My mother is dead. My mother is dead. My mother is dead. Every day now, these words swirl around in my mind and in my mouth until they don’t make sense anymore. It’s like when you stare at a word on a page for so long that it starts to look like nonsense and it makes you laugh because you know you know this word and yet it suddenly means nothing to you – and then, because of its foreignness, it means everything. And then you have to look away because you know you might lose the word forever if you don’t. And when you look back at it with fresh eyes it all makes sense again and it’s just a word on a page. A word that you know. But these words – My mother is dead – will never make sense now that they are true. They will never be words that I understand. I say them, over and over again, to remind myself. But that is not the same as understanding.

The last time I heard my mother’s voice was in the parking lot of a Buffalo Wild Wings franchise. The small indignity of this is a stain on my heart and memory which will never come out, ever. My mom had called to say that she was having a “routine procedure” the next day. Outpatient. One that would make her feel better and have more energy to do things she was enjoying again. “If I get dead,” she began…this was something she said constantly – whether she was boarding a plane, going for a manicure, taking a nap – and was usually followed by some inane instruction: “Don’t forget to refill your washer fluid.” “Don’t forget about the smoked salmon in the refrigerator.” “Don’t forget that anything below the waist is vulgar in polite conversation.” This was our routine – and holding up my end of the ridiculous bargain, I mocked her as I always did. “OK, Mom. If you get dead I promise I’ll remember that most people from Nevada are degenerates.” And that was it. The last conversation I ever got to have with my mother. In a fucking parking lot.

She never woke up. There it is again, the nonsense noise in my brain: She never woke up. My mother is dead. Anything below the waist is vulgar. Again and again. Round and round. Nothing. It simply cannot be. These are not real words. Are they? Because if they are, it is the end of everything. If they are, I am rudderless, and I am alone. If they are, I am an orphan. I am an orphan. I am an orphan.

I have always marveled at how, despite the magnitude of any personal tragedy, the world keeps spinning. Life around the loss just goes on. Days keep coming, nights keep falling, stores open, TV shows air, subways run, dogs crap on the floor, mail gets delivered. Nothing, it seems, can kill the mundane being of things. Even my own body seems oblivious to my loss – it continues to wake up, to walk to the shower, to eat, to sleep, to cry, to WORK. How do they do this, the world and life and my body? Don’t they fucking know that I am an orphan? Nothing should work anymore. My mother is dead.

People don’t know what to say. They try. But what they don’t know is that loss like this changes you on a cellular level. That the world will forevermore be divided into categories of “people who understand” and “people who don’t.” What they don’t know is that no matter how much we get that it’s said with love, if we ever hear the words “thoughts and prayers” again, we will fucking break something. And it will probably be your face. Say something different. Something that will help. Like, “Wow, that sucks harder than a cow on a kitten teat.” Or, “Want to get drunk and cry?” I am grateful, believe me, for the incredible outpouring of love from friends, no matter what form it takes. But I guarantee you that those on the “people who understand” list are not saying things like “thoughts and prayers.” They are saying things like, “I have marijuana. I will bring it to you.”

Words were supposed to have been my gift, but now they fail me. Intake, output – my words don’t work anymore. I can’t find the ones I need and I can’t lose the ones I don’t want. She never woke up. I cannot describe the emptiness of my heart and the brokenness of my being in a way that makes sense to anyone else. I cannot describe the way that I wholly mistrust my decisions without my mother around to approve them. Or the secret fear that my brothers don’t like me much at all and that with our Mom gone, they don’t have to pretend anymore, ever. I can’t properly report the way I feel physically crushed beneath the weight of the aloneness. I simply haven’t the words.

I tell myself that I am brave. I tell myself that I can live without her. I tell myself, as I reach for the phone without thinking, that I don’t HAVE to call her anymore – that I can just think and she’ll hear me. I tell other people that I am “hanging in there” or “taking it easy on myself” or some other nonsense that I expect they want to hear because it’s easier than knowing the truth. But the truth is that the final, tiny piece of me that wasn’t broken before is broken now. The job is done.

She never woke up.

My mother is dead.

I am an orphan.