"Happy endings, there are no happy endings. Endings are the saddest part, so just give me a happy middle, and a very happy start.” Shel Silverstein.
The semi is blocking the road in front of me, lights flashing as the driver walks towards my window. My car carries the most precious cargo; one high schooler, two college kids and myself. Snow and sleet closed the I80 before Donner Pass and rerouted us. My partner and his high schooler are in a van about 7 cars ahead of us. I can’t see him now as the driver approaches our car. “Turn around, it’s a mess up there. There’s a pile up, no-one can get through.” My heart turns numb - I just talked to him a few moments before. My love-hate relationship with technology turns to a desperation as the phone rings. “We made it through, we’re at the little store here…” In the 10 minutes since we left the highway, between his car and mine, a six car pile up transpired. Over the next several hours, time melts like snowflakes on the windshield. I can sense the ripple pattern on the leather steering wheel under the grip of my fingers, while the thoughts in my mind drift and swirl the way snow moves in front of our headlights.
After Mac died, life became truncated into before Mac, after Mac, and the unnamed time between the integration of the before and after. Time bent into the intangible hallucination that it actually is, stopping and starting, slowing down, slipping, speeding up, and then eventually funneling its way back into a jarring alarm with a broken snooze button. Each significant death changes the landscape of ones heart, the way an avalanche, closes one road and reroutes us onto another and forever changes the land and its inhabitants. Birth and death truncate life. How we navigate the car as the tires spin and the end fishtails will determine if we end in the ditch or pull out of the spin. Whether we react or respond, and how those moments are integrated in the aftermath of the storm is what gives or takes life from us. My older daughter was born in a snowstorm on Christmas day. The day my younger daughter was born almost marked my own death. My lover died in the summer of 2009. My mother died last week on Christmas Eve. White knuckles grip the steering wheel now as tires slip around deep white corners of this backroad. My eyes are unblinking as I navigate, praying for the safe arrival of my precious cargo, while I realize my life has a new road to plow. It will now be a series of moments pushed into piles of deep snow; snow that falls after mom died.
Although my mother, Caroline Elizabeth Cronin Lockyer, died during the dark time of the year, something in her waited for the return of light. Her departure began on the Solstice, when her breathing deepened and her mobility decreased. I trust she was ready to cast out the shadows of her concealed self and let light into all the dark places that had held her captive for so long. Mom’s life was truncated into before Kathy, and after Kathy. My mother’s sister Kathleen Mary Geryl Cronin, died when she was nine years old. Mom was twelve. My name is Kathleen Mary Geryl. I don’t believe mom ever recovered from her sister’s death, or the grief and sadness of the time. It was different then. The grief of children was not acknowledged in my mothers young world. When Kathy died, it appeared that mom’s family was severed into the children before Kathy, and the children after. On Christmas Eve, as Caroline left her body, Dad held her in his arms as promised. Mom’s gaze fixated on the painting on the wall of their bedroom; the one of Caroline and Kathy. Mom was released from the shadows of the family she longed for - before death truncated her life.
While she was alive, my mother gave me life twice. She had a certain defiance about her - it made her fierce in the most unnerving times. My brothers and I at one time encouraged her to get a hobby so she could “relax”. She went out and became a volunteer EMT. She gave me life twice. The first time, September 18, 1970 when she pushed me into this world. The second time, on May 17, 2001 in my bedroom, after I pushed my younger daughter into this world. Through Caroline’s fierceness, and the grace of a large mammal, I was spared from death.
Thank you mom - and thank you mom.