“Sheltering” with the Dead

Rumble time… (Thanks for coining that, Brene.)

I don’t know about you guys, but this whole “sheltering” experience has both taught and humbled me so much.

For example, I am so grateful for the invention of YouTube playlists, which I have been using to teach my kids cool stuff (today’s lesson was “Roly Polies and Poodles,” a topic chosen by my five year-old).

Never did I think I’d spend so much time on YouTube or create a lesson plan with that combo.

Also, I have learned that Blippi is tolerable if it means I get to do my morning quiet time. I swore to avoid him at all costs. (Why not actually go to all the cool places he visits ourselves – um, COVID-19?)

But Blippi in trade for Jesus? Sold.

And I’ve also come to understand, locked in your house with many children for days on-end, that hauntings are a real thing.

I still don’t believe in ghosts, but…hauntings, yes.

Grief in a Time of Quarantine

At some point, I would have said, “A relationship ends when a person dies.” And I am regularly humbled and “schooled” when I experience (again) that it doesn’t.

My mother has sheltered with me over the last week. At first I was acutely aware that she wasn’t actually with me. That, in fact, we were nearing our eighth year without her on this planet.

I was standing at the sink in my bathroom. I felt the hole. The gap. The emptiness.

Then came the realization that if she were alive today, despite her being in the demographic that is high risk for COVID-19, we would totally be sheltering together.

We would be hiding out on her ranch in the middle of nowhere. Us and all the kids.

Today, we would be playing in the dirt with the little ones, surrounded by the yellow wildflowers that bloom around this time of year out there.

We would chase loose chickens and chop down rogue mesquites in the back pasture – we would even skinny dip in the pool after everyone had gone to bed for the night. Let the country air dry our skin… (Though that is a real childhood experience we probably wouldn’t actually revisit because seven kids between us and A-G-E.) We would watch Columbo reruns and sip bad wine. Eat Ritz crackers.

For however many weeks it took.

With her, I could do this.

Then, in real time, in real life, came the sadness. And the grief – not alarming, just heavy. We’re old friends now.

And I also felt the end of myself.

I felt how much strength my relationship with my mother, even just the knowledge of her existence in the world, gave me.

I’m strong in many ways because of her, but I am not stronger without her. I felt that, and it was humbling.

(Not in a self-deprecating way, y’all. Just in a real way. We are made stronger by the relationships we have, are we not?)

Since this realization, I have allowed Mom to haunt, to linger.

She’s not the weight of grief I also feel. She is more like a wisp – a glimpse. Something just over-the-shoulder you can’t quite catch but is definitely there. The thing you don’t ever look directly at because you want it to stay.

So she’s here. Mom and I have been sheltering together in this way for at least a week. Living together. (Swear I’m not nuts.)

Yesterday, I wore a set of her long strand, Chinese market pearls. They kept tangling in the babies’ legs, choking me out, when I changed diapers. She’d laugh. Tell me to take them off. It was frustrating, but I wore those suckers all day. She was glad to see I had put them on, so it was worth it.

As I write this, I’m looking out my window at her old rainbow, pool umbrella, cocked at an angle against my roofline to keep the oak pollen from piling up at my back door. There’s no pool in my yard, but she’s there – under all that color – waiting for me to finish writing this up and come out for a lungful of afternoon sun.

Later, we’ll replant her succulents together. Maybe when my husband is home to watch the kids. Those raggedy plants have been there since she died – they are literally eight years old today. Time for new life. She loves succulents.

And who knows about tomorrow? It sounds like we’re sheltering through the end of the school year, at least. The potential adventures with my mother in the quiet of this quarantine could be…endless…

And I do feel stronger with her here, so I think I’ll keep her around for a while longer.

Why not? (Did I mention I’m not nuts?)

Sheltering with Mom this week has taught me it not only really, really matters who you “shelter” with and that I can make new memories with dead people if I want to, but also when shit is hard, you use what makes you feel healthy and strong and vibrant and seen and yourself to get you through.

Thanks, Mom.

One thought on ““Sheltering” with the Dead

  1. Marcy Ringstaff says:

    Hey,

    I totally understand what you’re saying! It seems when we have more time on our hands, we get to think about the ones who can’t be there with us.
    We are all trying to deal with this shelter in place, which is the weirdest thing I have ever had to do. Even though I am home a lot due to disabilities, but I really miss the weekend lunch/shopping with my friends or husband. I have been home way too long to be sane…lol
    I love reading your blogs! You’re doing great!!❤️

    Like

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