Grieving Mami was more difficult than I anticipated. I had six years to prepare but I was not ready. Each day greeted me with a new reminder that my mother was dead. How many times would I dial her number before I remembered she was gone? How many times would I crave her bacalao, albondigas and carne mechada before realizing that their flavor, aroma and comfort died with her.
I planned to visit my God-mother in the Dominican Republic the summer after Mami died. Consuelo was Mami’s best friend, Papi’s sister and the one responsible for their union. The day I bought my plane ticket Papi called to tell me she was dead. Cancer got her too. The rest of my life will now be filled with the regret of unanswered questions and one sided conversations with Mami’s ghost.
My grief morphed into depression. The more I tried to stop it, the deeper down the maelstrom I went. Driving on the freeway felt like an unseen hand was squeezing my throat while another one pinched my nose. I started driving on the exit lane to not add claustrophobia to my anxiety cocktail. I self-medicated with food and Netflix binges. I lost my desire to read, to hike, to see friends. I gained fifteen pounds.
My life became robotic; get up, drive to work, eat, work, eat, drive home, eat, Netflix, eat, sleep five hour, repeat.
My worse fear was that the darkness could lead me to commit suicide or get addicted to drugs even though I’ve never had thoughts of suicide or an addictive personality. A medicine cabinet full of Vicodin that I rarely used and did not know how to properly dispose of should have assured me that I would not go there. I excel at worrying about everything including things with very little chance of happening. I asked my husband and sister to keep an eye on me just in case.
A few years earlier my therapist diagnosed me with anticipatory anxiety because I always think of the worst case scenario, I need to be prepared for it, have a plan, just in case. I thought I was ready to let Mami go while she was dying but I was not prepared for my her death or the aftermath.
I am an optimist, always finding light or a shimmer of hope to guide me through difficult times. After spending half of my adult life witnessing the strongest person I knew battle cancer, suicide and drug abuse were not options for me. I knew my mother and aunt were dead but self-awareness did not make the darkness go away. Is this what the road the Cuckoo’s Nest was like? Was I, to quote Ozzy, “on the rails of a crazy train?”
I learned to function with depression. I have a hard time asking for help, in hindsight, I should have gone back to therapy to deal with the initial grief and loss.
My friend Rachel, whose mother has been dead for over a decade, once told me that you never get over the loss of the person that loves you the most in the world. She made me realize my sorrow was normal. When “the person that loves you the most in the world” dies, you are left with an emptiness that can never be filled.
I gave birth to my daughter almost three years later. My due date was on her birthday. I know my baby is a gift from Mami. She came out of my womb with a piercing cry that rippled through me like a high voltage current. The intensity of the moment made me miss my mother more than I ever had.