For Those Without Mothers

At The New Yorker, Ruth Margalit writes about the death of her mother to lung cancer. Margalit shares her experience of grief, how she connected to Cheryl Strayed's memoir "Wild," and the lasting effect of her mother's absence.

In my journal from that period, instead of writing how I felt, I sought out and copied everything that seemed to express what to me was inexpressible. From Proust, I took: “For henceforth you will always keep something broken about you.” From C. S. Lewis: “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.” From Joan Didion: “A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty.” From O’Rourke: “Am I really she who has woken up again without a mother? Yes, I am.” From a short story by Alice Munro: “What he carried with him, all he carried with him, was a lack, something like a lack of air, of proper behavior in his lungs, a difficulty that he supposed would go on forever.” From one by David Long: “Eventually, a truck would come rattling down… a car door would chuff, and the world would go on—not where it had left off but on the other side of this nothing time. And when it did, though she couldn’t quite see it yet, [she] would begin the never-ending task of not forgetting her mother.”
Or this, from my mother’s favorite Hebrew poem, in which the poet, Natan Alterman, describes his beloved as “sudden forever.” Those two words, as well as the poem’s title—“A Meeting for Eternity”—are oxymorons that spell out the contradictions inherent in loss. What is the death of a loved one if not an oxymoron? My mother isn’t here, and yet I see her everywhere. I kept on looking for hints of her on the page, as though by retracing her beloved books and poems I would get to reclaim a part of her that was already slipping away.
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