I Have No Words

And that is profoundly confusing for me. I have always had words. I was the second-grader who got in trouble for bringing a book into the girls’ bathroom so I could get to the end of my chapter. I was the third-grader whose teacher pulled her aside to say, “Honey, I know you have a lot to say, but can you practice waiting to say it later?”

I have always processed the entire world verbally. If I didn’t talk about it, I wasn’t sure it had really happened.

But I am out of words right now.

I feel stiff. I feel frozen. I feel as if every one of my deepest and most profound emotions is stuck in my throat.

I am learning that grief presents itself in strange ways.

When my Dad died, I cried and mourned and wrote about him and talked about him and somehow put everything in place.

But with the death of my Mom, I find myself at a loss for words.

It’s funny.

One of the many things that Mom and I shared was our love of the spoken and written word. We were both readers. We were both writers. We both preferred verbal puzzles to mathematical ones.

We were also both more emotional than logical. We both struggled to force our hearts to follow our brains, instead of the other way around.

And now she is gone.

And I have no words.

I have tried and tried and tried again to come to this safe space where I can write just what I feel. But I can’t quite get my arms around the hugeness of the hole in my world.

I have no words.

Mom was graceful, even when she was unaware of that grace. She was stylish, as I can attest now that my sister and I have sorted through the 12 bags of her clothes.

Mom was opinionated. She was strong. She was fragile and breakable, and we all spent so much energy trying to protect her from the life around her. She was never able to fully grasp how much we loved her and looked to her to guide our way through this life.

I have no words to express the strange feeling that I have without her in my life.

One moment I feel like a balloon that has escaped its knot, rising and rising into the stratosphere with absolutely nothing to guide me.

The next moment I feel like the wise woman of my own village; the oldest and wisest, able to fold my mother’s lessons into my own.

I am here because I am afraid that if I stop writing, stop speaking, I will simply disappear. Without the reflection of my Mom in my mirror, am I really there?

I have lost my words.

I believe that they will come back. As I embrace my beautiful granddaughter and watch her falling into a good book, I see my Mom.

Life is a journey. Life goes on, no matter what we think about that fact.

My Mom is gone. For now, my voice has gone with her.

I will look to my children and to theirs, and I know that I will find it once again.

For now, I am here only to show that I am here.

To have lived well.

Sometimes I wonder how I will know that I have lived well.  How will I be able to measure my days, when they have come to an end? How does a person assess her own worth, figure her true value, determine the sum total of all that her life has achieved?

I’m very lucky, because I have one sure way to measure the value of my time on earth.

I will measure it against the life that my father lead while he was here with us.

My father was a special person.

He wasn’t rich, not by a long shot.  I have great memories of my parents saving pennies in a jar so they could take us on vacation every summer.  I remember the sense of luxury  we felt when we went out for pizza every few months, the whole huge crowd gathered around the table at “Kitty’s”.  We were anything but “rich”!

My father wasn’t famous. He wasn’t known beyond his own circle of family and work and neighbors.  He didn’t have “fans”.

But the thing is, he was deeply admired and loved by just about everyone who knew him.

My father was fair.  He was honest. He listened and he asked good questions.  He remembered people, and asked about their families and their lives. He shared what he had.  He made people laugh.

He wasn’t afraid to be silly; I remember him dancing the “Pogo” at one cousin’s wedding, bouncing across the dance floor in his three piece suit.  He played with his kids.  He sat on the floor, long after he should have stopped, to bounce his grandchildren on his knees and to hold them aloft on his bent legs to play “airplane”.

He was firm, and sometimes a little rigid.  The world to him was clear and unambiguous.  To Dad, “right” was “right” and “wrong” was “wrong”.  There were no excuses and there was no gray area.  He held all of us to the same high standards that he held for himself.

My father knew how to love.  He was a loyal friend.  He loved his family beyond all measure, and we always knew that.  He loved my mother as much on the day that he died as he did on the day they met, some sixty years before.  And he let her know it every single day.

How can I measure the value of my own life?

I will measure it by the grief that my siblings and I feel today, on what would have been Dad’s 85th birthday.  More than three years after his death, I still feel my father beside me every day.  I hear his laughter, I see his face, I feel the warm strength of his embrace.

A life has been a success, I think, when it leaves behind it a sense of loss and a sense of blessing, all at once. My father has surely left both.  His absence is a gaping hole in all our lives.  His blessings are seen in the way that we have learned to love each other and our own families.  They are found in the lessons that he taught us about facing  our worst fears with grace and courage.

When Dad’s wake was held, the line to pay respects stretched outside the funeral home, across the parking lot and into the lot next door.  The people who knew him waited for almost two hours for a chance to say goodbye.

That is my measure of a life well lived.

Happy Birthday, Dad.   Thank you.