I’m not sure that it’s possible to describe the worst day of your life. It’s been almost three weeks since I lost one of the brightest stars at the center of my galaxy. The first week was a whirlwind. Family flew in, casseroles arrived, cards and flowers, the lady who helps us clean came more than necessary, but it was all a blur. We had his funeral and the church was packed. The high school choir sang and the deacon who baptized him and gave him his first communion came to perform the service.
I’ve been in that church many times and I’d never seen so many people, except for Christmas and Easter, and I had never heard people sing so loudly. I hugged at least 200 people, dutifully. I hugged all of his friends and addressed the rumors that he had committed suicide. He didn’t. He had a terrible accident. I told them that if they ever heard that rumor again, they should tell the person that Little I’s mom said to “Fuck right off because it’s breaking my heart.” Maybe I shouldn’t have said “Fuck right off” to a bunch of teenagers in the church. Maybe they appreciated it because many of them came back to our home after to share stories about Little I and their shenanigans. I was grateful to see them.
At the same time, I started to feel like I was being managed. I felt infantilized by some of the people I trusted the most, and villainized by others. I started to feel like Galactus. If I wasn’t led by my herald to an uninhabited planet, I might destroy someone’s world. The only thing that was destroying me was my grief. When everyone leaves, the grief finally has a place to settle in and the grief gets more and more hungry. Why was so I terrible?
After two weeks it was absolutely unbearable. Every part of my day was filled with the absence of him. My mind flashed to the image of my hands on his chest, doing CPR more vigorously than I have ever done it before. To the words “no shock advised” when the paramedics came. To the look on TD’s face when she realized her brother was gone. I met with my dean who graciously gave me space to work as I needed and I worked nearly full time, in between crying on the floor of his bedroom. People would kindly remind me that I still have to be a good mom to TD, as though that wasn’t obvious to me. As though my love for her doesn’t run as deep as it does for him and as though my grief was somehow a betrayal of her. It was maddening and made me feel all the more guilty and villainous. I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t sleeping, and I was consumed by the fear that people would see my absolute, soul-crushing grief as a betrayal of my commitment to mother my other beautiful child and stepchildren, who I love with every ounce of my soul. I cracked a little.
But, today I went back to work and I sat in my office. I tried to be productive and I realized that what I need is not to stop grieving – I will never stop grieving – but exert some control over the moments when I grieve. Two of my good friends Zoomed with me at lunchtime and made me smile. It was a temporary respite from the grief. I am growing sea monkeys and waiting for them to mate and it is a temporary respite from the grief. I’m coaching 4th-grade basketball and it is a temporary respite from the grief. I bought TD Women’s Hawkeye’s Basketball tickets and we read at the coffee shop and it was a temporary respite from the grief. I rejoined a gym for the moments I feel out of control, and I hope it will be a temporary respite from the grief. I started a fund for LGBTQIA+ scholars (choose In Memory of Charles J. Bates) and that will be a temporary respite from the grief.
Little I used to joke with me that he inherited my soul and my heart, and that makes me sad to see it leave this Earth. He was an inclusive guy who wanted everyone to feel loved and I was comforted to see how many people came to celebrate him. His Anishinabe and Ojibwa aunties came to perform a special ceremony for him and I was amazed at the people who came to show their love for him. I know he would not want me to sit in my grief. He’d want me to keep doing good in the world.
So, there needs to be some way to move on from here…