The days, they get longer now

I promise I won’t post reruns ALL month long, but a loooong afternoon with the endodontist (all I ever wanted for Christmas!) and two boys awake before 5 a.m. today have left me a little thin on the reflections. I think it is enough that I am reposting this 16 years to the minute that I learned my mother had died.

I’m okay, really, I am. And tomorrow I’m going bake about 4,000 cookies and watch a little boy rehearse his role as sheep in the Christmas pageant. But tonight my heart aches along with my jaw (see above) and I am just going to let it be so.

The days, they get longer now

Originally posted December 22, 2007

The short days, the long nights, the cold—sometimes I feel like I’m just surviving in these waning days of the year. Especially as the calendar winds around to today’s date, December 22. Today is the fifteenth anniversary of my mother’s death.

It’s hard to write this in the midst of so much holiday gaiety (cue record scratching sound). For so many years, all of December rang hollow for me, a month to simply get through. I used to wonder where I could go that would feel completely unlike December, and where I could find a place without Christmas, which was now so indelibly linked to losing her. It is no accident that my babies were born in the lightest time of the year—I couldn’t imagine the load my heart would be forced to carry if I had a baby in the darkest days of winter.

But the years, they do march on. It tugs on my heart to know I am so far from the person my mother last knew, that 21-year-old college senior. That Maggie, Matthew and Kate, my three siblings, have now, in reverse birth order, each spent more of their lives without her than with her, and my heart aches for that loss.

It wasn’t in her plan, that’s for certain. Diagnosed in April 1992 with metastatic colon cancer, my mom bargained for life with everything she had. Disregarding her terminal diagnosis and her doctors’ urges for quality of life, she said, “Nothing? I have to do something. I have four children.”

Just 50 at the time of her diagnosis, she pursued treatment at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, followed a macrobiotic diet and underwent experimental liver surgery at Yale before entering a study at New York’s Maimonides Hospital. She set goals, adjusting them as the cancer moved in. First, to see her eight-year-old daughter become a teenager. Then see her fifteen-year-old daughter graduate from high school. Then see her twelve-year-old son get his dream fulfilled—a dog. And finally, with the window closing on her, she hoped to at least see me graduate from college. She missed it by exactly five months to the day.

And now the thing I didn’t understand fifteen years ago, is all the years we have without her. It wasn’t just the self-absorbed 21-year-old that would miss her. I didn’t understand how much the 25-year-old scientist-turned-writer would miss her when there were career choices to make. And how much the 29-year-old bride would wish she could be there for a day filled with joy, yet one that underscored her absence more than any day so far. And how, when the 32-year-old first-time mother would shed tears, they wouldn’t all be because of post-partum hormones. And then again with another baby, this time a sick one, that the 34-year-old mother would mourn her absence so deeply again.

My heart clenches when Will asks me my mother’s name, or why she isn’t here. I wish she could have met my husband and held my boys. I wish, political junkie and presidential historian that she was, that she could be here to see that the once portly governor from Arkansas is now a former president, campaigning for his wife. I wish, techie before her time that she was, that she could live in this age of the Internet, instant information and blogs! I wish she could explain why I can’t get the snowflake cookies from her cookie press to come out properly. But most of all, I just wish she was here.

A close family friend of ours said my mother’s funeral mass on December 26, 1992.  His words offered me perhaps the only comfort I have ever found in the wrong that is the mother who was taken away from her four children. Over the sounds of my eight-year-old sister sobbing in church that day, I heard him say, “She stayed with them through the darkest days of the year. She stayed, until it began to grow light again.”

And I do take comfort in that still. Because while I am still without her, and in the words of poet Dylan Thomas, I can rage all I want at the dying of the light, the days are getting longer now, and the light is coming back.

And I have a little boy who says, “Tell me who your mom is?” And I can hold him tight and say, “Her name was Carol, and she would so have loved being here with you.”

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14 Responses to “The days, they get longer now”

  1. MelodyA. Says:

    The best way to honor her is to keep alive in your boys. She would love that I’m sure.

  2. Maggie Says:

    What a gorgeous tribute to your mom.

  3. arizaphale Says:

    That brilliantly sums up what so many people must feel and be unable to say. Off to get a tissue….
    No time is right to lose a loved one but the big holidays are the worst because its like etching out the grief again with a pen knife. Look here we are at the HAPPY time, etch etch etch…… * sigh*

  4. Katy Says:

    This is beautiful. I had no idea that you had lost your mom. Thanks for posting this again. I loved reading it. I’m sending you an imaginary cashmere-wrapped hot water bottle for your heart and jaw.

  5. Sara Says:

    Beautiful Anna….

  6. Melissa Says:

    Sending a big hug for both your heart and jaw!

  7. Amily Says:

    Lots of hugs to you Anna. xoxox

  8. applecyder Says:

    Thanks for posting again. You are a beautiful writer. Your mom is proud, I am sure.

  9. Karen Says:

    Anna, this moved me last year and it’s moved me again. A hug to you.

  10. lorimo Says:

    I read this last year, but it means even more to me this year as my Dad died earlier this year… You write so beautifully about it.

  11. Ellen Says:

    Anna, I am thinking of you. What a beautiful reflection! A big hug to you this Christmas Eve.

  12. Maria Says:

    Anna, thinking of you.

  13. abby Says:

    Hugs. I lost my dad when I was 13 (very suddenly) and so I know where you are coming from.

    Abby

  14. Mike Says:

    I mean, how lame am I? I haven’t read a blog in forever…and just came to catch up with you…and am finding this now. No need to write anything new. What you wrote last year is some of your best. Unfortunately, we share the bond of a loss of a parent. I know what you’re going through every day. and I start to relive it this month with the annivesary of my dad’s death (and, a double whammy, my brother’s birthday).

    Wish I had seen this earlier to offer perhaps a thought that you can relate to…am sorry for that.

    I would say the door’s always open — but we don’t even have doors anymore. 🙂

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