Fall always makes me melancholy, and more apt to flights of fancy. I’ve always felt as though the fall opens a world of possibility – perhaps the remnant of so many years of schooling, where every fall implied new classes, new challenges, new people and new opportunities. But by its very beginning, it means the previous year’s stories are over. And that concept of ending, of closure, makes me nostalgic.
Perhaps it isn’t unusual, then, that fall makes me think of my mother. I’ve spent the last two years doing my utmost to not remember her, because I couldn’t reconcile the enormity of her absence with the need to keep living my life. I had bills to pay, a job to do, friends to not worry. The requirements of every day life are not compatible with grief.
The first fall immediately following her summer death, I was thrown out of my comfort zone by being sent on an unexpected 6-week business trip to France. I was alone in a beautiful country, doing very interesting work. I was blessed with the freedom of being a stranger: I could just be myself. I was distanced from my father’s grief, which, for the first 18 months after my mother’s death, was oppressive and all-consuming: it left no room for anything, including my own grief, or my need for his comfort. During that trip, liberated from everyone’s expectations of my behaviour or knowledge of my circumstances, I felt free to feel whatever range of emotions that presented itself to me. Wonder at life in France, mixed with moments of doubt about my job, deep loneliness, but also deep joy. I was alive, and living every moment fully. I was going to be ok.
That trip gave me the strength to push through the following year. Upon my return, I locked down my emotions, because there was no room for them in my life. I had to deliver at work. Friends were busy, it was inconvenient being sad. I became so good at locking down those emotions, I soon lost track of them entirely, and to my relief, I became an extremely productive member of society. Well-regulated, and efficient.
The second fall following her death, I was wrapped in my busy world. After one mediocre week, on a rainy, cold day, as I was doing groceries for my quiet upcoming weekend, I considered what might I do to put myself in a better mood. Normally, that question begets some sort of reward, typically of the chocolate or pastry variety. This time, unbidden, the perfect answer of “Oh, I know what will cheer me up – I will call my mother for a nice chat, she should be home at this hour” appeared, followed by the sensation of everything skidding to a sudden stop, a moment of stillness, and then the sinking realization, that no, no I could not do that and I never would again.
That was the last time I thought of my mother involuntarily until this September. This time around, the change of season seems to have triggered a change in my ability to regulate my emotions with spartan discipline. And like small geysers, I’ve been experiencing sudden spurts of emotion as I remember her.
The benefit of this fall change is that it has slightly opened my memory – I have started accessing more than quaint vignette memories of her. Instead, I can almost feel her: she no longer is a frozen painting in my mind, she is more like the pictures in Harry Potter that are oddly lifelike.
The feel I have of her lately, in this cold week, is of her, round and comfortable, filling up a big ugly thick green cardigan knitted by her mother (Baba the Queen), and myself in a matching one, a million sizes too big, sitting on my parents’ screened-in porch at home, drinking endless pots of tea, and looking about her contentedly, as the wind blows through the trees in our backyard, before turning back to me, and starting our next topic of conversation. We’d spend all afternoon outside, interrupting it only long enough to make fresh pots of tea. We talked about everything. This tradition, started when I was an adolescent, continued every weekend, even after I moved out, and continued till the very end. I can’t remember a single conversation; I just remember that comfortable feeling of contentment and rightness. And the feeling of extreme water retention from all that tea.
I’d say there was progress between last fall and this year. Baby steps!
And to end this on a more positive nostalgic note: writing this post reminded me of a song I discovered during that France trip. Flight of the Conchords wrote a song about raising money for sick kids. It is one of the most endearing videos on YouTube, that does not include kittens.