticipated about mourning my parents is the role distance would play. I've lived two thousand miles away from them since I was seventeen. (I'm going on forty-eight.) Most of the time, in my adult life, their presence was at a distance. And that was fine. It was normal.
It was comforting, knowing they were there. I knew that when I got off the plane, one of them would be in the cellphone parking lot awaiting my call. I knew that their living room would still be just as it had been, and so would the pad of paper in the kitchen awaiting grocery lists...
It was comforting, knowing that some things never change. Except of course they do.
Someone else inhabits that house now. Treasures become trash: the clothes we didn't take went to Goodwill, the books sold to a used books store by the pound. I've had moments of wondering: what is it all for? With or without illness, life ends, and what's left can feel so small.
That's a whole mood, as the kids say. It's become a familiar one, these last few years. It's also grief talking. I don't feel it as often as I did a year ago, but it's not gone. Letting myself feel grief, while still holding on to my certainty that love and care matter even if we're temporary -- that's the work.
On the Jewish calendar it's not yet Adar (aka parental yahrzeit season). But on the secular calendar we're approaching February vacation week. In 2019, we spent that week saying goodbye to Mom. In 2022, we spent it saying goodbye to Dad. Each time, they died a few days after we visited.
We're returning to Texas for a few days in February. It will be my first time back that's not for a funeral. From here it's easy to slip into feeling like they could still be alive, just far away. But that fiction won't hold when I arrive in a Texas where they will no longer be there to greet me.