But in the years since, I've somewhat softened my attitude. As much as the writer in me would like to critique the ridiculous banality of most condolence notices, I just can't. That's because there really are no words. And even the writers among us can never come up with the right combination of words and phrases. It's hard to know what to say. Words don't fix this, don't fill the void, and don't get us back to where we once were. They're powerless to actually do much of anything, yet they're often the only thing we have.
This isn't something you ever truly get over. You don't heal from it, and you never reach a point where you're "done" grieving. You learn to live within a radically altered reality, where questions remain unanswered and the myriad relationships left behind continue to evolve in different directions. Three years on, the crowds of people who packed the cemetery and shiva house have long since dissipated. The chaos of those first few days, where her not being there seemed beyond unreal, has long since settled into something very different. On the surface, it seems...normal. But we all know it isn't. There's an emptiness that never really goes away, a sense of incompleteness, that there could have, should have been more.
And you learn to connect more tightly to the important people around you. Because in the end all we have is time, and if my mother-in-law taught my wife one thing (she taught her many things, of course, but humor me while I clumsily make this point) it was to cherish family in all its forms, and to grab onto every opportunity to create moments that matter.
And every day I watch my wife and realize she learned her mother's lessons so incredibly well. She continues to make moments, continues to connect us, continues to revolve the lives of our family and friends around home and community - just like her mom taught her. We are who we are because of what's been passed down and carried forward. One life continues to imprint others long after it ends. Which, I guess, is ample validation of a life well lived.
I wish I had more than words to offer my wife, today and every day. But for now, words - and time - will have to do. I miss you, Mom.