Will you still be my mom in heaven?
I’d ask my mom when I was a little girl. We lived in a very small apartment, and my feelings were so overwhelmingly big that they had never quite fit.
Do you think we’ll still be married after we die?
I asked my husband a while back. I was reading about black holes in the New York Times, and I started to cry thinking about the end of all things. “Why are we even trying to have a child? What if we forget about each other in whatever other life there is out there? What if nothing happens after we die?” I panicked and, in tears, curled smaller and smaller in his arms.
Since my early childhood, I recall being taken over by a constant and devastating sense of fear of the end, whether of a game, a vacation, an experience, a job, a relationship, a situation — and ultimately, the end of life.
I have never really been concerned with missing the object of change, the person, or the situation, but rather with the aftermath, with change itself, with the divide between now and tomorrow.
This preoccupation haunted my everyday life until I closed my eyes on it through the abuse of food, drugs, and alcohol. I never walked through the woods; I never worked it out.
So inevitably, when I got sober a little over 5 years ago, I was little Alice all over again, heartbroken every time I had to say goodbye, turn a page, close a book.
Life went on; I got better at dealing with it. And yet my attachment to the present and my defiance in the face of change stayed the same: when I fell in love and married Ben I began to live in fear of life without him. With the countless blessings in our life the fear of tragedy came, with bounty that of poverty, and with health the one of sickness, loneliness, and death.
Since Tom passed on Monday night, all those fears gathered up and thundered in my head in unison: what would happen now?
He is the first close person in my life that has passed away in my adulthood and sobriety,
I told Ben the following morning as we lay in bed holding each other, after the previous 24 hours of pain, shock and disbelief, but also of family and love.
In fact, the closest people in my life that had left this world had been my maternal grandparents, who died when I was 19 and 23 (years when I wasn’t exactly ‘all there’).
As I was writing this piece, I looked back and saw how things have ended, yes, but then begun, time and time again. Life has so far known exactly how to write its own book; my fears neither hinder nor prevent what had to come, whether good or bad. Life always continued to happen.
In the wake of death, it is in the experience of life that I seem to find some kind of hope, some kind strength. And I don’t have to look back to find it: it is the new life that I am growing inside that is guiding me toward the acceptance of change, birth and death, old and new, beginnings and endings.
I can fear all that, or I can feel all that.
Can’t you see that it’s not up to us?
I said to Ben once we had gotten up and decided to start the day, a difficult one. I felt discouraged and powerless.
He had just told me that he is doing everything he can to be with us forever— for he knows me well – he knows what’s inside my heart.
And it is true: when we live, or when we die, is not up to us. But how we choose to live until we die is.
In dealing with grief, I want to be fearless today. I want to tell little Alice, the me that is still afraid, that she can say goodbye without being heartbroken; she can close a book and open a new one, because the stories she has already read will never go away. This is also what I want to teach our daughter. For what inevitably passes never truly leaves us: it gives us fertile soil to plant anew, to begin again, and again, and again.
On Monday night, at the hospital, our baby girl moved in my womb more than ever before, almost as if to let us know she was part of what was happening; I could touch her little foot (or elbow?) pressing against my skin. I felt the deepest connection, and some who were present seemed to feel the same — life and death together as one, a reminder of what our existence is: ephemeral, precious in its fragility. So with sorrow in my heart, today, but not with a broken heart, I choose to see the gift instead of the punishment, the gain instead of the loss. And if this is what I learned from Tom’s new beginning I can only say:
Thank you, Tom.
Wherever you are tonight
I wish you the best of everything, in the world
And I hope you found
Whatever you were looking for
The Best of Everything, Tom Petty