Where do you put grief?

This morning, as every Monday morning, we put the dry cleaning bag at the front door. We have a weekly pick up and delivery service. As I walked by, for just a brief but absolutely certain moment, it was Preston lying there. I choked back a sob. I went out for a walk, and on Briar Lane I was overcome with memories of letting go of Preston’s leash here and letting him chase squirrels.

Preston was (is and always will be) our 150 pound Newfoundland dog, so the squirrels had very little to fear. I say our dog, because we all loved him. Yet if we are being honest he was really my dog. Preston was by my side, behind my chair, next to me on the couch, for 12 years. It was me he punished by giving me the cold shoulder when we returned from being away for any length of time. And it was me who kissed his nose when we said goodbye to him in early June.

Two plus months in, I don’t cry every day any more. This coexistence, me and my grief, is not a comfortable one. And I am finding I need to make more room for grief. I need to know how to prepare–to the extent it is possible–for the next loss as my mother is leaving me. I have known this for a long time, but the examples I can point to are getting more frequent, and more concrete. It’s no longer just my vague “knowing.” I am able to put words to the events particularly as she loses her ability to.

Last week, I told her I was making panzanella, one of her favorite dishes. We have a garden that is overflowing its boundaries, and the tomatoes are just beginning to ripen. “What’s that?,” she asked me. I explained it was the tomato bread salad that she loved. She showed no hint of recognition. She plays along–“Oh great!” she said. “Cheryl is making my favorite salad,” she gamely informed my father. I knew she had no idea.

Today I asked her if she would like some bruschetta for lunch. My aggravation at her continuing refusal to pronounce it as bru sketta rather than bru shetta has been a running joke in my family for many years. “What’s that?” she asked me. I had to turn away quickly as the tears began again.

My mother has not been available to me for guidance, or for comfort, for a long time. I know this and understand it. I do not resent it. And she is still here, and healthy, and pretty happy I hope. Yet I am grieving and I do not know what to do with it, not the current grief nor the anticipated grief. I am trying to dig deep and find the joy in my memories of my beautiful Preston, and the joy in the mother I still have.

Does one swallow grief? That’s what it feels like sometimes. Like I am stuffing it back down my throat. I worry there won’t be enough room. There’s hardly enough now.

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