Mom’s been laid to rest, her ashes mixed with my Father’s and spread out over the list of places, requested when they were young and healthy, for years now. I deal with her absence a day at a time. If you’ve lost someone, you know what I mean; everything is fine and dandy, life’s moving ahead with you along for the ride, making progress and healing a little. Something happens then and in that split second, you are right back at the deathbed, grief clutching your heart, taking your breath away, as you struggle to say your goodbyes in the darkness.
This? This is different. I thought I could handle it. Deciding to sit on the floor of my living room, I’m going to finally open the box, one filled with years of my mom’s writing. Many pages, penned on paper, folded neatly, now marked with the ravages of time. I’ve read them before, slowly dividing them between the five sisters that loved her.
It’s the yellowed envelope, tucked between the rest, that calls me. The one that’s been sealed for many years, with my nickname, ‘Ri’ , on the front of it. I’ve had it for over ten years.
I look at it often, wondering what she wrote there. It had been the only envelope left with a name on it. Every time I think of opening it, the searing pain of losing her rushes to the forefront. I can only bring myself to kiss it, touch her handwriting and then put it away again. Do I want to know what it says? Do I?
It was written while in a mental hospital, after a terrible breakdown suffered in her fifties. Without going into detail, I’ll just say the past caught up with her and the childhood memories made her want to go to a different, safer, less scary place, in her mind.
I would visit every week, praying that things were different, that she could somehow be happy and healthy again, that they would let her come home. Sometimes, she would smile and talk about happier times.
Because her memories were so dark now and there seemed to be no escape from them, I tried to encourage her to write about things that made her smile. When she did, the memories were about the five daughters, sometimes the house we grew up in and always Dad, her ‘ Charger. ‘
The doctor’s were concerned; she was so haunted by her past, by her Father’s sins, she couldn’t seem to get better. They approached us as a family, wanting to talk about ETC treatments. They said it was controversial, but that sometimes, as a last resort, it helped the mentally ill forget the shame they had lived through. Sometimes it brought them back to the present, where things were much easier to handle.
We were horrified! ETC? In 1988? It was barbaric! I could only think of ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest ‘ both afraid and pained for my mother. I remember them taking her, the doors clanging behind them as they wheeled her away. I remember her afterwards, how she was so tired and confused, wanting to sleep the rest of that day away.
I remember my tears, frantic and desperate to have her get better. I needed my mom.
Many treatments and medications later, we saw a difference in her demeanor. She really seemed better! Smiling, laughing, not talking about the past at all, mom came home and we started functioning as a family again.
It was up and down for her,up and down for us, as the same issues eventually reared their ugly head again. She needed 24 hour care that we could not give her. She spent the next years in a rest home, close enough where we could visit often.
In the end, several forms of cancer claimed her. It was a horrid way to go, but, in a way, it was a relief. She wasn’t suffering any more.
I open the envelope. Removing the paper is a fierce debate with myself, but I do it, smoothing it open on the table, early morning light streaming in from the windows. I read the first few words before I realize she’d struggled to ‘talk’ to me right after one of those ETC treatments. Even then, she was thinking of family, of her children and husband and home.
I’m a hot mess, sobbing my heart out for my mom, for all she lived through at the hands of her father. I can’t breath, the pain in missing her overwhelming me in the moment.
I fold the page again, tuck it back in the envelope before reading the rest. I put it back in the box, then in the dark of the drawer, where I’d removed it from in the first place.
“Oh, Momma. “
I thought I was ready.