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.
Carol Cassara says
Yes, I’m struck dumb by the fragility of it all, too, and then I’m struck again by the resilience all around me. Lovely and thought-provoking.
Thank you. And yes, I know what you mean about being dumb struck…
Lois Alter Mark says
Oh, Elin, I remember how I felt when you originally told me this story and seeing it in print in your beautiful words breaks my heart again for all of you. Yes, life is so fragile and precious, and all we can do is be grateful for the light.
It’s hard to believe how many years have slipped past, yet there are times that day feels so close to the bone. Thank you, Lois. xo
Your beautiful words so struck a chord with me. My husband unexpectedly lost someone he was very close to, and it does bubble up, it does not stay hidden.
Bubbles up. Indeed… Thank you, Kimba.
Whether a death is sudden or expected, sometimes even welcomed if the person is suffering, mourning can go on for years. Once in a while I still think (and it’s almost three years since she’s gone), “Oh, I can’t wait to tell Rose (my mother-in-law) about this”. I still tell her, just not by telephone.
Oh how I agree. Death changes us. If only the world wouldn’t be in such a hurry for people who are grieving to “move on.” It doesn’t work that way. As you say, even with the passage of time there is still the longing to share. And I love what you said, you still tell her. Perfect. Thanks Jackie.
Cathy Chester says
The pink light is her, and all that she radiates. Because she was and is love and it’s in you and Jimmy and the-then little Max. How beautiful she must have been to touch your heart this way. My heart aches for what you all endured, and for the fact of her leaving this world tragically before it was her time.
Elin, your writing “blows me away”…
Love the idea that she is the pink light radiating. Thank you, Cathy….
So tragic to lose someone not only so suddenly but like this. I’m so sorry the scabs are still so raw. Your post is beautifully written and expressed.
Life triggers memories. Grief has a way of getting one to pay attention. And truly I think that is OK. Thanks Sheryl.
I’m sorry for your loss but grateful for this honest, true, and heart-wrenchingly lovely evocation of what grief feels like for you. xox
Thank you, Lindsey… very appreciated. xo
Carpool Goddess says
A sudden death is so heartbreaking and devastating. I’m so sorry for your loss. Her memory lives on in your beautiful words.
Thank you, Linda.
Ines Roe says
I was very touched by your post and the reminder about how fragile life can be. The thought of loosing someone important in our life is so frightening but we have to face the reality that it can happen in a split second. That existential reality is the core of the human condition and one that so many of us work hard to deny.
Oh how I agree with you, Ines. Many do work hard to deny… Life is actually much easier when one breathes, versus holding one’s breath. Thank you for your kind words.
Ruth Curran says
Staggering how deeply the sudden unfairness hits and takes hold. So many unanswered questions. So many things left undone…. What gives this story added dimension is that I first heard this story from Jimmy…. Wow, you and your writing take my breath away!
…thank you, Ruth.
Mary Lanzavecchia says
Oh, Elin, you have such a gift and today you used that gift to introduce us to a new part of you. There is something so painful in the sudden loss of one we love. It makes death seem so much more unfair when we, the left behind, are not given any opportunity to prepare.
I am so sorry for you and Jimmy and the kids. You say “she was gone, extinguished”, but she’s not. She lives on, in your hearts, your words, and the legacy you shared with us.
Much love to you.
What a lovely reminder, Mary. Thank you so much for this and you.
Nancy Gruver says
I’m deeply moved. I’ve only experienced the unexpected death of one very dear person in my life so far. And it seems so hard to not have any chance to say goodbye in any way. Hugs and light to you.
Nancy, how wonderful to see your friendly face here this evening, thank you for sharing your experience. Hugs and light back to you my friend.
Oh, Elin……such a beautifully written post. I am so sorry for your whole family. I know those people who are just larger than life, made from light. A life well lived. My beliefs are beautiful for times like this….we believe that our family simply go through a veil and are so, so very close to us. Their purpose after passing is to watch over us. As a dear friends grandfather said before he died, “I have been your father, grandfather, uncle, brother, and husband. I prayed for you while I was here, I will pray for you there.” I have had some very sweet experiences with my dearly departed…..I hope that didn’t sound to out there.
Not “out-there” at all. I am always humbled and in awe of people who have such beautiful belief systems. Thank you for sharing a piece of yours here, Donna.
You write so poetically of your loss. I’m so sorry even though it was years ago, I know that winding back the tape makes the pain so real again.
It can and does–death has a way of changing us–not bad, just different. Thank you for your nice comment, Estelle.
Shelley Zurek says
The story was so about your and your husbands loss…it was painful to hear but important to read. Emotion like that, is going to be experienced by everyone on the planet. But few of us know it well, so our only touch with it is through essays such as this.
Jennifer Cullen says
Wow, such a powerful and moving post.
Thank you Jennifer, very appreciated.
What powerful, emotional, beautifully written post. It really hit home for me since we just lost someone very dear to me unexpectedly.
Nancy, I am sorry to learn of your unexpected loss. Of course death of any sort is difficult on those left behind…and even though we are all acutely aware that it can knock on our door at any given time, thankfully we absorb ourselves in living. Wishing you only the best as you move forward in your grief. Thank you for sharing here.
Sharon Greenthal says
I am constantly surprised by how much, some moments, I miss my father. Even after 7 years. And my grandmother, too, even after 2 years. When people we truly love die it changes us. I didn’t feel like I was middle aged until my father died.
Your words are beautiful and you are lucky to have had someone so wonderful in your life!
I so agree with you…and it comes in waves, yes? I ache for missing my parents at times, it’s always the little things, they show up and catch me off guard. Thank you for your sharing your experiences here Sharon.
This is so gorgeous.
It’s been 23 since my father died and I get scared I will forget him–the little things.
My mother fell to her death 13 years ago. It was the worst experience of my life.
Though I hadn’t been married in many years I was very close to my inlaws and mourned them like parents. I don’t usually like the word “blessed” but I think we who love our inlaws and they love us are truly blessed.
Echoing and adding to what Sharon said–I don’t think we’re truly grown up until our second parent dies. It changed me in ways I’m still learning.
Pia, I so agree. It never occurred to me that I would mourn my mother the way I had my dad. When she died it rocked me. Looking back I feel as if I was in a veritable fog for 18 months after Mom died. The reality is we can’t truly pretend to know how we will be affected until we are. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences and for your kind words too.
PS I also have the similar feelings about the word “blessed.”
Rena McDaniel says
This brought tears to my eyes and brought back memories of when I was 15 and a neighbor girl called me at my after school job to tell me my dad had been rushed to the hospital. He passed away before I got there. It’s been almost 39 7 ears and still so painful.
You were so young, Rena. Pain has a way of burrowing in doesn’t it? And when given access-can hurt all over. I have found when it comes, that giving into it is so much healthier than an attempt at baring in. Thank you for sharing…sending a hug to you this morning.
A Pleasant House says
Life is fragile. Your words remind me to cherish it.
Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com says
Oh Elin….this is such a touching post that expresses the sucker-punch of unexpected loss. I’m so sorry you and your family were touched by this.
Thank you for your kind words Kathy. Very appreciated.