Alone in Her Grave

November 17, 2022

I’m seated in the front row of my mother’s graveside service— a place marked especially for me. The past few days have been a blur and if it wasn’t for others directing me to each place, I’m not sure I’d be anywhere but the floor of my closet, alone and surrounded by darkness. 

The preacher talks, we pray, we might even sing. I can’t recall because while I’m physically here, I’m also a million miles away, desperately trying to undo the past few days and run from the remnants of it. In my head I’m pleading with God to change things and wondering what it would take to bring her back. 

I’m surrounded by people, yet I’ve never felt so alone in my life. I’m clothed in thick black fabric but I’ve never felt more exposed or vulnerable. I’m imitating strength but inside I am screaming and shaking and fighting with invisible enemies. 

I’m an entangled mess of grief and love and loss and demanding heartbreak. I am a woman burying her mother.

I become anxious with the next steps. Before this moment, there has always been a next step, an added responsibility, another event in the sequence. But when this is finished they’ll expect me to leave this place. They’ll expect me to leave after my mother is slowly lowered 6-feet beneath the ground. They’ll expect me to leave her alone, here, in her grave. 

I cannot leave her. How can they expect me to? 

First, I had to find the courage to breathe again once her breath stopped, which felt unsurvivable. Next, I had to find the strength to plan her funeral and choose her headstone. I had to watch as they closed her casket for the final time. And now, now I’m supposed to leave her. I’m supposed to stand up and walk away– from her.

But how? How can you leave your mother behind? Alone in her grave, knowing she never left you behind. 

I am not prepared for this moment. I am not sturdy enough for this next step. Until now, I’ve never thought about this part– the part where you walk into a different life void of the greatest woman you’ve ever known. Before at funerals, this part simply signified the end, the part where you go home. But now it all feels so different. Now it feels like an impossible end, an uncompassionate ask. It feels like abandonment. Like I’m abandoning her and also everything that once was. 

How do I leave here knowing it will be without her? 

And before I have time to contemplate my refusal to move from the spot that I’m in, and my boycott of anything that involves leaving this spot and her, I’m being hugged and comforted and slowly led away. Like a tidal wave of support to block the magnitude of what this moment signifies, the moment we part as mother and daughter, as we’ve always known it. 

Warily, I realize that the choice was never ours to make– not hers and not mine. She would have stayed with me forever if she could have. And I’d do the same for her. With hesitation I follow the flow of people and grief and heartache. 

When I feel like the distance is too far to bear, I stop, I look back and make one silent promise– both for her and for me. With shaking knees and powerful tears I whisper, “I’m only leaving because I have to and because staying wouldn’t change anything. But, you are not alone, Mom! You’ll never be alone. For I am not leaving you here but rather carrying you with me in new and beautiful ways. And because you’ll never be alone here, I guess that means I’ll never be alone out there either. Now we’re holding onto each other in ways no one but us can comprehend. You and me, mom– nothing can separate us.”

And as I turn and leave, I know..

She didn’t leave me.

And I’m not leaving her.

We’ve simply transitioned our relationship. We’ve changed its trajectory. Now instead of side-by-side, we’re simply side-by-shadow– from here to heaven. 

Never leaving each other and never alone.

Neither one of us are never alone.

Love is beautiful like that.

xox, Chels

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Chelsea Ohlemiller

Chelsea Ohlemiller

A wife, mother and educator who has Indiana roots and a passionate spirit. Chelsea is a sappy romantic, coffee junkie, book collector, and person who wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s sarcastic, full of jokes, full of tears, and enjoys writing most when life gets messy or complicated. In 2017, Chelsea's mother passed away. Through her grief journey, she decided to take her mother’s advice and share her writing with the world. One day she gained the courage to honor her mother's wishes and write. It turned out to be one of the best decisions she's ever made.

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