Thursday, April 16, 2015


I wrote this on the day after my mother died in April, 2009:

I did everything I could think to do before opening that door. Went to the bathroom, washed my face, patted it dry, checked for stray hairs. When I ran out of trivial and time-wasting tasks I stood in the hallway and gulped air before finally turning the knob.

The room was unchanged from the day before. A picture window with a showily pretty blossoming tree filling its frame. A clock on the wall. A hospital bed. Four framed pictures on the nightstand: her three grandchildren, and one of me at thirteen with my grandmother. A TV sat on the bureau that contained no clothes. The TV had never been turned on.

She wasn't cold, but neither was she warm. And she was beautiful. I hadn't expected that, and it was a comfort. Her face, free of anger, sadness, reproach, and pain, for the first time in so long, looked not much older than my own. I took her hand in mine. Her fingers had already curled under.

And then I was crying loud and ugly bursts of tears. I sobbed for the awfulness of the last year and a half. I sobbed because I had never found a way to make it better for her, for me, for my brother. I sobbed because of all the people I have ever known, my mother was the brightest, and could have been the best.

She was all potential, unrealized potential.

I sobbed for who she might have been. For the person I found once in a long while, but only in my dreams.

My mother was the smartest, most talented person I have ever known. Had she been psychologically healthier, she might have moved mountains.

As I cried I found myself repeating, "I'm sorry." Not for anything I did or didn't do, but because there were so many obstacles in her way, because she was miserable so much of the time, because we only have the one life, I believe, and my mother, though she was seventy-two when she died yesterday, never really learned how to live hers.

And that makes me sadder than any of the rest of it.


When my tears relented, I tried to uncurl her fingers, but they wouldn't budge. I pulled the sheet up over her shoulders as I do for my children each night when I check on them just before I go to bed.

People I love? I don't want them to be cold.

I shut the door in order to grant her privacy that she is past needing. Habits that preserve and defend life are curiously strong.

And, eyes dry and aching, I drove away from her and to my brother's house, where my own life was waiting for me to grab it by the reins and show it the way.


Veronica said...

Very moving.

Ms. Vader said...

Amazing the clarity of some moments; how they are etched forever in stone.

I'm so sorry as well...for her pain, for your pain, for all of the answers that haven't arrived.

And I'm so happy that you are embracing life.

Across the miles, my love,

Alison said...

Extremely moving, Sarah.