Friday, August 27, 2010

The difference

August 27th. Quite an anniversary. A day I always mark just the way I mark other anniversaries--with reflection. Yes, I can't help reflecting, because I'm a reflecting sort of person, this 13th anniversary of the day my father died.  The other day a sister said, "From now on, we'll figure if we make it through August, we're good for the year."  August has definitely been a cruel month in our family, especially now that it really is the death-month of both of our parents.

But, of course, what I notice most today, is the profound difference between how those two deaths affected me.  This isn't something I've itched to write.  In fact, I'd just as soon not.  However, I'm bent toward truth, or bent by the truth, maybe, to say and write and be true to plum, as a carpenter might say.  Square.  So here is my square truth of the day.

My father died thirteen years ago today and on that very sunny, blue-sky-ed day, I felt like a crater had opened in my world so deep I wasn't sure I'd every crawl out of it. Or perhaps, like suddenly my very backbone had fallen straight out of my body but the whole world was expecting me to walk around without it.  I could hardly imagine that I could even stand, let alone put one foot in front of the other and keep being wife, mother, daughter, sister, student, friend, and all the other things I was expected to be.  And only my siblings got it.  Only they got that not only were we orphans, real live orphans in this Daddy-less world, for all that we were grown up with families of our own, but now we had our mother to care for as well.  No, not merely to care for, but to contend with.  Yes, that's what it was, to contend with our mother.

See, the truth of it was, if we'd admitted it to more than just our own selves in the privacy of our own pillows late at night all those years ago, the wrong parent died that August day.  The parent we loved, the parent we relied on, could talk to, were teased by--that parent died.  And the one we were left with...well, it was hard. Sometimes shudderingly--can't-bear-to look-at-her, think-about-it, just-plain-can't-bear-it--hard dealing with Mom.  Especially trying to love Mom without the mitigating, buffering presence of Dad. 

I've said this all before. But today, as I'm thinking about the day Dad died, in this first week after Mom's death, I'm overcome with the stark difference.  And saddened by it, though mostly for her.  Because it's just as she thought it'd be.  A few years ago, when RE and I were going through boxes at Mom's house, we found a box jam-packed with sympathy cards addressed to her after Dad's death.  Hundreds of them.  We were shocked by the volume of cards.  Shocked because we hadn't known about them.  And especially shocked to discover that she hadn't even opened dozens of them.  We thought all these beautiful sentiments had made her miss Dad too much in the days when she was missing him every minute of the day.  But when we asked her, she said, "I couldn't bear to read them and think that people won't say such things about me when I die."

I can't speak for what people are saying as they've read her obituary this week.  But I do know that I feel differently, just as she feared. My backbone grew back after Dad died, is firmly attached to my ribs and is holding me up quite nicely, thank you very much.  I feel neither orphanless (though, technically, I am) nor in any kind of crater.  I do feel tired.  No, so far beyond tired I can't remember what mere tiredness feels like.

I also feel relieved. Yes, for her--that she doesn't have to be in that prison any longer.  But also for my sister because she won't have go to that nursing home any more, or pay the bills, or think about it.  And also for myself, because, for the first time in 40 years, I can begin to deal with my mother without also having to face her, one way or another.  She was not the mother of my dreams.  But now I also don't have to deal with the mother I actually had instead.

So, I have some healing to do.  Maybe some forgiving as well.  This story isn't over, of course.  I hope she's at peace, and I pray that I (and my sisters, especially--Mom dealt better with her sons) can come to terms with who she was and who she wasn't.  I did love that old woman who died Sunday, but what I've discovered this week is that I'm not sure I ever loved my mother. But what is also troubling to me, in a way I never thought of before, is that perhaps now that she's in heaven, that she knows it.  She actually finally knows this secret I've kept from her the last 40 years.  Imagine that.  She loved me and I didn't love her, and now perhaps she knows it.

This is how losing my mother feels.  Is it grief? Not exactly, but it's loss.  And it's true.
Hopefully, soon, there will be joy in the morning.

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