One year ago we'd just got through our last Christmas with Mom. We knew then that it was the last one. Her doctor had told us in early December that she wouldn't live another year. So we'd gone through all of our usual holiday rituals as normally as we could, despite the knowledge that we were reaching the end hanging over us.
Her health had deteriorated so fast. She could still walk when they sent her home from the hospital, but by Christmas she was in a wheelchair full time and was hooked up to oxygen. Someone always needed to be there to help her with things. I'd go over there in the evenings after work and feed her pills in spoonfuls of applesauce, picking the ones that were still necessary from the pillbox and trying my best to ignore the ones that her doctor said there was no more point in taking. She made it through Christmas, through New Year's, clinging on with quiet determination. I kept a slim hope in the back of my mind that maybe she'd prove the doctors wrong again, but she had run out of luck and by the end of January even her determination was starting to fail.
She passed away in February, and that started the year of firsts. First birthday, first month, first mother's day, first thanksgiving. Events and holidays passed by. Weeks and months that flowed around her absence like a river flowing around a rock. The emptiness that she left was a tangible thing, a grief that changed shape and size every day. Some days it was dark and heavy and blanketed everything around it. Some days it was so small that it could almost be forgotten. I never knew which one it would be until I'd started the day, and it could change from one hour to the next. There were mornings when I'd get up and feel fine. I'd go to work, talk to my co-workers, do all of my daily tasks without a thought. Then suddenly it would hit me and I'd find myself sobbing in my car on my way home.
Of all the firsts I've been through without her, my birthday was by far the worst. Thanksgiving was difficult because my sister had moved back to the state we were born in, and so it was my first holiday without any of my family around me. Christmas just felt strange. My husband and I went to Florida and spent it with my grandparents and sister and cousins, the first Christmas that my grandparents had with all of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren together. There was just one person missing, otherwise the family would have been complete. But that's the way it is, now. This is our new normal, the new "all of us".
Today is the last day of 2015. The last day in the year of firsts. In just over a month it will be the 1 year anniversary of her death. A whole year without her after spending half a lifetime preparing for just that thing. All of the years I spent thinking "This one could be the last, you never know what's coming" culminated in a single night in a hospital room, with her doctor telling us "this one IS the last".
I don't expect grief to ever go away. I think it will continue to change along with me, adjusting itself to fit in my life. It may eventually reduce permanently down to something easy to carry, something that settles in and becomes a part of me instead of something that threatens to swallow me whole. I know there will be days when it looms over everything, even years from now. But my mother raised me to be strong, to overcome things instead of giving in. To move forward even when I think that I can't. Every time a challenge seemed too much, or life seemed too hard, a burden too heavy, every time I said "I can't'", she would remind me that I was capable of so much more than I thought I was.
Perhaps the coming year will be more kind. Whatever it is, and whatever it brings, I'll get through it. I've put the year of firsts behind me, moving on the way she would have wanted me to.
I love you, Mom. Always.