Two years ago today, when Mom passed away, the world didn’t end. It just felt like it did to me.
About eight and a half years earlier, on the day that my father died, I drove Mom home from the hospital. Neither of us cried after we got the news, probably because we knew that we had to be strong for each other at that moment. Mom broke later that afternoon when a Girl Scout, bringing the cookies that my father had ordered for us, walked up on our front porch; I held on there for a couple of weeks, until I couldn’t take it any more, and then I locked myself in my room with some sad music and finally bawled my eyes out. All things being equal, I think Mom and I adjusted to that huge change in our lives about as well as we could, even if we were about to face far more obstacles to our daily lives than we ever could have anticipated.
The day after my father died, Mom asked me to drive her to the grocery store. I was more than eager to make that trip by myself so Mom could stay home and watch television, but she insisted on coming with me, even though we had to drive right past the hospital where her husband of forty-two years had just taken his last breath. I don’t think I realized until much later that going grocery shopping was her way of reminding herself that despite the fact that she’d just gone through the worst day of her life, that life was still going to go on, and she had things to do for all the people in her life.
After I got the phone call about Mom’s passing, I went to the care facility where she’d been staying so I could say my goodbyes to her physical body, and also thank the people who’d taken care of her in those last weeks. As soon as I was done there, instead of driving back home so I could be alone with my thoughts like I so desperately wanted to be, I drove to Meijer and did a little grocery shopping . I needed the stuff that I got there, but I didn’t need it right away. I guess I went there just to remind myself, just like Mom had when I’d taken her on that grocery run, that life goes on. Surrounded by all those people doing their shopping like it was just another Saturday afternoon, I did my best to fit in with them and do a normal activity for me, and then I went home to continue mourning.
I didn’t feel like life was really going on like it had before, though, and not just because of Mom’s passing. My childhood love of baseball meant that even though I’ve never been a Chicago Cubs fan, I still couldn’t help rooting for them as they made that historic playoff run, even as the fact that Mom had been born the same year that the Cubs last reached the World Series made their NL pennant run feel more than a little auspicious to me; in the days after they won the series, crying along with victorious Cubs fans I saw in online videos helped me work out the crazy jumble of emotions I was feeling at the time. “Crazy” doesn’t even begin to describe the weeks that followed, first when that year’s election results threw everyone for a loop, and then when the death of Leonard Cohen — possibly the biggest name in the Venn diagram of musicians whom Mom and I both deeply loved — blindsided all of us.
Most of my friends experienced a deeply surreal feeling in the aftermath of the 2016 election, but they all agreed that I had good reason to be totally off the charts when it came to how I was feeling during those tentative weeks in November, when we were all trying to figure out what that titanic shift in American governance would mean for all of us. One of the common refrains I heard from people in the buildup to the 2017 inauguration was that we needed to keep reminding ourselves that “this is not normal” — that what we were about to experience at the hands of a new president was not how things were supposed to be. Regardless of how true that mantra may be, the fact is that nearly everyone has now adjusted to a “new normal,” both here in America and around the world, even as so many of the things we experience in our daily lives feel like they would have been unrecognizable to us even two years ago. Life, after all, goes on.
Maybe I’m not in a good position to be judging what is “normal” right now. This anniversary I’m marking today would have been difficult enough for me even in the best of conditions, but I’m coming off an incredibly turbulent year where I’ve moved cross-country twice, finally gotten the full-time teaching position I’d been fighting so hard for, and now I’m having to deal with this day hundreds of miles away from Toledo, so I can’t even go and visit the places where Mom and I spent time together, in the hope of feeling her spirit in me even more strongly than I do as I sit here typing this blog up in my apartment. As much as I love things here at my new home in Wisconsin, and as hard as I’ve worked to acclimate myself to these new surroundings, so much of what I experience every day here still feels deeply abnormal to me.
After the news we’ve had here in America these past eight days, and with another crucial election just eight days from today, I have to wonder how much life is really going to go on when we’re facing the aftermath of the election. With tensions running unbearably high on all sides, and with consequences (both real and perceived) likely to be so dire for so many people, it feels highly unlikely that something catastrophic isn’t about to befall a large chunk of America, if not the world as a whole, and I don’t think that the extra difficulties I’ve been facing in the leadup to today’s anniversary are skewing my perspective all that much.
Maybe I’ll feel differently after I get through today, and I won’t have to worry about this anniversary again for another year. With the way the news has been going, though, whether or not we even get to that election without another grave calamity (or sixteen) striking us is very much an open question. As wise as Mom was, I’ve never felt that she would have known just how to deal with the world she left behind two years ago today, and what’s become of it since then. I’m still trying to figure that out, so maybe when I notice myself surrounded all day by people going on with their lives, I should trust their judgment more than mine. That’s just not so easy for me to do on a day like today, when I’m reminded so strongly of that feeling I had two years ago, of the world coming to an end.