Dear Mama White,
You’ve been gone a little over three months now. Everyone told me things would get easier. Maybe that is something that will come later on. For now, it feels as though every day gets harder still. I remain so, so, so tired. Relief has yet to show up in any capacity at all. I am physically and mentally and spiritually tapped out, even more so than I was when you were dying. The difference is, you’re not dying now. And life is supposed to go on. Even though all I want to do is curl up in bed and listen to your voicemails over and over, I make myself go to work and talk to people and do other human things. Like you did when your mother died. And your father, and your brother. Like pretty much all humans eventually do after losing people they love.
We really are remarkable creatures.
There have been various milestones of grief scattered along the calendar’s last 96 days; hearing “Happy” in the chiropractor’s office a few weeks after your funeral, for instance, and letting the doctor believe that my tear-filled eyes were just bad allergies. Feeling my chest tighten as I drove past your old house recently, with my boss, in order to scout Bob’s orchard for a commercial shoot. Attending a memorial service of another person I loved on what would have been your 59th birthday. Going to your beach condo on “East-O” and spending most of the weekend in reflective silence, wrapped in a blanket heavily spritzed with your perfume. Getting an inheritance check in the mail that I simultaneously felt so thankful and so guilty for receiving. Weeping because it’s May and the sun is out, and I want it to stay gloomy outside like I’m gloomy inside. At least you had the good decency to die in February, when the trees were dead and the sky was grey. Now it’s warm and there are flowers everywhere and people are showing off skin and I am not ready for any of it. And then there is today, specifically. Flowers and chocolates and brunches and champagne. Mother’s Day.
It was never a holiday I appreciated. In my youth, it was too close to your birthday. Finding presents for the same person two months in a row is hard for someone as indecisive and desperate-for-approval as me. In our later years as mother and daughter, we were often fighting or not speaking to each other at all and it always felt so obligatory. I would have to apologize or call, even if I was furious with you. There was the one year I tried to let the holiday pass completely, and dad called me that evening and insisted I be the one to break the ice because you were so distraught. Having to be the daughter and also be the bigger person/be the first one to apologize always irked me so much. But you never lost one argument in your entire life, did you? That’s something I’m trying to keep with me as the guilt and self-judgement creep in and haunt me like ghosts. You never did let me win one single god damn argument. Why on earth did I spend my life trying to fight you?
I can’t stop thinking about my lack of patience with you in the end. My lack of understanding. I guess it turns out I was your daughter after all. Most of the things that drove me crazy about you- holding onto things forever, not seeing the other side of things, not appreciating where I was coming from- I did all that to you, too. We did it to each other. And if I knew then what I know now, I promise you, I would have waved a little white flag a long time ago and just held your hand and not let your shit become my shit.
In a lot of ways you knew that though, didn’t you? You saw me turning into you those last few months. I feel that. I know that. Because I was to you what you were to your mother. I can’t believe you took care of her and grandpa as long as you did. Two and a half years watching you fight against losing your mind and I think it may take me equally as long to recover from it. But you. You watched grandma decline for over a decade before she died. At least you knew my name in the end when you were rambling on about chocolate and worrying about bills that didn’t exist and not making any sense. Your mother was playing with dolls and drawing on walls. You didn’t just have to ask her if she wanted to move into a home; you had to send her to one when she had no idea who she was. You didn’t just have to help her dress and clean her every once in a while. You had to fight her about bathing at all. When she died, I remember you sitting on that chair in our living room and making sounds I haven’t heard before or since. I thought I might make those same sounds when you passed away, but it’s hitting me now that I didn’t go through anything as terrible, or as long, as you did. But those moans play on repeat in my brain lately. A replay of one of the many times in my life I didn’t quite see you.
I have another memory that keeps replaying. You’re sitting in the bath upstairs at the second Letts Avenue house, shaving your legs with one of those pink razors. I am looking in the mirror, combing my greasy teenage hair or applying make up to my greasy teenage face. I want to go somewhere and you won’t let me. I tell you I hate you, or something to the equivalent, and I mean it. You know I mean it, because it’s not the first time I’ve said it. You say, “Someday I will die and you will be full of regret for how terrible you were to me.” Then you add, ” I hope you have daughters one day and they’ll be terrible to you and one day you’ll know how hard it is to be a mother.”
I am told lots of mothers sometimes say stuff like this to their kids. But I wasn’t a regular kid was I? I was, and am, a super-duper, extremely, enormously, gigantically sensitive kid. Remember when I was four years old and got offended that you had to pay a babysitter to hang out with me? You always loved that story. So when you said that to me that day in the bathtub, I feel like you had to know I would weigh those words heavier than if you had said them to Lindsay or anyone else. That was the day I decided not to be a mother. I knew if I had daughters, or even sons, it could very well be that they might hate me as much as I hated you back then and I couldn’t bear the thought of even hypothetical people not liking me.
But the other thing about that memory is this: You were right. I am full of regret. I try to reason with myself that I did the best I could with what I had in each moment that you were alive. And that you weren’t the easiest woman in the world to get along with. But even with that, I think of how the cancer was eating your brain and how you knew it and and lived with it every day and did everything you could do to fight it on your own terms, and how I responded in kind by getting annoyed because you needed my help to find your keys and glasses and chapstick every few minutes. Or because you woke me up randomly in the night. Or because you were upset that after 30 years of driving, we told you that you couldn’t anymore. Or because you sometimes wanted your belongings even if you hadn’t used them in a while. How unbearably shitty of me.
I know I’ll get over the guilt eventually. I know I’ll get used to my new reality and next Mother’s Day won’t be so hard and the one after that will even hurt a little less and so on and so on. But I’m not gonna lie: today was rough.
I wish I had one minute. Just one minute to tell you I’m so sorry you went to your grave not knowing whether or not I liked you. Lots of people will assure me that you knew I loved you, and I’m sure that true. But I’m quite certain you never were sure whether or not I liked you. I can’t even say I always did. But I do like you, mom. I like your silly Mama White quotes and your adorable dancing skills and your nicknames for your bed and other inanimate objects and your affinity for shopping ’til you drop and your weird love of the tv show Martin and your shameless love of food and your appreciation for dumb jokes and your general badassery and fearlessness.
I’m just sorry I’m telling you one Mother’s Day too late.