A Hole In The Air

By Louise Ure

I’m almost at the end of the book tour for Liars Anonymous, and so far there have been nothing but high points. Gracious booksellers. Old friends with beaming faces. New friends who read a review and thought they’d like to hear more. It makes me feel like Queen for A Day.

It’s been long driving days and early plane departures. Days when a can of V-8 juice is called a meal and three hours is called a night’s sleep. There’s nothing luxurious about travel anymore.

I’ve loved this trip. A chance to visit towns I used to live in and see high school friends who disappeared from my life forty years ago. At the signing in Seattle, we had the twenty-year reunion of what was then a far-flung branch office of Foote, Cone & Belding Advertising. I was the only one without big hair back then. Not so much today. In Phoenix I connected with the daughter of the family that used to live across the street from us in the 50’s. She’s on Social Security now, of course. I didn’t recognize her.

But it was Tucson that scared me.

My 93-year old mother in Tucson died eight weeks ago. Except for the funeral, this was my first trip back without her there. And the lack of her left a hole in the air.

It was a twitch in my finger as I reached to call and tell her when I was coming in. It was a moment’s hesitation as I packed the concho belt she gave me. It was a shudder as I made a mental note to tell her about the email I got from that lady across the street.

Until just a couple of weeks ago, I’d only had to talk about her in letters, blogs and emails. I still hadn’t said it out loud. One Saturday in April, when a well-meaning friend I hadn’t seen for a couple of months asked how my mom was doing after the fall that broke her hip, I sputtered “She’s dead.” As if that answered the question. I need to learn how to say it out loud, and say it in a way that wouldn’t terrorize the gentle questioner.

What ithe hell would I do when I drove down that street and faced the emptiness of her house for the first time? Would the driveway feel different? Would the light be flat without her? And what about the signing at Clues Unlimited? Would I still imagine a small, shadowed form in that highbacked armchair they set aside for her each year? Would I be able to say anything at all to the assembled friends and family?

Will they even be there without her – the hub that held our wheel together.

In hindsight, now that I’ve been there and come back, I shouldn’t have worried. The worst had already happened — she’s gone. Nothing that happened on this trip would be worse than that.

The crowd at Clues Unlimited was huge, even though the bookstore had relocated only eight days earlier and lots of folks hadn’t gotten the word about the new address. But there were three of us Tucson authors signing — Mike Hayes, Elizabeth Gunn and me — so that swelled the ranks. And because the venue had changed, so had my expectations about remembering mom in that high-backed chair. (It would have helped if my books had arrived before the event, but Chris promised to mail out a signed copy to anyone who purchased that night. I hope that makes it up to the dozens of friends and fans who drove over a hundred miles to get there.)

And yes, the air does feel different without her, but it’s different in a way that still lets you enjoy a deep breath. Taste the warm wind … and exhale.

I told my sister that I would go back out to the cemetery to make sure they hadn’t put the stone marker in place yet. I know that seems strange, but my mom and her 94-year old sister were to be buried together, and the 94-year is still going strong and didn’t want to visit the grave and see her own name already there awaiting a final date.

 It was Mother’s Day Weekend, don’t you know, and there were lots of other cemetary visitors stopping at tombstones etched with words like “Loving Daughter of …” and “Beloved Mother of …” The grass was browner than the day we buried her, and there’s a shallow indentation there now to show she’s settling in to her new home. I, too, was hoping there was no marker in place yet. Without a name above that swale, it would have been easier for me.

Alas, Holy Hope cemetery is run by cretins, so the marker is there with both my mother’s name and my aunt’s, lacking only that final date for my aunt to contemplate her demise. A pox on them.

I had wanted to see my mother open the cover of Liars Anonymous and read the first page. That’s all the farther she ever got with the first two books, too, her Alzheimers stopping her after a hundred words or so and resetting the timer. It always made me want to get the openings just right, knowing that she’d read each one a thousand times, and a thousand times lift her head and read it out loud with new found pride and amazement.

There’s a hole in the air now, and I’ll never hear her read, “I got away with murder once but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen again. Damn. This time I didn’t do it. Well, not all of it anyway.”

She’d have liked that opening.

PS: I’m on the road today, but will be checking in from my iPhone. Expect lots of typos in my replies to your comments.

30 thoughts on “A Hole In The Air

  1. billie

    Take good care, Louise. My dad died on April 3rd, and I feel much like you – navigating situations and seasons that haven’t yet passed without his being there, even if "there" was symbolic and he was not physically present. An office colleague recently lost her father too and we both remarked last night that the transition, while a passage most of us expect to make, is harder than we thought.

    I’m grateful for all you’ve written about it here, and so beautifully.

    Reply
  2. Louise Ure

    Thank you, Ali.

    Patti and Billie, I’ve been told that we’ll need to see a whole year of seasons before the loss of a parent will settle in. The three of us are so new to this, still hanging on the old feeling of Mother’s or Father’s Day. There will be more holes in the air ahead for us, I fear.

    Reply
  3. Pari

    Oh, Louise, Patti and Billie,
    I do know what you’re going through.

    "A hole in the air" Yeah.

    My advice after living w/o parents for more than a decade? Let yourself feel. Don’t truncate emotion due to some external pressure. Give yourselves permission to grieve in your own time and in your own way.

    What astounds me most is how sorrow will still unexpectedly take my breath away. It’s not as frequent nor as utterly deep as it once was . . . but it does remain.

    Reply
  4. Louise Ure

    After even a decade, Pari? I was hoping that I would have grown used to this burden by then. And then just this morning I thought of a question I needed to ask my Mom. I guess it never ends.

    Reply
  5. Patricia Smiley

    I believe that my dad is up there somewhere still watching to make sure I don’t slam the screen door. I’m trying to remember, Dad. Really I am.

    Enjoy the rest of your tour, Louise.

    Reply
  6. Murderati

    I’m so glad you made it through, Louise. A whole in the air is the perfect way to describe it.

    When you dream about her, remember it’s her way of letting you know she’s okay.

    Much love!

    Reply
  7. NS Foster

    I try not to celebrate mother’s day too loudly anymore. It’s the anniversary of my step-brother’s death and my step-father is still grappling with that hole two years later. I suspect these people never ever leave us. And as for your opening… I’m sure your mother can read that and more through you now. All the best, Louise.

    Reply
  8. Tom

    You can hold tight with a loose rein, and just ride it out, Louise. Pari is right: you are allowed to feel your way through this, and for however long it takes.

    Truth is, it would be worse if the twinges stopped altogether. It would mean you’d forgotten her. I think we are meant to remember. Endings are important.

    Meanwhile, you’ve given me a real Thought For The Day – few can do as much harm as cretinous stonecutters.

    Reply
  9. Louise Ure

    Thank you, Melanie and Sylvia. And you, Murderati (Is that you, JT)?

    Foster, I think I’ll have the same difficulty with my sister’s birthday as it now falls on the same day my mother died.

    Tom, there are cretins everywhere, but rarely can they do as much damage as a foolish stonecutter.

    Reply
  10. Judy Wirzberger

    Queen for a day – how limiting – you are the Mighty Exhalted One! As soon as I find out the area code for heaven, I’ll let you know. Judy

    Reply
  11. gayle

    Louise:

    I found that the first year was the hardest. I would find myself wanting to call my mom up to tell her something. Or I would see something and think that would made a great birthday or Christmas gift. Since my mom was a teacher too, I really missed her at the beginning of the school year. Only another teacher can trully appreciate how dumb the question, " Are you ready/happy to be going back to school?" is. She could really commiserate about the beginning of the year blues with me. It does get easier. You still miss them, but the profound sense of loss goes away. I think it also matters about the quality of life when someone dies. I have never lost anyone suddendly. Both parents died after a long struggle with debilitating illnesses. You do feel relief that their suffering is over. And I do think you start to grieve even before they die I think it must be worse when the death is unexpected. It’s ok to feel sad. Don’t feel bad about blurting out she’s dad. I hate the euphamism passed away.

    Gayle

    Reply
  12. Louise Ure

    Thanks for the virtual hugs, J.D., B.G. and Jake. Judy, I think "heaven’s area code" should be the title of a book or a country song.

    Gayle, what a thoughtful, sweet note. I’ve lost loved ones both slowly and quickly. There’s nothing good about either one. And you’re right; "passed away" doesn’t suit my needs right now. Maybe never.

    Reply
  13. Sandy

    Louise,
    I lost my mother in August 2005 and my dad in July 2006. It was one of those love stories that you hear about. Dad stayed alive as long as it took to allow Mom to live in care and comfort. And then he was worn out.
    If Life progresses as it should, we all end up orphans. It’s a sobering reality that we must feel our way through.
    Sandy

    Reply
  14. Fran

    I lost my mom over a decade ago, and there isn’t a day that I don’t miss her. Not one. But the hurting does ease, I do promise, Louise. Honest. And the happy memories burble up more often once the initial grieving is done, which is wonderful.

    That first year, though? The one of "first time without Mom during. . .whatever", that’s the tough one. Cry whenever you like. It’s healing. And if you need a shoulder, you know where I am.

    Reply
  15. Bobbie

    That was beautiful. Thank you for articulating so well what losing a parent can be like. My father passed away 5 years ago, and there are still times I almost pick up the phone to call and tell him about some insignificant thing or another. I’ve reached the point, however, where I enjoy the sorrow. It reminds me of how much he meant to me and how, even when they’re gone, people you love can still be such an active part of your life. "A hold in the air," indeed. You can still enjoy it, but it’s definitely different. The hardest thing for me was redefining myself after he was gone, trying to figure out how to fill up that hole–thinking for so long that I had to–in order to still know who I was without him around to remind me. So much of who you are relies upon how others see you, for better or worse. For my father, it was definitely the better.

    Reply

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