Grief is a funny thing. Once you think you’ve mastered it, tucked it in a front shirt pocket over the heart where it can come along for the ride, but not get in the way, you end up leaning over and it falls on the floor. It causes a great stirring, making a ruckus as it rolls, clanging and banging with a great metallic clatter. Oh what a mess! Grief fell out again and it took my heart with it.
In the beginning, when grief was allowed to run rampant, I had the sensation that I could not breathe. I felt every breath. It was as if I were sensing the life within me. Breath is life. Her last words were “I can’t breathe.” It’s all I ever thought about and her eyes. Whenever I closed my own eyes, I saw hers. Dull, grey, unblinking. Unwavering. Staring. She used to look at me with those eyes. Sometimes she would look at me too long, too much in awe, and I would be annoyed. It was as if she were looking at a piece of art in a museum. I hated that look. I didn’t want to be that special to her.
Today, as I leaned over a patient sitting in a chair to listen to her heart, it struck me that her arms looked just like my mom’s. My mom was fair-haired and her arms were always pale with a splatter of freckles. Over the years, those freckles coalesced into the tell tale signs of aging. Larger patches of brown replaced the tiny freckles of youth. Her skin took on a crepey texture, like tiny wrinkles in a piece of paper. Subtle. They could be smoothed back out again. I look at my own arms now, they are starting to take that shape. I don’t have as many of the freckles/age spots as my mom did, but they are there. Ghosts of Christmas future.
My eyes moved over her arms. I looked at the clothes that she was wearing. Just like my mom. A pair of slacks and a “dressy” t-shirt. Flowers with accents, glitter and diamonds. Maybe a scrawl of cursive, did it say, “dream?” I felt a pang in my chest. I had the sudden urge to hug this woman. Tell her how much I missed her. Tell her how hard things have been. How tired I felt. How I didn’t want to have this knowledge of how mean people could be.
How silly would it have been if I did hug her. Me in my face shield, N 95 mask, gown, gloves, during a pandemic. No one hugs anymore. No one especially hugs strangers. And she’s sick. I pulled back after listening to her heart, a little startled at my moments journey into grief. Could that have been my mother’s heart? The one I couldn’t restart? No this one is working just fine. Her lungs were good, too. I felt a mist of tears in my eyes. It was good to remember my mom. It brought me back to myself. I had tucked that grief away a little too well. I wasn’t feeling much of anything lately. I was going through the motions because there was just too much to feel. There was too much sickness and not enough of me to go around.