How we see the world shapes who we choose to be — and sharing compelling experiences can frame the way we treat each other, for the better. This is a powerful perspective.
July 8, 2017.
November 23, 2015.
The time my mom died. The day she died. The day she was diagnosed. (And that’s 593 days between the two, if you were wondering.)
I’ve always had a weird photographic memory for numbers — birthdays, addresses, phone numbers — but it’s reached new depths since my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Now, when my friends ask me what time it is, I jokingly check my naked wrist. When I guess what time it is, I’m generally only off by a few minutes.
I’m not sure if it’s years of literally running from my feelings on cross-country running race courses that taught me the acute passage of time or attuning it by watching the clock tick in hospital rooms, hoping and waiting for good news from the gynecological oncologists we hoped would cure my mom.
Or maybe it’s from watching the sands of time slip away with my mom’s last breath, grasping to understand that my future would no longer be enmeshed with hers.
Then again, it could be from that long train ride home to get to her the day she died. I was racing against the clock to get to my family that day, willing, to no avail, to stop time so I wouldn’t have to face a life without my greatest ally and cheerleader.
Why have these dates, times, numbers become so ingrained in my mind?
“This is all about control,” says Claire Bidwell Smith, a grief therapist and author of “Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief.”
“Watching a loved one die is the ultimate loss of control,” she continues. “It’s incredibly frightening and unsettling. Finding ways to feel any semblance of control over the experience — including simply being able to know exactly what time it is — is a way of making your environment feel more secure.”
The month before the one-year anniversary of my mom’s death, I found myself telling people that my subconscious knew the significance before my conscious did.
Uttering those words felt like bullshit, but how else could I explain the feeling of melancholy that had set in as soon as the calendar had flipped to that month? But according to Bidwell Smith, our internal clocks alert our subconscious to certain times of year or memories correlating to that season.
My loved ones have told me they’re always there to listen to me, but I know they must tire of hearing about the ins and outs of my grief, the significance of random dates, the tough memories attached to them.
As one of those approached — June 20, the last day I had a real conversation with my mom — my best friend and I planned to see a concert that night. “That way,” she said, “we can associate better memories with this date.”
As I began falling down the rabbit hole of enumerating the various ways the date was torturous, she interrupted my pensiveness. “OK, what’s a good thing that happened on June 20?” she asked.
It annoyed the hell out of me at first. I’d gotten so used to the wallowing. But I quickly realized she was right.
My mom had 26,490 days on this earth. Why was I so obsessed with those 593 days and comparing the present to them?
And as annoying as “Your mom wouldn’t have wanted you to be sad” can be, I knew this trope wasn’t wrong here. My mom would be so mad at me for not getting on with my life. She once kicked me out of her hospital room because she knew I had a date that night.
And so, I tried my friend’s idea on for size. For that dreaded one-year anniversary, I made plans to go to my mom’s favorite beach. I wanted to honor her, I wanted to honor me, and I wanted to create new memories on a day replete with pain.
I rented a convertible and let myself get lost in singing my heart out like a fool, full of joy. I explored a new-to-me town I’d been curious about for a long time. I introduced my best friend to something that had been an important part of my life with my mom.
And everyone who said that time heals is right. Yesterday was 13 months since she left this earth, and I didn’t notice until today.
I can only pinpoint today’s pain last year if I consult my Google Photos. The edges are beginning to soften around all of those painful dates now that I’ve put a full year between us.
Theodora Blanchfield is a Los Angeles-based writer. Her work has appeared in Women’s Health, Bustle, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Huffington Post, Daily Burn, Woman’s Day and Mic, among other sites. She blogs about grief, mental health and using running to handle it all at preppyrunner.com.