We all joke about how we never really use math in our everyday adult lives, not in the ways we would have imagined while learning it every day in school growing up. When I really consider it, the times I use math the most are with two things- running and grief. Why my brain insists on computing math while I am running I will never understand, but there I am, mentally calculating how many miles I have left, how much time I have left, what this pace calculates to; all of this math creeps into my brain despite how much I wish I were thinking of the scenery or what's for dinner.
The same complicated math calculations force their way into my brain when I think of my mom and my brothers' deaths. So many numbers, the before and the after. The age they were and the age they would be. The number of years it has been, the number of Christmas's they have missed. She died 4 days after my 26th birthday. She was 47. This summer will be 12 years since that day, and she would have been turning 60 this year. He was 23. It was 8 years after her death. He would be 27. So many numbers that I add and subtract and ponder and yet have no real purpose. They mark the passage of time. Regardless of how many ways I spin the numbers, the answer is always the same- they are no longer here.
Time and age are strange concepts following death. You grow up with siblings who are a fixed age apart from you. James is 10 years younger than me. It is like both being on a moving train. We move forward at the same rate but always have 10 cars between us. Until suddenly, his car falls off the track, and mine, ours, keep moving. He is frozen at 23, but I am no longer 33. Suddenly he is 13 cars behind me, and the distance grows every day. I watch the beautiful landscapes changing around me, knowing that his car is no longer on track, no longer moving towards these places I have been or am going. If I keep moving, before I know it, I will pass another car off the track that is just up ahead now, frozen at 47. How strange it will be to see it pass from my window and head into territory that she didn't. Strange indeed, and yet this ride is still beautiful. There is so much left to see, but oh, how I wish these other cars were still there with their fixed distances from me, all connected and moving forward together.
When I am running, 5 minutes can feel like forever, and the distance gained can feel so small. Grief time is the same. Things like the "before" can feel like a different lifetime, and one month into a loss can feel overwhelming when you consider all of the time that lies ahead of you, so many miles to go in this new reality. Somehow we do it, we put one foot in front of the other, and we do crazy math gymnastics in our head as if it will help make sense of it, but one way or another, we do it. Our train cars (or running shoes) keep moving, and we occasionally pause to look out the window and ponder these complicated concepts of time, knowing that we miss them so damn much that we are doing math. And let's be honest, we hate math. Especially grief math.