After the awkwardness of taking my long-neglected bike in for a tuneup (“I love working on these vintage bikes!” the technician said), I started riding with the club last winter, layering thermal shirts under windproof jackets, tucking foot warmers into my fleece-lined hiking shoes. I rediscovered routes I hadn’t ridden in many years. I became reacquainted with towpaths and trails and muscles. In the midst of a pandemic, in a country that felt like it was tearing itself apart, I’d found my tribe, and an activity that kept me sane.
Then, last spring, my mother died.
It was sudden, a dizzying skid through the guardrails and down into the abyss. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in early March. She was in and out of hospitals for the next four weeks. She managed one round of chemo and was able to come home, briefly, and marry her partner of 18 years. By the first week of May, the doctors determined that there was nothing left to do but let her die, free of pain, in peace.
An ambulance brought my mom home on a Monday afternoon in May, and I drove to Connecticut to be there until the end. Her wife and I set her up in a hospital bed, with her rescue dog Lincoln by her side. We brushed her hair, rubbed lotion on her hands, swabbed her lips with ice and Vaseline, slipped morphine under her tongue.
Every morning that week, I’d leave my hotel and get on my bike to pound fast, gasping miles along a bike path, pedaling until my heart thudded and my legs burned and I tasted blood in my throat. I’d go back to the hotel, shower, buy bagels, drive to my mother’s house to resume the vigil. I’d see her bike in the garage, its helmet hanging from the handlebar, and think, She’s never going to ride that bike again. I wanted to cry. I rode instead.
My mom died early on a Sunday morning — Mother’s Day, the day before my daughter’s 18th birthday. I bought a cake, and the birthday girl used frosting to divide it into thirds and write Happy Birthday/Happy Mother’s Day/Sorry for Your Loss. It felt like life: good and bad overlapping, everything, all at once.