I knew that losing a parent would be painful. Really, I had no idea. I’d not yet lived in that eternal minute when worry becomes reality and the truth of helplessness sets in. My thoughts were an endless news stream, broadcast across my brain…
‘I can’t change this. I can’t turn the clock back 5 minutes and make you still alive.’
I never knew tears like these; that there could be so many and that they would come so unceasingly, wave after wave after wave. A constant leaking. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but incessant.
I kept the bright red necklace I wore, and broke that night. Its partner, a beautiful bracelet, lies in my desk drawer. Occasionally the flash or red grabs my attention as I reach for the stapler or a pen and I just stare at it. Maybe I am punishing it by leaving it unworn. Punishing it for bearing witness to my pain and for daring to be red. I saw it today and it reminded me again. The first in a string of little things that brought me again to this valley of grief which is far deeper and longer than I imagined.
I don’t know what it was about the television that made me cry… but it did. And then I began to read ‘Gilead’… ‘In 1956, towards the end of Reverend John Ames’ life, he begins a letter to his young son…’
Suddenly I am back at the table organising the funeral. My brothers have slipped into sentimentality and for reasons I fail to fathom, they want to talk about her cooking… mince and spaghetti… in the eulogy… I am speechless. I am floating above the scene, detached and wondering how the world continues to turn. I write the only words I have on sad scraps of paper. My older sister grabs her box of memories and pulls out a letter
She reads and I find I am insanely jealous. Not of her but of what she is reading. My mother’s words, free and so well expressed, not trapped like her body on a slab in the funeral director’s fridge. I want her back but I want a letter more. God knows this.
I put the book down having suddenly felt the urge to write again after so many years. I thought to write letters to my own children but certain I wasn’t nearing death myself, I thought this a bit morose.
I remembered the poem I wrote while my brothers were reminiscing over the meatballs;
…I blew a Father Christmas
And watched the spindles
Float away on an upward breeze…
Having forgotten where I put it, I thought to write it again. Maybe it would be better this time.
I foraged through the dresser beside my bed looking for a book to write in. There were several to choose from – prayer journals, half begun poetry anthologies – but I chose this one. It surprised me because I usually wrote final works in here. Was I audacious enough to write as I hadn’t before, just letting it come, allowing a draft in an otherwise ‘perfect’ collection? Overconfident? Imprudent? Perhaps.
I looked through the journal and read words I’d penned more than 20 years ago. Immature, imperfect rhymes, confessions of love… and hate… and one really good one about daring to fall in love with the man I would later marry.
And then in the middle of these musings I found it.
No dates but clearly in her hand… ‘Darling Melanie…’
Wrapped around it was a birthday card she had given me when I was seven, lamenting the fact that I was sick and hoping I would enjoy my presents. Also, a Christmas card. Again, ‘Darling Melanie…”
Her words were free again, still so well expressed and still carried by a lilting laugh and heavy with her love.
I held the words and turned them over – rubbed them knowing all along no genie would spring forth. It was just nice to touch something she had touched and to see her handwriting again. I hope when I die my own children keep these cards. I just hope they do.