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Letter to a Dead Mother

Genevieve Deane 1953
Niagara Falls, NY

Dear Mom,

I keep having all these little mini conversations with you in my head as I go about my days. I noticed I've been having more and more of them lately. Little things, like "ooh... you would LOVE this new Vermont white cheddar cheese I found!" or "You would be telling me to go sit down and have a cup of tea now."

At first I wondered how it was after all this time that you are on my mind. Then it dawned on me. Your birthday, in a few more days, you would have been 92 years old this year.

Why your last five birthdays didn't bring you into my daily life, I don't know. But, here we are.

Today, I was standing at the kitchen sink,washing dishes,  looking out the window, remembering how you got to have your sink moved to the front window of your kitchen. You wanted it that way so you could look out into the yard and down the street on Cayuga Island "to keep an eye on the kids".

When was that? I think about 1948. I think. That house is still there, Mom. Did you know that? I bet you wouldn't like what they did to the place. I sure don't. It certainly lost it's charm.

It's funny how the most mundane act can bring on an obscure memory. I wonder if your mother ever stood at the sink and thought of her mother. I wonder if she got along with her mother. You always said how wonderful your mother was, and how well you got along but I never believed it.

You and I got along so poorly, it just didn't seem possible. It was always a mystery to me that mothers and daughters could be friends.  I've been mulling around thoughts about how difficult and painful it must have been for you.

Even after I came to an understanding that you did the very best you knew how in your parenting of me and stopped my blame game, I can understand now why that didn't pull down all the fences between us. The brick wall, yes, but not all the scars were healed. I'm so glad that at least you and Little Sis had such a good connection. Your love for each other was obvious.

I'm not saying you didn't love me. Nor am I saying I didn't love you. It's just clear to me that it was stunted and strained and unfulfilled. I do wish we could have healed that more than we did.

I think about your last years in the nursing home. I picture myself in the same situation. What is to prevent me from ending up there? Nothing I can think of, unless I experience sudden death. Slow deterioration seems to be the most evident cause of nursing home inevitability. Even the most well-meaning, loving kids can intend to see you through your last years in your own home. But, things change. Circumstances change. Stress toleration levels change. And truly, I look at my kids and think as you did... I don't want to be a burden. I don't want to take away a moment of their own chance to enjoy life, to be free to enjoy their later years without being weighted down by an aging incomprehensible parent.

There are things now that I didn't understand in the past, I wish I could tell you. I wish you could have the satisfaction of thinking "I told you so". I know you wouldn't say it out loud. But, I am well aware of the feeling I get when my daughter says something to me and I think, "Ah... there it is. She now knows how it feels. She now understands." She doesn't always acknowledge that she realizes I once went through it myself. Something like that kind of understanding could bind us together, give us that feeling of relief that there no longer is that one thing standing between us. But, that is not always going to happen. The fences are still up. Barbed wire fences, in fact. So sharp and prickly, still after all this time. I just throw up my hands. I no longer reach out and try to smooth it over, no longer try to make it better. Now I understand, Mom, why you did the same thing I am doing now. All that energy just for another stab to come later. Not worth it. Painful, yes. But, less painful than to continue to try to heal something that is scarred over so badly.

I know you know what I'm talking about. Would you want me to say, "I'm sorry" now that I understand some of what you went through with me? Would it have mattered? Or would there be that same hesitation I feel in not believing it will cure anything? Would it only be a band aid hiding the wound? When you pull the band aid away, it may be healed, but still the scar is evidence that the damage has been done. Nothing is erasable. It seems.

Am I being negative? Pragmatic, I think. I look at the facts. On the phone the other day, I was struck by how a subject that would never be considered inflammatory to anyone else was perceived as a possible threat. Being a mom, I don't want to inflict pain upon my child, so I agreed to no longer discuss it. And truly, that's okay. It was not important. I can talk about it with friends instead. The perception that I could be the cause of incredible turmoil and pain because of it makes me hesitate to speak, to say anything unless asked a direct question. And then I wonder what would be the "right answer". How can this not turn into another moment of pain indelibly burned into the heart of my child? So, I've agreed to the suggestions made now, and wonder if I follow through that her fears will come to fruition.

Is that how you felt, Mom? If I say, no.. let it go or yes... let's discuss it, it seems the results might be the same, a woman who is stressed out because she believes she's damned if she does and damned if she doesn't.

I remember one day, when I was going through the family photos you gave me there were many pictures of you and your friends smiling, having a good time. It dawned on me.... somebody LIKES her... lot's of somebodies. It seemed a mystery to me. There were people who liked my mom enough to go places with  her, make quilts with her, have lunch with her, laugh with her, play board games with her have long conversations with her. They were not threatened by what she might say or do. They accepted her for who she was. These were people who sent her loving birthday cards with comments praising her good qualities that I could not see in her. My mom was in reality a likeable, lovable person, non-threatening person. She was not the dangerous half-rabbit half-scorpion who might strike at any second.

Velva, Eva, Al and Gennie Borden
I'm sorry, Mom. I wish I could make it up to you. Of course, it's too late. Or is it? Can you hear my thoughts, feel my feelings, sense my final understanding and regret? Are you in a place where these things are all evident to you? Or does it even matter now that you are gone?

The most obviously thing I can think of is that the healing is one sided. I feel better because I can now relate to what you may have been feeling. I understand more of how it was for you. But, sadly, it is only like having half a blanket when you are cold. I need the other half a blanket. Then, we could sew the blanket back together and wrap our arms around each other with the blanket snuggled 'round.