Losing Ellie, my husband’s mother, was one of the most difficult things our family has experienced. Nothing, and I mean nothing, could have prepared us for her unexpected loss of life.
What I have found is emotions stay. They don’t remain at the surface the way dried blood does as a scab to the skin.
No, emotional wounds are different.
All that trauma burrows deep into the marrow and sometimes the slightest incident leaches that trapped emotion. Then, much like anesthesia injected into ones vein, it enters the system with a burning sting, courses through your blood and has the power to pull you under. And even if but temporarily — it can knock you out.
Just before dawn the sky is brilliant — sprinkled with stars and planets — enough to chart a course by.
I can run, my mind tells me.
I can run, but I cannot hide, I know this about me. I am pushing what just yesterday was imperceptibly perched on my shoulders — away. It pushes back. And unable to stop it, I yield to the effort made by my memory.
Something is tugging me into the 1995 time warp. It’s there. I feel it…
And in a sideways glance I see it. Before me now is the dashboard of the Toyota 4Runner — unwillingly my brain, much like a rewound tape in a cassette deck — pulls to a stop with a click.
Now — the ugly information of loss that leached through the retched cell phone all those years ago — begins to play.
“Elin, pull over.”
“I need you to pull over.”
“What? What’s wrong just tell me — I’m just outside Boulder there’s no where to pull over, what’s wrong?”
“My Mom died, she’s dead.”
“WHAT? No — you mean Grandma — right?”
Sobs cascade through the phone. The road before me appears riddled with question marks.
I pull over and hold my pregnant stomach. I can hear Max breathing. Feel his eyes on me. I stare straight ahead, listening.
“No. My—mom—Mojo. There was an accident. He fell asleep at the wheel. He called me. Oh God this cannot be happening—”
The bile of truth churns inside me, not a good time to throw up.
Max, sensing that something is deeply wrong, is silent. Cars barrel past us, what seconds before seemed a cocoon of safety inside the vehicle, now feels dangerous. The Toyota lurches from side to side in the force of air and velocity from the passing cars.
Disbelief dangles before me and I shut my eyes.
“I’m turning around, we’re coming home.”
It was surreal. I have no idea how I excavated the words I needed out from the pile of my jumbled thoughts that conveyed to my eight year old Max, that his new Grandma, had been ripped from all of us.
I have zero recollection of the retraced miles backward from Boulder to Edwards.
And when we pulled into the driveway there was Jimmy, hands clenched to the lawn mower handle, eating away the over grown lawn outside what was then our Colorado home, as if doing so would change the trajectory of our life.
We had just been with her days before the accident.
She was so effervescent in life. You could literally feel her from miles away. It was incomprehensible that she was gone, extinguished.
We locked the doors to our house on Hackamore Road without a backward glance — my catatonic husband beside me and our son, paralyzed with uncertainty, in the backseat — meanwhile the cruelty of it all banged at me as I navigated the car down the road.
The miles between Colorado and California slowly disappeared. San Diego, an ethereal beacon, pulled us toward her.
Some pieces from the days that followed are clear, while others remain dormant in what was then a haze.
Jimmy and I — cleaving to one another and our grief — in the church where we were married. Max, graveside, head bowed, eyes on the coffin, his small squared shoulders showing me he was trying to be brave. Jimmy and I huddled on the beach anchored in a pool of sorrow larger than the Pacific Ocean before us.
And somehow, despite the labyrinth of anguish we were in, we made our way through the cold dense California fog.
Light there was light.
I can run—I can run—I do not hide.
We are born — between that day and our last — we live in the balance of all that we cherish. The fragility of it all dangles before us from time to time. It calls us to our purpose. It begs us to be real. It asks us to share. Reminds us to remain authentic.
The morning light has crept in and there in the sky the clouds have been brushed pink by the rising sun.
Ah, there is light. I feel the light. I send her the light.