Something for the Occasion


Today would have been Mom’s seventy-fifth birthday. Part of me wants to use the present-tense “is” in that sentence, since I still feel Mom’s presence in my life every day. (Today is not a good day to get me started on the vicissitudes of verb tense standards in different cultural situations.) In a way, it feels like that choice makes me focus on what might have been in our lives here if things had turned out differently, instead of what there is right now. Maybe, given the circumstances we’re all living in presently, it’s easier for me to think about the things that didn’t happen, instead of the things that did happen and how they led to everything being so messed up.

It didn’t take me long after Mom’s passing to recognize that the fifth-to-last day of July would always be painful for me every year from now on. Back in 2017, the first time I marked this day without her physically here, I could at least take a trip to the Toledo Botanical Garden to meditate, and drink Coke (Mom’s favourite), and visit a place that held deep meaning for both of us. I didn’t take my camera with me that day, for the same reason I didn’t snap photographs in those final months in Toledo: I needed those trips to be for me, so I could focus on healing instead of anything else. I think I did some healing that day, but knowing that my days in Toledo were likely coming to an end also led to a lot of anxiety.

I was all the way over in Colorado the following July, neck-deep in the job search that would eventually bring me here to Wisconsin. On top of being incredibly busy in Colorado, I just didn’t know how to mark Mom’s birthday in a special way when I was so far removed from the places where we spent so much time together. Mom would have been the first to tell me that I didn’t need those places, or objects from our shared past, to commemorate that day, but I still felt like something was missing there in Colorado. I got through the day, but it seemed to hurt even more than spending that first post-passing birthday in Toledo.

This is the second time I’m marking this day in Wisconsin, and I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. On the one hand, the landscapes here always remind me of the northern part of Michigan’s lower peninsula, which Mom always said was the most beautiful land on earth (and I’m inclined to agree with her). Apart from the lack of good pizza places that deliver, Mom probably would have loved living here. At the same time, though, being totally on my own here in Wisconsin makes me feel even more lonely on a day like this, and taken in combination with all the self-isolation I’ve been doing since March due to the pandemic, this has been one of the most challenging days I’ve lived through in quite some time.

I keep trying to remind myself that Mom wouldn’t have wanted me to be sad now, that she would have kept telling me how proud she was of everything I’ve accomplished, and all the hard work I’ve been doing this summer to research my next book. Maybe it would be easier to find solace in those things if the weight of these last four months didn’t feel so smothering, to say nothing of all the concerns I have about the weeks and months ahead, especially in the light of so many powerful people insisting on making matters worse for the rest of us. It’s hard to find comfort in much of anything going on in modern life, and on a day like today, that struggle becomes even harder as I’m reminded constantly of the most painful loss of my life.

This day will end eventually, just like every day before it, and tomorrow will be the twenty-eighth of July, a day with much less significance to me. That last part should make the day easier for me on the whole, but I don’t think I’m going to have any easy days here for months, if not years, to come. I’ll keep doing what I can to take care of myself and others — it’s what Mom would want me to do — but that’s a lot easier for me to type than it is for me to actually practice. With a future as horrifying as the one that seems to await us all in the coming weeks and months, wrapping myself in past-tense thoughts becomes more and more tempting as a way for me to avoid thinking about the terrors of the present.

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