You know how you can whip a tea towel at someone, especially if it's wet from drying the dishes, a quick flick of the wrist and that towel snaps against a vulnerable part of the body - usually exposed skin is best for maximum effect but that snap of pain can be felt even under clothing.
When we were growing up, my sister and I used to do the dishes every night after dinner. I always dried and so I perfected the art of the tea towel snap. Of course the tables often turned and I was on the receiving end of defensive action: one of those ghastly 'burns' where you grab someone's arm with both hands and twist the skin. My sister was quite adept at this.
Yesterday I was reading Anne Lamott's Almost Everything: Notes on Hope. I had some music playing in the background, I was just kinda hanging out. One of the chapters in Anne's book made me think about how we are hardwired to survive and to keep going. Even when we are old, or sick, and failing, we hold on to life, even if it's just for one more bite of ice cream.
It made me think of my Mom in the weeks before she died. She spent most of her time in bed but did still enjoy being taken out for some sunshine and flower-time in her wheelchair. She couldn't really say much but made it very clear when she wanted her 'sweet treats' - a can of Coke with a straw was a particular favourite, or a small tub of vanilla ice cream that we'd bring in for her.
So I was remembering this and then the iPod shuffling through its playlist kicked into See you later alligator by Bill Haley. It was like a snap of that tea towel. That's how grief can be sometimes. It snaps at you, out of nowhere, it stings, it catches you so off guard all you can do is cry. And that's what I did.
It was the song that did it. For several months before she died, Mom was still able to converse with us and every time I visited, we said good bye the same way.
'See you later alligator!' I'd say.
'After 'while crocodile,' she'd reply.
And we'd give each other the 'secret signal' of our love for each other (to this day, only me and Mom know what this is and if anyone ever says they can communicate with her on the 'other side', I would get them to tell me what the 'secret signal' is, then I'd know for sure it was Mom parting the veil) and I'd end my visit.
That's how grief can be. It lashes out and stings you so hard you cry with the pain of it. The startling speed of it is so surprising it makes you catch your breath. Other times it's like that slow burn your sister used to give you when she'd had enough of you flicking her with the tea towel. It grabs hold and slowly burns.
Mom has been gone now for almost nine years and I suppose I can say that grief's tea towel snaps are less frequent than they were. But the sting and the pain is as acute, singular, and painful as ever. The slow burn is an ember that flares up now and then. Both can be triggered by songs, pictures, the smell of Chanel No. 5 that was Mom's favourite, things she loved that I now have and so grief is woven into the fabric of my life now, into the everyday. It's part of me.