The past 12 days have been a confusing fog of lovely, horrible life things. I kept trying to write about it – every day, I would try – but that led to more confusion, and crying in public, which is my favorite thing to do in the world after ‘being marginalized’ and ‘emergency dental work.’
Ann Voskamp said, “When grief is deepest, words are fewest.” I’m usually a vomiting fountain of words, but this past week I couldn’t arrange them. I’d write a sentence, delete a sentence; pound a fist on the desk and fold into myself. I actually wept, old school-style, like some kind of swampy Old Testament Ophelia, covered in thistles and daisies and weeds, ‘incapable of her own distress’ and all that. You know it was bad if I’m quoting from Hamlet.
The crux of it is, I lost my biological mother last week. She didn’t raise me, but that is neither here nor there. She gave me actual life. She carried me around for nine months, birthed me upon a bejeweled manger like Beyoncé, and then, in what has to be one of the hardest things a woman can do, handed me to two strangers who would eventually move 5,000 miles away. After that, we wouldn’t see each other again for 18 years, an entire lifetime of missed eyerolls and lies about homework.
In this way, my mother actually gave me two lives. Every day since her passing, I’ve been faced with the reality of that – her sacrifice, and the wonderful parents who raised me – coupled with an overwhelming gratitude that has nowhere to land. Like the cliché goes, I never told her because I thought we had more time. I have been completely and surprisingly undone by this, and raging “if onlys,” all week. But it’s not like I’m the inventor of regret; I’m just wrestling with that demon while intellectually knowing there is nothing to be done.
For the first couple of days, I battled the feeling of not having a right to my grief. Her other children, the ones she raised, were going through real trauma, real loss. They saw her every day, they hugged her, were influenced by her. Who was I to weep over such a tenuous connection? Keeping in touch through social media, photos, the occasional phone call, memories — this is how I stayed current with her, how I stay current with everyone. I assumed we would see each other again. I hoped we would.
Now I understand that grief has no formula, reason, intellect, or design. And of course I’m affected by her death because she carried me in the womb — how could I think our connection was tenuous? She was the very first person I connected to in the whole entire universe. She’s the reason I am here, bawling in front of my husband’s computer, filled with love and regret and gratitude and caffeinated bees.
I was in the designer handbag section of Nordstrom last week, clutching an overpriced bag like a life jacket, when I burst into tears, sobbing all over the fine purple leather. An adorable salesman ran over and said, “Is something wrong with the bag?–oh, dear.” He patted me on the back until I apologized and left.
I couldn’t explain, in front of a bunch of eavesdropping white ladies, how my mother who wasn’t my mother but she technically was and who cares I loved her anyway had died and I’d found out through a Facebook post and I still have a mom but she’s in Europe right now and I’m sorry this is confusing but my bio mom would have loved this bag and I never sent her any birthday gifts not once not even birthday cards why didn’t you do that Marika and holy shit I don’t even know when her birthday was what kind of shitty sortof-daughter doesn’t know when their sortof-mother’s fucking birthday is??????
OH MY GOD YOU REALLY ARE THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD, STOP RUINING A TWO THOUSAND DOLLAR HANDBAG WITH TEARS WHEN YOU ONLY HAVE 38 DOLLARS IN THE BANK. RUN, MARIKA, RUN! TO YOUR HAPPY SPIRIT PLACE!
Of course I’m talking about King Taco McJack in the Fried.
So I went to McDonald’s and ate nine million French fries, which is the equivalent of punching my kidneys in the face with brass knuckles. I shed angry tears in that McDonald’s booth, too, overwhelmed by my terrible choices in where to cry and what to eat. A couple of stoned homeless guys stopped by to see if I was okay — yes, two people on drugs without teeth or a place to shower were worried about me. Trust me when I say this wasn’t your classic lean in moment. Sheryl Sandberg never mentioned how to sit at a table that’s mostly on fire.
Those are just two examples of Random Places Marika Has Cried This Week. Grief came over, sliced me open like a Taun-Taun, unpacked a bag, and slept there, waking only to punch my tear ducts at the most inopportune times. A stoplight in Bothell. A Bellevue bathroom. Goldfinch Tavern. Work. In front of all the cream cheese at West Seattle QFC. Our sketchy apartment stairwell. Archie McPhee’s. It’s all part of a process I don’t want to participate in, but I’m rolling with it anyway. Loss is an opportunity to learn and give and recalibrate and prioritize. If there’s anything I should lean into, it’s probably this.
My mother was a lovely woman with a sweet smile and a contagious laugh. She was also a deeply religious person who loved her family and the community they had built in Alaska. She was kind, bright, thoughtful, and colorful in so many ways. I thought she was beautiful, but maybe all daughters think that of their moms.
When I was 18, she wanted me to wear one of her insanely-colored muumuus, but I worried people could see me from outer space, so I said no. Now I wish I’d just worn the damn thing. Clearly, Grief has never known logic, or the blinding glare of neon pink.
So often, when something terrible or unexpected happens, we embrace the following darkness with the many blue open arms of a Hindu goddess. “Drown me in the hidden depths of this wallowing despair!” we cry. Cue The Cure’s Disintegration and the pizza delivery guy. But, as I said in the beginning, it was a week of lovely horrible life things. Doesn’t matter if the life sandwich is made of awful and awesome: it’s a sandwich. Never say no to a sandwich.
Death and dying aside, the last 12 days have also been a welcome reminder that life goes on. I had some much-needed soak time at the Korean spa with my spa buddy, Andrea; I met Elizabeth Gilbert, my Facebook creativity heroine, and saw her speak at Benaroya Hall from the front row with my bestie; I received great news that my kidneys are happy, McDonald’s french fries notwithstanding, and all my tests have come back normal; and I went with friends to Beardslee Public House, The Carlile Room, Goldfinch Tavern, Wild Ginger, Gnocchi Bar, Beer Junction’s Fresh Hop Fest, Bird On A Wire, Fiddlehead Cafe, Jak’s West Seattle, Peel & Press, Tavern Hall, and the delightfully-diabetic Bakery Nouveau.
So basically, I honored my Samoan mother by eating like a Samoan all week.
I wish, with every molecule of this body she gave me, that I could hug my mother again. I hope she knew that I loved her, and that she made the right decision. Thanks to her, I have the most amazing parents, siblings, husband, son, in-laws, friends; people who helped me become the abject weirdo I am today. Nothing in my life would’ve been possible without her courage or generosity. The gratitude I have for her could span all known and unknown galaxies. She is every star in the sky that I took for granted, and I am a bittersweet vessel navigating the ocean by tiny flashlight. For the rest of my life, I will look up and remember her.
Within my mother’s church and family, they are certain she’s looking down on us from Heaven Above: flying around with angels, and high-fiving the Lord on a dancefloor made of neon-colored clouds. I envy their certainty. But since that’s what my mother ultimately wanted, I hope that’s where she is, too.