The first dead body I saw was my mom’s, I had just turned 18.

“First we are going to carry the stretcher into her room, then we are going to lift her body onto it, then we are going to cover her with a sheet and wheel her out of her room. We are going to carry her down the stairs and into the driveway where we will open up the back of the van and slide her in. Then we are going to drive away.”

When the mortuary comes to pick up someone who has died, they give you a play by play before they start, letting you know what you are about to watch, letting you know the leaving part is starting. Death is disorienting and that narration was both a great act of generosity and grouping of sentences that hasn’t left my brain in 19 years. “We will open up the back of the van, slide her in and drive away.” They turned around and looked at me in the upstairs window before they left, and in in the blink of an eye, she was gone.

I watched her body laying still on her bed that day, not moving, not heaving and straining and yellow. I sat on a chair that was uncomfortably far from her but couldn’t bring myself to move it any closer. I wish I had moved it closer. I wish I had known how to do that part right, the dead body part, the saying goodbye part, the end part. I wish I was softer and kinder with myself.

August 12, 1999. A lifetime ago.

It has been 19 years of fighting for the life I knew I could find if I held on as tight as I could then learned to let go. 19 years of knowing that my capacity to love or hurt is bottomless and it is ok to feel both those things separately and at the same time. 19 years of learning that it is ok that it has been so painful because my grief is my lesson and it is sacred and devastating and full of the fiercest grace I have ever known. That my grief allows me to do hard things imperfectly and walk through fire and fear knowing even if I get burned, I will heal eventually. It’s taught me to weather storms of memories and flashbacks and ghosts and polarity. It is the thing I hate the most and my greatest super power.

Grief is a practice and a ritual. It changes constantly and some days threatens to rip you apart. But the thing I am finally starting to feel in an unmarked place in my insides, is that she exists in me the same way I exist in my son. The same way we all can exist in and for each other if we just remember to be softer and kinder to ourselves when shit goes sideways.