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  • Writer's pictureJaime Pollard-Smith

Submarine Living

“These people who have lost someone look naked because they think themselves invisible.”

― Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

I have read all the books. I always turn to books. I research, study, gather information; it makes me feel in control. But grief is mysterious. It is so deeply personal. I heard it compared to living in a submarine on the bottom of the ocean floor. Blank. Void. Hollow and empty. Invisible in plain sight. It is almost an out of body experience.

After Mom died, I went underground. Literally, I went into hiding. I came up to the surface a few times; my kids had open house and there was the burial. Other than that, I disappeared. It was mostly because, as Didion describes, I felt so exposed if I was around people. My demeanor outed my sense of loss and alienation. Why did I feel so alone? I was with my husband and kids. I had constant contact from friends both near and far. I received countless cards, notes, messages, flowers and gifts. Yet, there I sat tucked in my submarine methodically stringing together deep breaths.

My therapist told me that I will learn to be my own best counselor and/or parent. I will learn what I need and find ways to self-soothe. I have spent the week wearing my happy tie-dye yoga pants, sipping good coffee, running, biking, enjoying nature, going on dates with my husband and reading good books. I have taken lots of walks and spent countless hours sorting through old pictures and emails. I have also embraced the sadness and let myself miss my mom. I have clenched my fists at the unsolicited entry to the “people who have lost their mom” club. Nap, eat, throw a tantrum, repeat. I have been a 38 year old toddler. It is part of the process. I can take comfort in knowing that my present emotional state is only temporary.

However, I have been surprised at how much I have mourned for myself. I am not speaking of self-pity or over-indulgence. I am referring to mourning a version of myself that died with my mom. I told my husband, “I had worked to become someone I loved, and now that person is gone.” On more than one occasion, I have looked in the mirror and not even recognized myself. I am not the mother, wife, person I once was. A seismic shift at my core has me grieving for the person I was one week ago.

In this regard, grief is lonely. Only I can recreate myself - a mosaic of shattered, reflective glass. Losing a parent is the ultimate push into adulthood. I have spent hours evaluating and brainstorming. What do I want for myself and my family? Who and what will I be in this new season? Virginia Woolf writes, “A self that goes on changing is a self that goes on living.” I will adapt, grow, and unbecome some more.

After we buried my mom, my little crew stopped at a hippie festival right next door to the cemetery. My daughter and I ran to where a woman was setting up her tent. “Let your spirit soar,” hung on a banner. She was selling intricate, brightly colored dream catchers. I picked one out with the colors of every season wrapped around a ceramic leaf at the center. It is a beautiful mess representing some of me and some of Mom: elegant beads, scraps of colored fabric and nature. It hangs in my spirit room.

Next, we drove to a park nestled in the middle of a bustling city. Rocks, water, trees, flowers, bridges, green lawns, birds chirping - beauty in the ordinary. The submarine shifted and lifted for a moment. There was a glimmer of light visible at the surface.

People often tell me they could never share their story so openly. I unintentionally became the Alzheimer’s blogger (hopefully, this too is temporary). They ask, “How do you just put it all out there like that?” First, I would say that I am much cooler online. I open up for the world on my website but then hide away in pajamas reading books in reality. But, as author Jen Hatmaker explains, during some painful times in her life, the most suffering came between the moments of discovery and disclosure. Bearing the weight of the suffering alone is unnecessary. While I might feel lonely on the ocean floor, I understand that my grief is magnified in isolation. I can peek through that periscope and see light. The darkness makes us acutely aware of any source of light, and I have caught a glimpse of it in every direction. Words are my art, and art is my therapy. I am my best therapist, and this world is full of light bringers.

Thanks for journeying with me.

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