By Jan Martinez

The truth is

The truth is I’ve been a companion of death for a year now. January, my father, slipping away alone on the second Wednesday of the month, just after my mom and brother left his room to get dinner. It was so like him to shoulder it all alone as he had since he was a boy, raised in poverty in Mexico.

The impact of the pandemic meant we couldn’t hold his funeral until Labor Day, immediately after which my mother went into the hospital, finally dying on the second Wednesday of November.

The truth is I am grieving. The truth is that grief and sorrow are not the same. Some days I missed them with a depth I can’t explain—a giant hole that drops from my heart into some unfathomably cold, clear cenote. Tangled roots and vines from above threatening to hold me down, deeper caves beneath luring me further in. These are the days I have thought, “I’ll call Mom,” or “wouldn’t Dad have had a laugh about that?”

But the truth is that mostly I’m grateful. To them and my teachers and the profound healing work that has allowed me to close—yes excavate and fully heal—many of the wounds all children have from growing up. So the truth is that my parents have in some ways passed from my life with a pure surgical cleanliness. Not a lot of blood or oozing. Yes there is pain. And maybe a tiny scar, just a pure silver, diamond thread to mark all they have given me.

If nothing ever changed

Sometime after 3 AM, I dreamt that my mother was still alive – frail, in need of so much help and tender care, but alive.

“Mom,” I said, “I think it’s time for you to live in a community of care. You can’t stay alone anymore.” And she agreed, turning her green-eyed child-like gaze up at me from where she leaned on her walker. Her loss of height from arthritis and a broken femur broke my heart again. She had always been taller than me.

She blinked like an owl and I felt myself leaving once again, drawing away, worried for her. I awoke in a mood of pure sorrow, wanting nothing more than to cry or have tea, write, or lose myself in Larry’s hug. But he awoke crabby, so that simply wasn’t to be.

A few days ago, he’d got together with a friend whose daughters go to Oxford high. Four deaths at the hands and gun of a fellow student put this small Michigan town on the map. The girls, twins, were both near the shooter when it all happened. Both had to hide behind locked doors. And there was more upheaval for Larry’s friend—the complexities of life over the past several years, hardships with family, the pandemic…

Larry returned from dinner in a state of shocked gratitude. Grateful for all we have, the things we’ve done well, the metaphorical bullets we’ve dodged. But today he’s crabby. Tomorrow he’ll likely be sunny and grateful, because everything always changes. It’s guaranteed. Maybe tomorrow I’ll still be sad, missing my mom, but maybe not. Maybe there’ll be some relief. Who better than Mom would understand this?