It’s been eight months since I’ve heard Isabel speak. Eight months since I’ve touched her hair, or given her a hug and a kiss. Eight months since I messed with her cute little ears in the mirror while she stands at the sink, brushing her teeth. Eight months since I’ve heard her laugh, or cry, or bicker with her sister. Eight months since I’ve watched her turn the page of a book, or listened to the scratch of her pen as she drew her comics, or laid her fingers over the piano to compose a song. Or heard her voice, singing, high-pitched and light, like a flute. Eight months since I’ve listened to her observations of the world, and what she was going to do about making the wrongs right. Eight months.
It’s a helluva long time to go without seeing your child. Impossible to imagine. We, as parents, spend our days in constant awareness of where are small children are at all times. Before they leave the house for college, we keep tabs on their whereabouts, 24/7. Recall the panic that laces down your veins like icy lightning when you’re in the grocery store and you lose track of your kid for a minute. It’s ingrained in us, as humans, to keep that awareness on at all times. It’s a light that burns in us constantly, never to be turned off, no matter how exhausting it can be.
But Izzy isn’t here now. Not in the physical sense. I went to a spiritual retreat a few weeks ago (more on that later) and the gifts of peace and certainty that were given to me there, are those that I’ll carry through to the rest of my life. And while I understand my new connection to Izzy better now–and feel it more–the physical human being connection is still there. I came home thinking I’d crossed some finish line; I’d learned/experienced/understood so much.
But there is no finish line. Not ever. What I learned at the retreat are tools to take me with me through the rest of my life; but the absence of her physical body is not going to change. And while it may seem somewhat torturous to begin this post with the list of “never agains” it’s something I need acknowledge, as a soul with a body that gave birth to another soul in a body. That’s the deal we made. Mother and daughter. Child of my body. And as the mother, I was supposed to go first. I was prepared to go first. She did instead. and now I have eight months and a lifetime left with that reality.
So when nights like this roll around and the absence is clamoring louder than the peace, I have to stop and pay my respects. But I don’t have to stay there.
Three nights ago, we drove up to Lake Tahoe so Talia could play in the snow. There was a blizzard happening, come to find out, and a 3 1/2 hour drive took 13 1/2. But that wasn’t the worst of it. Our GPS took us off the main highway into South Lake Tahoe, down a side road, snow-choked and dark. In summer months, I’m sure that road is a perfectly fine way to get to the neighborhood where we were staying, (if completely fucking indirect, Siri) but at night, with the snow flying horizontally, and the car skidding and jouncing, it was a nightmare. A terrorizing drive up the mountain into a wooded, dark area that felt miles from civilization. I was driving and become increasingly panicked at the lack of visibility, the narrow road, the skidding. Then Bill, who’d been counting down the tenths of a mile to our destination says, “We have to turn around.”
We had missed a turn in the storm because there was no turn. A road was closed, the snow covered the sign, and GPS didn’t know to tell us.
I thought we were going to die.
I don’t mean that in the “OMG, we waited an hour for food, and I was so hungry, I thought I was going to totally die” sense. No hyperbole here. I mean, I literally thought the car would get stuck in the snow, up the mountain, in freezing temperatures, and that we’d be stuck there overnight with our crying eight-year-old who could feel the fear in the car like a vapor. I was in full panic. And I never panic. I once had my driver-side window explode in a hail of safety glass on the freeway while traveling 60MPH with both girls in the back and didn’t so much as flinch. But this was real. This was going to end badly.
I got out and Bill took the wheel and calmly–but somewhat urgently– turned us around. I navigated us back to the highway that we never should have left in the first place, and we made it to the house which was–fun fact–practically a straight shot from the highway. Why our GPS told us to make that hideous turn, I’ll never know. Bill, who doesn’t deal in hyperbole either agreed that “It felt like life and death.”
But what I learned that night was that you don’t stop. So long as the car has gas and can go, you keep going. Even if it skids and shudders and the snow piles up thicker by the minute. Even as a storm rages at you, you’re warm and safe inside, and you keep going until you find solid ground again. Stopping and letting the cold and fear seep in is to give in to the terror and succumb.
Eight months without Izzy is going to turn into a year with a blink of my eyes. Then five. Then ten. The distance between our bodies growing further and further away. But the connection we have as spiritual beings for whom death isn’t the end, is what I must keep building. Buffering it against the storm of grief that wants to tear it down, and tell me that whatever connection we have is all in my head. That every sign, every amazing miracle, every unexplained moment of pure Izzy is mere coincidence when I know in my deepest heart there is no such thing.
There is no finish line, but we have to keep going anyway. But some nights, like this one, it’s just plain hard.