There is something that happened 11 years ago, plus or minus a few days because I can never actually remember the exact date, that changed everything.
I was fifteen.
I’ve always had questions for you — questions I’ve slowly started to give up on because I will never get the answers from you. In some cruel joke by the universe or Spiritual Being we were raised to believe in, in order to answer those questions, I have to look at the world through your lens; I have to grasp at the limited, biased, adulterated remnants of you to construct what you would have said or what you would have thought.
Why didn’t you write us letters?
I have few memories of you — practically none, actually. It’s a shame because I was told that you were a great mother. I was told you sacrificed everything for us, the three children you left behind. I was told you were smart, cold, resourceful, and moody. I remember you being a good dancer. I remember a yellow silk dress and a delicate gold necklace. The necklace is ugly. I remember your shoes. There are dismembered fragments of you that I try to piece together in my mind, but can’t.
What would you have thought of me today? Would we get along? Would you approve of my boyfriends, my clothes, my haircuts, my life decisions?
Your death wasn’t the ending of a painful chapter in my life. I think, by the way, that that’s why I don’t remember much. They’re defense mechanisms — our minds’ ability to repress and forget, just not successful enough to completely eradicate the past. But your death was just the beginning. To think that by now I have lived almost half my life without you, that I remember more of my life without you than with you — that is painful. We were not warned about the extent of the damage that the loss of you would cause.
When did you know you loved Dad? When did you know he was “the one?” How many boyfriends did you have before? What is more important in marriage — to be passionate or to be honest?
The loss of you lingers. Not in your particular absence — rather, in the absence of those in your wake who I will never get to love, who I will never let love me. This is the side effect of you dying: the unwillingness to attach, the debilitating deer-in-the-headlights autonomic anxiety that happens when I think I’m getting too close.
Did you believe in God? If so, why? If so, did you doubt your beliefs when you were dying? Do you think you deserved your illness? Do you think we did?
You were a scientist — a chemist, I think. I know you ended up a pharmacist. There are your old books in Dad’s library. I wonder, and now I’m too far away to look, if you wrote your name in the front cover as I do in all of my books. I haven’t lived at home in a long time. I wonder if my curiosity came from you.
What advice would you have given me? On my graduation. On my potential wedding day. On motherhood. Would you have consoled me when I was sad?
There is something no one told us about the repercussions of your death — that they would be a constant. We buried you, honored you, sat shiva for seven days, and mourned for a year but the pain is a constant. You see, for me it is less the actual loss of you, but what it did to my brothers and my father that I struggle with. You took away from them the proof of concept that they could be wholly, unconditionally loved by a woman and now they fill the void in their hearts with whoever will have them, undeserving or not.
What did you want from and for me? Would you have loved me even if I failed? Would I have failed if you hadn’t died? Have I failed?
I want to know all of these answers. And not just to these questions, to some rather simple ones too.
Would you have adapted to technology? Would you have a Facebook? What would you have thought of reality TV? Gay marriage. Barack Obama. Online dating.
I am without a blueprint. The loss of you —without question — is what led to my infinite curiosity with how we react and act to those around us. The loss of you, thankfully, is what strengthened me because I understood the limitless bounds of my resilience. The loss of you, sadly, is what left me with a tiny, easily exploitable crack.
How would you have mourned the death of your mother? How would you have wanted to be remembered?
There’s no perfect formula to mourning, despite psychologists’ attempts to figure it out. I have friends who also no longer have mothers, and we talk about the dead mom’s club. We have drunk brunches on Mother’s Day at places with bottomless mimosas and waffles that are too big. We don’t let our boyfriend’s mothers hug us. We never talk about the disappointment we feel that our children will not have their maternal grandmothers. We acknowledge your absence, and in doing so make the presence of your loss palpable.
Would I be different if you had lived? Would I have left home at the same young age? Would I be dread going back as much as I do?
I always joke that I was raised by wolves. We were all — my two brothers, father, and I — brought back to our primal instincts when you died. We didn’t want to excel in your absence, we simply needed to survive. We were all wolves.
Have you found peace? What was your last thought?