This isn’t a poetry-related post, but it’s been my first Christmas/holiday season without my mother, and the first in which I have had to acknowledge myself an orphan — a reality I’ve found unmooring.
My father died in 2017, but with my mom passing away in January, I’ve been thinking a lot about her especially as this loss has been much more recent, and continue to look for pieces of my parents and track their lives. I expect I always will, but it’s a way I can continue to hone my understanding of who they were, as well as my present-day connection to their memoriess.
My mother died Jan. 14 in Tallahassee, at 89, of Alzheimer’s. She worked as a counselor to a handful of devoted clients until the age of 87, walked nearly every day and was in great health, until she began losing her ability to speak, along with her balance, and grew progressively weaker. We did all we could to keep her home — her home of 40 years — as long as we could, but took her to assisted living a year ago October, where she lived the last few months of her life, the saddest chapter.
One of the things that helped me the most was trying to track down her old friends, from childhood & college and beyond…friends who moved out of state but stayed in touch, or whose stories overlapped hers in some way. Some had died, but I found a few others. I called to alert them of Mom’s passing in some cases, or found them online via relatives on Facebook.
One early childhood friend of hers from Miami and I corresponded through her son via email. She was very saddened to hear of my mom’s passing and relayed that my mother’s family had been like a second family to her while growing up. I learned that she and her late husband had lived in St. Augustine for many years, where I am now and come frequently, and regretted that I hadn’t known this sooner or I would have been able to visit her in person (she’s now a few hours further south in Sarasota.)
The other friend, who also became her college roommate, I reached out to in a letter. She wrote back to me in long, newsy letters, perfect handwriting on lined note paper she apologized for using, saying it was all she had at the retirement home where she was staying –-“temporarily”, she underlined.
Like my mother, this friend had pursued a long career in social work, but unlike my mom, she retained the ability to write and a wonderful memory for events of a long time ago. She wrote of her family and their accomplishments, her memories of Mom, her involvement leading a current events group for nearly 20 years at the home where she was now staying as a resident. I was thrilled to find her. After she responded immediately to my initial letter, I wrote back, and over a couple of months, I had two beautiful letters from her and she had three from me — the last in which I started by saying “this will be a short note” and then went on and on, describing my life, my mom’s, my parents marriage and divorce (she’d known my father as well) in page after page.
My last letter was toward the end of August. When I didn’t hear right back, I thought: well, I really did go on too long this time, I’ll give her a break and then get back in touch.
Last week, I messaged her daughter to find out if she was still residing at the same address. She wrote back to tell me that that her mother had passed away in September.
This news was such a shock. I had no way of knowing this friend of my mom’s had an ongoing heart condition and was unprepared for how hard this loss would hit me — the loss of someone I never met but with whom I felt I’d formed a real connection; someone who knew both of my parents, whose story overlapped my own. Had I not followed that yearning to find and gather as many memories and pieces of my mother as I could, through those who’d shared a part of her…I’d never know the gratitude I feel for that connection, short-lived through it was, along with the sadness of yet another loss to absorb.
That person you miss but keep putting off calling? The friend you had a falling out with and have regrets but aren’t sure how to make amends? That person who is or was connected to a lost loved one and remains one of the few voices left who share parts of your history, your life story, your memories: Call them. Write them. Reach out. Do it now. The gifts of renewal are priceless & will get you through some of the hardest times, just as the regrets of not seeking whatever might bring you peace will stay with you always.