We took a lovely trip to the sandy shores of Alabama last week. It was refreshing. Coffee on the balcony in the morning with the sound of the waves and the beauty of the ocean before me. Late night crab hunts with little beams of light dancing all over the darkened sand. Sitting at the water's edge as it lapped over my feet with each rolling wave. Nothingness. No responsibility. No schedule. Not much grief.
It was just as much a vacation from grief for me as it was a break from my ordinary life. For grief has become a part of the daily, as though it were a permanent fixture in my daily schedule. Drink coffee with sugar-free French Vanilla creamer. Check. Read Jesus Calling. Check. Grieve the loss of your mother taken by cancer. Think about it, those last days. Relive them over and over until perhaps they make better sense or the Lord comes to take us all Home to be with her, whichever comes first. Check, check, double check.
I didn't take a break from grieving all together. The first morning I was there, I snuck out to the balcony with a fantastic cup of coffee and read my Jesus Calling devotional book she gave me almost a year ago. I remember walking into their house and seeing a little bag sitting on the dining room table. I didn't think much about it, but after I had been there a while, she brought it over to the couch where I was sitting and gave it to me. Inside was a copy of Jesus Calling, a book I had been interested in after hearing a little about it on a blog I was following at the time, and a copy of Made to Crave, a book about struggling with food issues. On the gift bag was one of those cheesy tags, the ones that are attached to the rope at the top, the ones no one ever writes on or makes use of. But for some reason my mom decided to write on this one... Because I love you, Mom. I have it taped on the inside of my book, and that first morning, I ran my fingers over the surface of it wishing I could feel the hand that wrote the words. I had my morning time with the waves as the background music and felt that somehow she was happy I had done that.
There was a moment, I think the first night, that I sat in my chair plunging my feet into the soft sand looking up at the stars far away over the deep ocean. Feeling like a child, I wondered, Where is she? I know she's in heaven, but where can it possibly be? If I could just go there for just a minute. Just see her. Maybe talk to her and hug her. That would be lovely. I thought back to the trip we took at Thanksgiving to the beach as a family, how cold the sand was then, how warm it is now. Thinking it should be the other way around. And then I forced myself to stop thinking about it because I was about to cry. Sand and tears don't work well together.
Though I thought about her often, my mind took a break from reliving the last day. Every Saturday since she passed away, I have relived it. That morning, in the wee hours on the couch, lying still and listening to her breath heavy. Praying in the stillness of the night a different prayer than I had ever prayed before. Waking her up and realizing she was somewhere in between here and there. Thinking about the last time she opened her eyes. Remembering kissing her goodbye. Reliving the drive back down in the middle of the night after Jesus did exactly what I asked Him to do. The silence and the stillness and the darkness of the road ahead of me. Watching the sun peak over the trees as I made my way back. A true dawn. A dawn unlike any other in my life, as a new phase begun.
I have relived that weekend over and over and over in my mind every weekend since she died. No one knows it, but I do. I don't talk about it, rather it just plays on a screen in my brain. It's just there. Constant and unforgiving. But on vacation, it was drowned out by the ocean waves and sunlight and sand crabs, and I didn't even realize I had taken a break from grieving until I walked back into the house.
She's still gone, I thought. But the grief is still here.