As we brace for 2019 and stack up our resolutions, Broadly is focusing on finding motivation for the hard tasks that await us—like getting out of bed. So, throughout January, we're rolling out Getting Out of Bed, a series of stories about all things related to rest and resilience. Read more here.
I was exhausted. Looking back on that week, I can’t remember much. I assume I ate. I’m pretty sure I bathed, wore clothes, and interacted with visitors, but I can’t remember any details.
After being told that your mother died of an asthma attack, details get hazy. There are some things I remember, however. Things that heal. Things that haunt. Things that do both. Life is already a complicated thing. Unexpected traumas make it wholly unbearable. I was exhausted.
The week leading up to the funeral is always a whirlwind. For my family, it was a hurricane. Two days after my mother died, her only surviving sister suffered a massive heart attack in our home. There was a moment when all the focus shifted to caring for my aunt. While I understood it, coming to terms with losing my mother trumped any desire to place my focus elsewhere. With the help of a few family and friends, I dove into planning my mother’s service. As long as there was something to do, I didn’t have to accept the truth. But, my refusal to accept my new reality didn’t make it any less true. My mother was gone, and she was never coming back.
It’s scary how everything comes to a screeching halt when the funeral is over. There was nothing else to do, so I tried to sleep and regain an ounce of all the strength I’d lost. One by one, my friends and loved ones came into my room to wake me and say goodbye. They told me they’d let me know when they arrived home, that they loved me and would keep me in their prayers. I don’t remember saying much. There wasn’t anything to say.
The morning after the hardest day of my life, the day I buried my mother, I learned a sobering truth: People go on with their lives. As much as folk loved me and my mother, and as much as they readjusted their schedules to be there, they were going back to their normal routines. They would be able to go to work on Monday, repost funny memes on social media, and silently be grateful that it wasn’t their mother left in the cemetery over the weekend. I did not have that luxury.
I was faced with the reality that, while we make mourning a communal event, we leave people to grieve alone.
When I emerged from my bedroom on that first day after my mother’s funeral, I adjusted my eyes to the light and heard voices. Though I’d slept most of the day and the last of my friends had just left, my friends Sheleda and Pierre stayed an extra day. They didn’t want me to be in the house alone the day after I buried my mother. Later that night, we went to the local $3 movie theatre to see Daniel Craig as James Bond in Spectre and eat hamburgers at North Carolina’s cult favorite, Cook-Out. I would have stayed in bed all day; instead, they tried to find a way to bring a peak of joy into my world. They would not know that I later purchased Spectre and watch it often to remind myself of that day.
After coming home, I got back into bed knowing that it didn’t matter when I decided to get out of it next. I would not be alone. There are those who stayed. They are the friends who drove to see me when I didn’t sound right or hadn’t responded to calls or texts. They are the mentors who orchestrated care for me from miles away. They are the family who dropped everything to travel to New Jersey to ensure that, when I was eventually hospitalized for depression, I didn’t go through the trauma alone. I was never by myself.
Three years later, thoughts of that day still bring a heaviness. That day marked the beginning of the intense unraveling that took over my life for the next three years. My mother’s death left me completely undone, and I did not try to hide that. It was enough to attempt to make it through each day; I couldn’t do that being dishonest.
Every aspect of my life was affected. Whenever I received a text or call, I’d immediately go into a panic believing that it was bad news. To solve that problem, my phone was on “Do Not Disturb” for six months. Focusing on work was impossible. I didn’t know anything anymore. Nothing made sense. My movements were restricted; my breathing was compromised. I did not know how to survive in a world without the one who taught me how to live and love and forgive and survive. I didn’t know how to live without the archetype to my very being, my joy.
And yet, there is something about that day—the day after I buried my mother—that somehow gave me permission to face the days that would come after it. I would later look back on that day, and the memories of my friends’ care, to remind myself that, in the midst of deep darkness, I could choose light. The lie of great loss is that nothing remains. But we do not lose everything. There is something that fights to remain, fights to live. And when we lean into it, even if just for a moment, we can see the bounty we still have in this very broken life.
Whether I chose to stay in bed with the lights off and blinds pulled or watch movies and eat hamburgers with friends, I had already done what I never thought I would be able to do: I said goodbye to my mother, and nothing would ever be more difficult than that. Somehow, that brought an empowering peace.