I am a Sex in the City afficionado. Although I could not relate in the slightest to the women, their wardrobes, their sex-capades or their lifestyles, the witty repartee drew me in. Honestly, I always wanted to be a New York novelist, writing from my brownstone window, as Carrie Bradshaw does. So, I was delighted when the reboot happened. However, “And Just Like That” does not have the same appeal. You see, as those famous New York women aged, so did I. Now in their middle years, they are dealing with so many familiar issues. Looking at the lines on their faces, I see my own wrinkles. Perhaps their sagas now feel so real to me that escapism is impossible.
In a recent episode, the main character Carrie writes a book about her year of grief over losing her husband. Although the memoir is gut-wrenchingly poignant, the publisher feels it needs an epilogue—a happy ending. She suggests Carrie try dating, if only to show her readers that it’s possible to live and love again. They need a glimmer of hope, she says. Carrie finds this difficult to do. Small wonder.
In real life, grief cannot be so handily tidied up in an epilogue, and hope can seem as elusive as the wind. Growing beyond grief means working through it, and those steps toward the other side can feel like wearing cement Manolos.
Today is the third anniversary of my mom’s passing, of my becoming parentless. When I look back, it occurs to me that a lot of growth has happened: I saw my last child off to college, downsized to a condo, started a new job, published a book, and made new friends who never knew me as someone’s child. In many ways it feels like I have a whole new identity, or so it seems.
A wise mentor recently reminded me that life is a series of deaths and resurrections: death of a loved one, loss of a habit or pattern, unburdenings and unravelings that leave us forever changed. He also suggested that mourning is not only over a person lost but of an identity. When death occurs, we lose the identity of who we were with that person. We cease being someone’s wife, someone’s child, and forge an identity without them, without who we were with them. We resurrect ourselves.
This might be called moving on. And yet, do we really? And how? Perhaps our resurrections occur in a million esoteric, intangible ways.
There are days that I yearn for my mother’s quiet voice, murmuring that she’s sorry for my day’s vicissitudes. (Oh, how the smallest hurt can be monumental to a mother’s ear). And at other times I long for one of my dad’s hugs. He had the capacity to lift you out of yourself with arms so tightly clinched that it seemed you would surely never fall. In times of stress, if I am silent and open myself to vulnerability, I can feel those arms and hear that voice. They have not vanished; I could never lose that which made me.
True growth comes when we find an identity outside our grief, when we accept that winter necessarily seeps into each life. Apple trees need a certain amount of cold weather in order to bloom, and even the dainty pansy can withstand frost. Perhaps we can’t fully appreciate the blessing of good health or the warmth of a spring sun without experiencing loss. Can our lives ever feel full if we never encountered emptiness?
Although never easy for me, change begets growth. I’ve come to understand that. Occasions when I’ve taken the greatest risk, stepped the farthest outside my comfort zone, are those that have led to something memorable.
My brothers and I have wondered often how my mother would have fared during the pandemic. After all, she washed groceries, hands, and supermarket carts before that was a thing. COVID would have terrified her. It seems the world has changed so much in the years that Mom’s been gone and I include myself in that. I’ve had to readjust, recalibrate. I am someone’s parent, but no one’s child. No longer a care giver, but in need of care.
The oldest woman at my family dinner, I hope to morph into a wise matriarch. I’m not sure how, and I don’t have anyone to guide me. But perhaps that’s true growth: making your own footsteps.
With whispered voices and phantom hugs urging you on.