FIVE months old
She liked being reminded of butterflies. She remembered being six or seven and crying over the fates of the butterflies in her yard after learning that they lived for only a few days. Her mother had comforted her and told her not to be sad for the butterflies–that just because their lives were short didn’t mean they were tragic.
-Lisa Genova, Still Alice
I feel so alone.
Ever since you died, I always had that awareness of loneliness–you were no longer there to talk about the things that only a mother could care about. I lost the person whose opinion mattered, whose advice I’d adhere to. But now that I have Everett, I sometimes feel like he and I are the only two existing people, functioning in a world ruled by bottles and diapers and the scheduled clock–a world my husband and friends cannot understand, just as I cannot fathom how they go to work and make a paycheck and talk to other adults.
It’s isolating as a stay at home mother, especially at twenty-five, when people my age are still partying and dating and finding themselves. And I don’t mean to sound like I’m complaining, because I chose this life, and I truly can’t imagine it all any different. But I constantly think how different raising Everett would be, if only I had you…if only I had your company…if only my son had someone other than his parents, that was equally in love with him.
I’ve been thinking of you constantly, as if you’ve become an invisible companion who sits on my shoulder, nudging your presence to be known during the ordinary every day moments–like while carrying laundry up the steps, or in the seconds my head hits the pillow at night–there you are. And my mind seems to dust around every seemingly vacant corner, constantly searching for a new but old memory of you I’ve yet to remember.
Like when I was a little girl, maybe four or five years old, lying in bed with you at the old house. It was still morning; your hair was messy and your face hasn’t woke yet. I asked to put my legs “in the oven”, which meant in between your sideways legs because they’d always be warm. And I played with your long hair, holding up the strands and pretending they were long neck dinosaurs from The Land Before Time movie.
Or the moment I saw Dad, sitting on the couch with his hands over his head, listening to your wedding song, For Your Precious Love. You only had a few more days to live, and it was like he was savoring something, trying to permanently squeeze the feeling of you forever in his head.
Memories will always keep you alive within my body, and even though they sometimes sneak up and surprise and cause me to silently cry, I now understand the ability to remember as a privilege.
I’ve never wanted to share the following with you, because part of me feels like it’s not my story to tell, but my mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s. She is sixty years old. And it is literally breaking my heart, watching the woman who should’ve been my second mother, whittle away before she and I really got the chance to know each other the way we’re supposed to.
It seems that recently, the sickness is slowly becoming more present, even though on the outside, her perfectly aged beauty remains unchanged. A passing stranger wouldn’t visibly know there are knots and tangles invading the intimate parts of her mind.
Chris doesn’t say much about the disease, being the quiet man that he is. If I try to wedge some words out of his worrisome mind, he’ll tell me a few things about how she’s been or what medication she’s trying–things like that, but will never go into detail about how it’s emotionally affecting him. And that’s okay, because I’ve realized he needs the permission to grieve in his own way.
I had to adjust quickly to the idea of losing you. The time between your diagnosis and death passed with the change of two seasons; however, my husband has to balance the evidential pieces that surface each time we visit his mother–a forgotten name, a repeated phrase, a sentence that doesn’t fit into conversation–all while knowing she is literally fading into her already forgotten memories.
Alzheimer’s is different than cancer. When you first became sick, the entire family rallied together and planned and plotted and conversed about opinions and options. Your friends divided up help with dinners and taking care of the two youngest kids. And I can remember you and Dad going to several doctors and specialists, trying to figure out how to entirely extinguish stage 4 breast cancer.
But for my mother-in-law, it could take years and years for this to progress, which is the most devastating part. No one knows how much memory she’ll have left in the upcoming years. There really aren’t options and there isn’t anything to figure out–there’s just time.
Lately, as I’ve been particularly feeling alone, I think of not having you, of not having Chris’ mom, and not having the person I once always imagined being my mother-in-law, Mrs. Treml.
When I got engaged, I completely cut off my relationship with her, in an absurd attempt to move forward from previously loving her son. He was my high school sweet heart, as they say. But she’s the woman who truly guided me back to the surface after your death–the one who took me prom dress shopping and out to dinners, and who I’d call just to chat. Having her friendship eased the transition away from you, and I will always love her for that.
But this inability to have a maternal figure, leaves me feeling insufficient because I can’t give my child a grandmother. I know the factors are all out of my control, but that doesn’t seem to lessen the guilt.
Chris grew up differently than me, with two working parents and only one sister. He never knew what a houseful of kids on a Saturday morning looked or sounded like, or that it was even possible to support a family off of one income. At twenty years old, only a year after we started dating, I explained to him that I wanted to stay home and raise a lot of children. Thankfully, my demands didn’t chase him off and now, I get to watch him father our son, knowing that I somehow nudged this gentle man into a life that can seem so scary until you’re simply living it.
So while I don’t have any form of a mother and therefore not much help when it comes to Everett, I hope that these grievances will gradually force Chris and I to be united as communal leaders of a big, overgrown family. We will be our own help, dependent on each other. And we’ll raise children who will wholly understand the meaning and importance of togetherness, as we create those mundane memories they’ll always remember.