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  • Writer's pictureIngrid Ollquist

She Is The Number Three

I don’t know if this is sensical — well actually I know it isn’t, but at times I equate people in my life to numbers. It’s not something that I consciously decide, it’s just when I see the number symbolized or boldly stated — someone occasionally will come to mind and I will know and declare, “yes, that makes sense — they are that number.”

Now — I don’t have an ounce of ground to stand on when it comes to the mathematics of understanding the natural world we live in, but from what I gathered from many talks with my physicist boyfriend, the world can be and is understood by numbers. So, with this blip of information, that I choose to hold onto for my own benefit, I can blissfully rationalize why I relate numbers to people. For instance, he is a 1 — and this is not some cliche thing where he is number one in my heart, it actually stems from no romantic lens at all. Honestly, him being a one causes some strain in my life, but that’s a story for another day. He stands in the space of firsts, he can stretch and bend to fit in places most don’t allow themselves to be in, and he brings indescribable beauty to the word “solitude” that I have never witnessed anyone else procure. He is a secure one and I love him in that stance — well most of the time.

The thing about number one is — I don’t seek it in my life.

Don’t get me wrong, when I stumble in to a moment of oneness I appreciate the beauty and tenderness it has to offer. I love the site of a lone flower growing and reaching out of the unforgiving earth, the confidence of a single person wining and dining themself at an expensive restaurant, or the one cloud that is boldly asserting itself amongst a bluebird sky. The number one enriches my life and it adds the contrast I admire in the world.

The number that I do seek and have grown an immense attachment to is — the number three.

This number represents my home — my roots. It has, and continues to, nurture me in a reality that can be hard to bear at times. The person who holds this number — well exudes it actually — is my sweet adoring beacon, my mom.

I look for symbols of three when I want to feel close to her or feel directionless and need the comfort of home. It’s the number that finds me when I know she wants to say “hi” or “I love you”.

Truthfully, I thought she would be a four because it makes sense. I have two sisters and plus her equals four. The four of us together created a feeling of completeness — wholeness. But she is most definitely not four, everything in my gut is telling me she is three. Four is too obvious— too even. She was anything but obvious and she was most definitely not even. My mother strived for the balance of four, but leaned more odd and it worked — it actually more than worked, it allowed the odd to prevail and be celebrated.

Her best work came in the sequence of three, spaced two years apart — each rooted in a different season. Her children — my best friends and hers as well. These three beings she cherished more than any other in this world. The number three gave her purpose and willed herself to grow even if the odds were against her. It allowed boundless love to blossom and she stepped into a role that didn’t just define her, but uplifted her.

She protected her three at all costs.

Even in the simplest of moments, she found ways to honor our bond of three. A holiday decoration with three figures would inevitably find its way into our home, and we would take turns claiming which figure represented each of us. In those moments, we were not just individuals, but a unit — a trinity of love.

I don’t think she knew that she was a three herself, but it was the number she bore, quite literally. She chose three — intentionally leaving her own identity out. A selfless act from the outside, but I believe she knew she was fulfilled and whole in three. She had three daughters that her character, wisdom, and beauty flowed through— woven into the fibers of our being like threads in a tapestry.

We are the embodiment of her.

Three was always her, but it wasn’t until she got sick that I actually I assigned the number three to her. She was bed bound for most of my young adult life and since she couldn’t be with me I found a way to transport her to me. I would roam around the world finding glimpses of her in the patterns of three I would see. Three birds soaring through the sky. The total of $3.33 for the water bottle I purchased at the airport. The three mountaintops fighting for their spot in the distant horizon. It was only when she died that I realized the only place I could be with her was in three.

I know it sounds a little out there that a number can carry so much significance to me, but when you lose a person, especially a parent, making meaning in the simplicities that surround you is sometimes all you have.

Grief is a messy experience. It’s an experience that can be looked at from infinite perspectives, each one presenting a new image and translating a new message. The thing about grief is that it’s abstract and elusive, something that can’t be fully grasped or contained. We will spend most of our lifetime trying to make the intangible — tangible. The ways in which we try to make meaning after loss allows us to continue to connect to our person — to continue to live. The hole that has been left behind can’t be filled, but we can always find ways to interact with it — create softness and assurance around it. For me, I find my number three.

As I write this, the third anniversary of my moms death approaches. This being the third year has me reflecting heavily on my attachment to the number three. This is more than a number to me, but a token of solace, a lighthouse to guide me home, back to her.

The wonderful thing I find about numbers — is that they are certain. I will say that the certainty of numbers haven’t always been a source of comfort for me and quite frankly it would have been helpful if I understood their literal function because math wouldn’t be such a source of anxiety for me, but here we are, blacking out when I have to tip 20% and making the spirit of my mom a number.

Numbers are what they are and they mean what they mean. There is nothing abstract about them. They are perfect way to provide a sense of stability and grounding in the midst of an intangible and uncertain experience. Assigning this number to my mom allows me to lean in to that feeling of certainty and stability that I so badly crave since she has died. I want to know that she can hear me, see me and just plainly be with me. I know this can’t be done in a physical way, but in spirit. I see the number three, in whatever way it wants to present itself, and I can be certain we are still connected, still communicating.

Now, this certainty may very well be subjective — but let me live.

The number three is the one small way I can keep her essence alive, to honor her legacy, and to find meaning in the midst of the abstract and ever-shifting experience that is my grief.

I can certainly tell you that she is and will always be my number 3.

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