My great-grandparents died twenty days apart.
Mom used to tell me that my grandfather was completely devastated to lose his parents so close together. She said that their newly dug graves had mounds of dirt over them, to manage the soil settling over time. My grandfather would go to the city cemetery often, in his early stages of grief. He would lie face down, between the mounds of dirt, over the graves of his parents, and cry. He would stand up and return home, telling her, along the way, “Cuando se mueren tus padres, es como una sed que no puedes aliviar.” (trans. When your parents die, you are left with a thirst that you can never quench.)
My mom died suddenly, two years ago. At her funeral, as one of her favorite hymns was sung, my heart shattered. My cousins, Nancy and Sandra, held me up as I wailed, for the first time in my life. At that moment they became maternal for me, as I came to terms with the loss. I did not know that kind of sadness and pain was possible.
A few months later, I was teaching a prenatal massage class, as I had done for years. I had to ask my students to give me a moment because emotion was starting to choke me up. This was my first prenatal class since my Mom’s death. I realized how much I had thought about my own mother’s pregnancy, during this class, in years past.
The compassion I received from my students was overwhelming. Several students spoke up about their own grief and how they were also needing support after miscarriages, difficult labor, and other painful experiences during childbirth. During all the years of teaching this class, I never knew how important it was to acknowledge the grief that surrounds some pregnancy and birth experiences. My students are always my best teachers.
And because of their loving kindness, I was able to realize and share a life changing insight, that evening. I thought the first time I had ever wailed in grief was at my mother’s funeral. In fact, this was the second time. The first time was the moment of my birth, and this is the key insight: Both times I was grieving separation from her physical body.
That realization joined the two experiences into one. I could embrace the beginning and end of our physical relationship. The joy she must have felt the first time I wailed, at my birth, balanced the pain I felt as I said goodbye to her daily physical presence. An equal amount of joy and pain became Love.
And that Love has deepened the quiet gratitude I have that she was my mother in this life.