[excerpted from a description I wrote of a photo of my childhood home once it was emptied]
Home, back then, was where she was. Always. When I got home from school, even though she was not up to greet me immediately, I knew that she was in her room taking her usual afternoon nap. She was back there – she was just sleeping.
After I moved, no matter when I returned, it was always the same. The furniture changed, objects were moved around, things got dirtier and dustier, but it was still the place where my mom was, and I could always go there to find her.
I could always go there to find her, until I couldn’t.
When I went into the house after she was gone, it hurt so much that I tried to tell myself the same thing that I told myself each time I arrived home from school. “She’s back there – she’s just sleeping.”
Now, the kitchen is empty, dark, except for the light coming in through the yellowed curtains. There was once a round table near the back wall, four chairs around it, one of them broken. There was a microwave, miscellaneous papers and catalogs strewn around it and on the table, water bottles on the floor under the window. The last time I visited my mom, she kept trying to give me water. I kept one of the bottles she gave me in my car for the longest time. I did not understand why, but I could not get rid of it, and to drink it felt like sacrilege. That bottle of water turned out to be the last item my mom ever handed to me.
No matter how inevitable something is, how many times you tell yourself it’s coming someday, it cannot prepare you for the void you’ll feel when you no longer find them at the place where you always found them. It cannot console what you feel inside when you cannot touch them anymore, when you have nothing but an empty shirt of theirs to hold. You can pretend they’re just sleeping or that the shirt is them, if you need to stave off the tears, but eventually your heart tells your brain the truth.
When it does, may God be with you.
Your last moments with someone – maybe if you are very lucky, you spend them holding that someone, whispering words of love. But maybe you spend them doing nothing. Maybe there is nothing more than a mundane conversation, a walk to your car with a sad wave goodbye, an unopened water bottle rolling around in the slot in your car door. As you drive away, the words you wished you could have said roll around in your head. You make a note to say them later, but then you forget. Except, you don’t actually forget. You just lose your courage to say them, because they are too honest. And honesty has never been your thing.
Death comes for all of us. It is so common that writing about it feels like a cliché. The comfort in that is that someday, I know I, too, will return home. When that day comes, my time here might feel like a distant memory, one that I would prefer, mostly, to forget.
When I get home, I know that she will be there. There are others I hope to see, too, those that I could not connect with here. Human rules and obligations are strange, and so many of them hold us back from loving the people it would do our hearts the most good to love. Jealousy and ownership are poisons that cut us off from love. There is nothing quite like the ache that comes from longing to hold someone that you cannot, no matter what the reason may be. I hope that when we all go home, we will see beyond these things, and love as we wish to love. No matrimony, no formalities, just love.
When I get home, maybe she will be napping, or she will be sitting in the kitchen and playing Sudoku. Maybe she will have picked up other interests in the time between now and then – what do unbound Souls like to do? – and that’s okay.
I look forward to going home.