My daughters were 16 and 14 years old when their mother, my wife, Lauren Chapin, died unexpectedly. Lauren was 50 years old (and The Star’s restaurant critic) in December 2008 when she had a brain aneurysm.
This will be our daughters’ eighth Mother’s Day without her, and each year, amid the widespread celebrations of motherhood among their friends and acquaintances, it provokes a deeper sense of loss.
From our younger daughter, Maren: “Mostly I think about how different life would be if she were still here, and I feel like I’m missing out on something, like I’m craving something I’ll never have.”
Grief inhabits a curious place in our culture. It’s not something many people feel comfortable expressing or talking about. “Some of my really close friends will ask about her,” my daughter said, “but I think other people think it’s a sensitive subject so they avoid the topic.”
There is plenty of literature on the stages of grief, from denial to acceptance. There is also an enduring myth about closure and moving on, as if the sense of loss can be boxed, stored away and revisited occasionally, like some photo album or memento.
For people suffering grief, especially years after their loved one’s death, this lack of closure or acceptance can feel like a weakness or a flaw, like a lack of control. But love doesn’t expire, and grief is an expression of that love. And we should all feel comfortable talking about the people we love who have died and listening to others do the same.
I wrote the following about a year and a half ago and posted it on Facebook. It was inspired by the death of a friend but also a response to an exchange I had with someone whose father had died and, three years later, she was wondering when the grief would end, when closure would arrive, as if a cure were available.
You can’t cure grief. It isn’t a virus or a tumor or a fracture or a wound. It can’t be medicated or extracted or mended or stitched. Grief is terminal, a condition, a disorder. In the way weather arouses pain in arthritic joints, memories awaken grief: a song, an aroma, a photograph, a movie, a time of day, an old coat or a pair of shoes.
Time doesn’t heal grief; it nurtures it. Time is the vessel into which absences accumulate: from music recitals, from soccer games, from proms and graduations, from birthdays and holidays, from births, deaths, weddings and anniversaries, from disappointments and joys.
Grief is yearning. Grief is nostalgia waltzing with sorrow. Grief is love in remission, in repose. Grief is love, unrequited, waiting.
I will call my mother Sunday, as I have every Mother’s Day since I moved away from home. She will turn 86 in June and her health has become an issue lately. I’ll tell her how much I love her and how grateful and lucky I am to have been raised by her and to still have her in my life.
My daughters both live out of town, so we won’t be together Sunday. But we will be Friday, when Maren graduates from college. It will be another milestone celebrated without their mother, but we will remember her and talk about her and honor the love and influence she bestowed upon us.
Lauren is not among us, but she is with us. And nothing about those healthy feelings of loss and love needs any sense of remedy or closure.