Ever since my mother crossed that golden bridge where flesh becomes dust and soul becomes light, people have been referring to her in the past tense. Was. They keep using this word. But the past and present have whole new meanings now.

I imagine that anyone who has experienced loss can relate to this blending of time. The past fades in and out, mixing with the present in a surreal cinematic play that keeps rewinding and fast forwarding without warning. People filtering in and out of focus, using words like “passed on” “left” and “was”. But while the body is gone, our love has neither “left” nor “passed on”, it remains very real in the present. Everything a reminder. I don’t want to forget.

And still, a year and a half later, I can’t use the word “was”.

There should be another word. Not here, but not gone. I have an amazing mother. I just visit her in my dreams now. She is still my mom. There will be no other. No replacement. To say I had a beautiful mother implies that she is no longer beautiful. She will always be beautiful. She will always be loved. She will always be a presence in this home, in this life. She doesn’t shine any less brilliantly now. I just have to look for her in different places. I would like to retire the word was as a way to describe our angels. She is in the laughter of my children. She is in the way I parent them. She is in the love I share with my siblings. She is in the relationship I have with my father. She is in the salt of the ocean and the breeze in the pine trees. She is in the grace of quiet moments. Her blood runs through my veins. As long as I am, so is she.

Similar feelings resurfaced at the beginning of the pandemic. The déjà vu of existing during such a strange moment in history. Time has slowed down. We have become suspended. Waiting. There was a “before” and there will be an “after”. But right now we are in the between. Uncertain. No one knows what life will look like when all of this is over. Just as I could not imagine a world without my mother in it. But that does not mean that it can’t exist. It does not mean that the joy of the past cannot bloom again.

So for a while, I don’t try to imagine a before and an after. I lean into the rituals that cradled me when the ground fell out and my mother died. I live in the between. I let things be murky while I practice being gentle with myself. I wear my coziest clothes. I take long walks in nature and practice breathing. I let myself feel all the things.

And maybe I don’t want to forget this time either. Life is still happening. In the early morning sunrises. In the delicious weight of my sleeping babies. In the glorious smell of coffee and clean sheets, late night movie binges and afternoons in the park. It is and it continues, evidenced by the melting ice and the promise of spring. Maybe it is important to remember that comfort can still be found in simple things. That love transcends. That the world is full of grace, and mystery, and magic. That joy cannot be interrupted, even by grief.

Sara Striefel is a poet and non-fiction writer living her best life in the mountains of Colorado. Her work has been published in literary journals such as the Walkabout Creative Arts Journal and the Grapevine. In her day job she advocates for women as a passionate OBGYN nurse. But she also identifies as the Mother of Heathens, a Tough Mudder warrior, a painter, a flower child, a chef, a scuba diver, a nature lover, an adventurer, and a gorgeously flawed sober goddess. She lives in Carbondale with her two wild boys, rock star husband, and socially avoidant cat. She believes that women are made of starlight and grit and has found purpose in helping her fellow sisters shine. You can connect with Sara on Instagram at instagram.com/sarastriefel or visit her blog wabisabis.blog to sign up for emails about new releases.

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