NOBODY TELLS YOU ANY OF THIS
Nobody tells you how quickly the face of a dead person loses color, how quickly gray washes over you, how quickly the person who was your mother becomes a body to be cremated, transitioned into ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Nobody tells you to expect bleak silence and snow, a coldness you won’t register, or how even the air will forget to breathe and that you will need to be reminded as well.
Nobody tells you how quickly you’ll take care of the necessary notifications and respond to the trifling Christmas cards that keep arriving; your mother would want them answered immediately, would insist on it, being the first time in her fifty-four years of marriage that she will not have sent out holiday greetings. Nobody tells you how you will agonize over each note just as she did, a necessary burden, while at the same time operating on autopilot, not paying attention to anything you’re writing or to whom. Nobody tells you how later you’ll wonder if you even wrote them at all.
Nobody tells you how deathly quiet that first Christmas (or any holiday) will be without her, not just because she’s gone but also because it’s 2020 and there’s a pandemic, so nobody will visit you, your dad, and your sister, not yet. Nobody tells you that the gray shock of death lasts months, even when it’s an expected death, and that this shock will prompt you to tell the hospice social worker that you’re doing fine and to reject the grief counseling offered, even though you desperately need it, you just won’t realize how much you need it until six months later, and by then, they’ll have stopped asking, as will everybody else. Nobody tells you any of this.
Nobody tells you how death changes relationships, that longtime friends will rebuff you, won’t even extend condolences. Nobody tells you that you will reevaluate who you share your thoughts and time with, who you have energy for. Because nobody tells you how little energy you’ll have, or how much energy it will take to get out of bed in the morning, let alone figure out what to eat. You’ll recall with envy the food that arrived when your paternal grandfather died. But you were only seven then, maybe your memory is faulty.
Nobody tells you that ignoring your grief will intensify it. Nobody tells you about the insomnia and nightmares, the constant crying, the numbness. Nobody tells you that you should have, in fact, stopped, to rest, to grieve. But there was too much to do, so you went right back to doing it, attending meetings, answering emails, performing obligatory tasks, routine tasks. Pragmatic, always pragmatic. Just like your mother.
Nobody tells you that you won’t remember that first year without her. Dissociation, you’ll learn. Nobody tells you how she’ll appear to you, talk to you. How you’ll sit at the café the two of you used to meet at for lunch and expect her to walk in, hope that she will. Nobody tells you how achingly you will relive your last words to her, those last moments, hours, days, weeks, and months with her, with every moment, hour, day, week, and month that passes. Nobody tells you that you’ll have so many regrets and that each regret will make it harder and harder to breathe, like fire in your chest, so difficult that your doctor will diagnose you with asthma, and you’ll want to say, but this is what happened to her, she couldn’t breathe either. Nobody ever diagnosed her as asthmatic.
Nobody tells you that after your mother’s death, you will become her, that your body will morph into hers, your breasts, your stomach, your mind—all hers—and that her years of pain and grief will become yours, on top of the pain and grief that are already yours. Nobody tells you that you will become two people in one: your mother and sometimes yourself. Sometimes both at once, sometimes neither. Nobody tells you that you will become a floating specter, dreamlike, that you will struggle to feel real, that you will struggle with existence.
Nobody tells you that you will adopt your mother’s mannerisms, her tone, her facial expressions, what she would say in any given circumstance, that you will order what she orders at the café simply because she ordered it, not because it’s what you want, that you will watch the TV shows she loved, adding her commentary in, that you will no longer be yourself in thought and mind, that you will lose yourself. Nobody tells you that you will lay in bed some nights as her, unable to move, unable to talk, how you will stare at the night-gray ceiling, terrified that you are dying, too.
Nobody tells you that after a major loss, you will wonder what you will die of, and when, or how you will feel opaque fear with every anxious breath or twinge of muscle, every cramp, blemish, or pain, especially after you read up on the effects of grief and stress on a body. Nobody tells you how frightening it will be to trust your gut instinct, because you’ve been right too often. Because you just know things. Just like your mother knew. Nobody was able to explain her illness or even diagnose it for eighteen months, but she knew long before anyone else, and it didn’t matter much anyway because there is no cure for ALS. Nobody tells you that there’s no cure for grief either, that it will just go on and on and on. Nobody tells you any of this.
Jessica Klimesh is a US-based writer and editor whose creative work has been published or is forthcoming in Complete Sentence, The Dribble Drabble Review, Atticus Review, trampset, HAD, Brink, and Microfiction Monday Magazine, among others. Jessica Klimesh’s work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Microfiction, and Best Small Fictions. Jessica Klimesh is currently working on a collection of linked flash stories. Learn more at jessicaklimesh.com.
Cover Design by Karen Rile