23 years ago tomorrow, in a cold, sterile hospital room, she died.
And I left her there with the white coated men who would turn her over to the men in gray suits who would bury her on the blisteringly hottest summer day I’d ever felt. I lay my body over her mound of cool soft earth, wet now with sweat and tears. Oh how those memories can come flooding back to the heart and bring a heaviness to the core…
Nothing would ever be the same. All that remained was my body that now carried me through many sleepless nights and hopeless days. When my mind calmed enough to hear itself working, there came the myriad questions.
Especially, "Where are you?"
I’ve asked that so many times since my precious daughter died in July of 1994. And while many unanswered questions have traveled in and out of my mind and heart since her death, this single question has resolutely persisted. It is the one question that most haunts me. It is the one question that moves beyond the normal emotions of grief- the despair, sadness, guilt, fear, anger, confusion, and mistrust of the world and of my self. It is the one question that will always, with absolute certainly, remain absolutely uncertain.
How could I possibly have known, then, what this 23 year long journey would have been? What would I, my present-day self, have whispered gently into the ear of my then-self? What truth would I have offered to console her when she asked that unanswerably painful question: Where are you?
The truth is that 23 years ago, just as today, there is no consolation for such a loss that leaves a mother not knowing, with absolute certainty, the precise whereabouts of her child. None.
I do not know where she is with any precision, then or now. No protest I launch can change that. No reason is ever good enough for losing her. No consoling reconciles it. No salve soothes.
But knowing is different from feeling. I do not know where she is. And yet I can feel where she is, I can feel her amidst moments in my life, the ordinary and the extraordinary, because I have kept my broken heart just as it is: broken, open.
I feel her presence in my life. I feel her move in nature. I sense her compassion when I act with kindness toward others, even animals. I feel my love- and grief- for her deeply. The demarcation between her and me is thin, unwaveringly potent, and it has remained so for 23 years.
My sense is, though, that this closeness to her would not have remained intact for more than two decades if I had not made a distinct decision to grieve honestly and openly for her- to remember her- and to stay close to those feelings, even when traumatic and painful, about losing her.
This process of being with grief, surrendering to the grief, and doing with grief has not made my life smaller or dulled my capacity to feel her presence.
Conversely, it has blown my heart open to a depth and breadth of life I could have never imagined, even when the feelings hurt like hell. And, 23 years later, it still hurts like hell some days.
I don’t imagine there will ever come a day when I won’t wonder, and maybe explicitly ask, "Where are you?” It still comes with unknowing pain. But it does not come with unfeeling pain.
I love you Chey. I choose to feel that love even though it comes with grief.
I miss you - and I feel you - every minute of every hour of every day of every week.