Christmas in a Cup
August, 2015

I stand by the sink, regarding the clouds puffing over the mountains, stirring the peppermint tea concoction I like to call Christmas in a Cup. Honey and nutmilk give the mint tea a smooth decadence, but before I can swallow the mouthful I’ve taken, the pain wells and I can do nothing but lean over the sink, knees buckling, the hot golden liquid spilling from my mouth.


Grief is like that. One moment you are watching a lizard sunning itself on a rock and the next you are doubling over, anguish sapping your muscles until they no longer hold you upright.


Last week, I stood in the yard with Samuel watching as the sky darkened unexpectedly. The wind picked up and that’s when we heard it. Like a giant wave of water crashing toward us, Samuel said. I thought it sounded like an approaching train. When the initial piece of hail hit the ground with a crack, we turned and ran for the door.


Grief is not like the approach of a hailstorm that heralds its arrival by lashing the cactus, junipers, and intervening ground as it makes its inexorable way to your doorstep. Grief catches you unawares. One minute you are walking to the clothesline and the next you are stumbling in bereavement’s fierce and furious grasp.


I didn’t want Samuel to leave. But I can’t hold on to one son just because the other is gone. He needs to live his own life and his life, he believes, is in another state. We drove to Texas, taking two days because of the trailer. We stopped when I became too tired to think straight, but not before making a mistake that could have caused an accident if not for another alert driver. How quickly life can change. One instant, you’re moving along, the next your life as you know it is over.


Losing a child, a precious son, smooth of cheek and long of limb, beggars description. No words are adequate, though I try to name the bone trembling pain, hoping that by calling it out I can banish it. A futile effort. Hourly, I endure the unendurable. Daily, I survive.


Work, laundry, books, cooking. I do all the things I did before. But now they are punctuated with the bitter knowledge that life doesn’t always work out well, even if you are a very good girl and try your hardest, and you are kind to strangers and animals and donate to charity and pray.


Impartial disaster strikes evenly the good and the wicked.


Then, between washing the dishes and putting the scraps on the compost pile you wonder what you are doing with your life, the one that doesn’t make sense anymore.


What do I want?




But I’m not sure what life I want. Except my son. I want him back. I want to see what he looks like when he’s forty years old, and I want to laugh with him about the things he thought when he was young. I want to see what his face looks like with a beard. And I want to see his green eyes shining with laughter. And tears.


I want to hear him play the piano again. Not just once but over and over and over, the way he used to drive his brother crazy, practicing the same piece. I’d lie in bed every night, listening to him play in the darkened living room. He never needed music. He played what he heard in his head. I’d force myself to stay awake and listen, knowing that each concert was a gift that I’d not have again.  At the time, I thought he’d be moving out, going to college and starting his own life. But I was wrong. He ended it instead. Either way, the music is gone.


A well-meaning friend advised me to be strong for my other two children. Yes. Yes I want to be there for them. My heart aches that they have been burdened with this so young.


But am I only a mother? Do I have no purpose in life other than to care for my children?


No. I dare to live for myself. I dare to seek joy, despite the pain. If the example I set in living a full life helps my grown children deal with their own sorrow, then I am glad.


But I get up each morning for me.