She gently says, “How long has your mother been gone?” A simple phrase that seems innocent enough but it’s actually delicately demanding that I put a timestamp on my mother’s death. That I share the exact time and moment when my life started to morph into something new and broken. She doesn’t realize this plain question is complicated and harsh. What she’s really asking for is the date that broke my heart.
I don’t mind the question because it means she is giving me a chance to speak about my mother, but it’s also a reminder of just how long my mother has been gone. A timeframe that I could never forget while also a timeline I try to pretend doesn’t keep expanding. Each new year brings another year that my mother never saw or experienced. Adding years to a timeline like that is painful, in fact it’s excruciating.
Most often people associate time with healing. Most people think the further you step from the day your loved one passed, the better you are. While time does assist with healing and perspectives filled with a greater hope and light, it also adds days, months and years to your lifeline while quickly acknowledging that it didn’t do the same for the person you lost. While time takes the sting and rawness away, it also solidifies the hole you’ve been given by grief.
I think back to her question and wonder how my answer might sway her response or her view of my loss. If I say a timestamp that is recent, will I be met with pity? If I state a timestamp that is decades away, will she push my loss to the side? The significance of this number is powerful. Of course I will answer with the truth which is four years but what that answer doesn’t describe is that four years feels like both yesterday and also lifetimes away. It feels like it just happened and also like it’s so much further away than it actually is.
Sometimes a number doesn’t portray the accuracy of grief and its consequences. Sometimes a number is both harsh and unbelievable. Sometimes a number puts a timestamp on the day a heart broke and a life changed forever.
If you don’t have a date that brings pain, you are lucky for it means your heart hasn’t been touched by immense loss yet. If you don’t have a date that signifies your very own “before and after”, one that describes a life before loss and a life after, you are blessed for it means you haven’t had to watch last breaths or dirt be placed atop a box that holds someone you love. If you don’t have a date that broke your heart or a date that stole someone from your future, I envy you.
I have a date that doesn’t leave my mind.
A date that changed me.
A date that changed my family.
A date that changed the future.
A date that broke my heart.
Sometimes a number doesn’t describe the accuracy of grief and its devastation. Sometimes a number is harsh and incomprehensible. Sometimes a number puts a timestamp on the day a heart broke and a life changed forever.
My number is 4, what about you?
A thirty-something 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.