a very good housekeeper

You died, and I have struggled.  You spoke with such breeziness in your final weeks of life: Oh, I don’t have to worry about you. But maybe you should have. Maybe then you would have turned your beautiful face to me and said How can I help ease the impossibly painful? And I would have told you.

Yes, complaining about this might be proof that I am in fact the worlds biggest asshole, but it has been hard to get over, Mom. Every time I think I find a shred of peace with this, I stub my toe on it again.

What is “this?” you may ask. I’ll tell you now:

You didn’t talk to me. You kept your emotions stowed away like Christmas presents hidden from a four-year old.  You were sick and you were dying and I knew nothing of what was in your heart.  I’ve had people I barely know clutch my hand with bony, cool fingers, stare straight into my eyes with a watery gaze and tell me how it is for them.  What its like to die.  What they are proud of.  What they regret.  What they hope for their loved ones after they are gone. And you did none of that. You were free with your smiles with everyone on the elevators, in the lobbies, with every cashier, every nursing attendant. You smiled and you smiled and you were polite and gracious and never complained, but you never opened up either.

It is selfish of me to have wanted more from you. It was your journey, your business.  But I felt betrayed because I wanted to give you what you gave me. From the beginning of my life till the end of yours, I would bare my soul to you, all the joy as well as all the pain, and you would listen, take it all in and love me regardless. You were my best friend; I wanted to be yours too.  Yet when you needed me the most, I was not to be trusted. The opportunity to support you in death as I was supported in life was refused, and this seemingly reinforced the longstanding suspicion that I was not worthy to be your daughter.

I know, I know.  But I wasn’t. You were the rarest of creatures: beautiful, unfailingly kind, bright, funny. You daughter should have been someone less average.

It is difficult for me to understand why you closed the door on me at the end.  And it wasn’t just me; I’m not sure that you trusted anyone with your fears and your grief. Perhaps you were too afraid at what you would find in the dark recesses, so you sealed them off and acknowledged only the sunshine. Maybe you did with your heart what you did with your home: locked the basement door, opened the living room blinds, arranged the flowers, fluffed the pillows.  Made everything beautiful and tidy before you left. This makes some sense.  You were always a very good housekeeper.


9 thoughts on “a very good housekeeper

  1. liz

    wow. you write with such beautiful, raw emotion here. thank you for letting me have the honor of reading about your lingering struggles. your words have touched me, and reminded me to try not to be the person that i have a tendency to be… the one who always says that everything is ok, puts on a brave face, and never breaks down.

    thank you. sending you peace and love.

    and by the way, you are most definitely a worthy, adored person.

  2. aswiftcurrent

    I read this with bated breath and tears welling in my eyes. I want to embrace you– to comfort you and also to applaud you for your bravery. I know you know from A Swift Current that I long for a world where we can express our grief openly and honestly. You have done that here.
    I do not know you outside this blog world, but it is clear that you are anything but average. An average person does not directly strike the heart of the matter. An average person does not ask the questions you are asking. An average person is not you.
    I think a lot of us who are left behind feel “selfish” that we wanted more of our departed loved one. I cannot stand the sentiment “at least her suffering is over” because in my mind her suffering had nothing to do with my grief.
    And I think a lot of us who are left behind do not have the slightest idea about our departed loved ones…their fears, their hopes, their disappointments. Maybe you just can’t share that with the person you love the most. It sounds counterintuitive, but maybe you can tell things to a stranger you would never say to your husband or daughter.
    I never had a single discussion with my Mom about her death. I stood by her casket and kept repeating “Mama, I tried, I tried. I hope you know I tried” I had no idea if anything I did was enough. I only hope she knew how much I wanted to be there for her; how much I wanted to ease her pain; how much I cried when I realized my efforts were futile in the face of dementia.
    I think probably she had no idea what to say to me either. I recently found an old letter from her; apparently I had broken up with a boyfriend and called her crying. She wrote to me that she felt so inadequate; she didn’t know what to say; she didn’t know how to comfort me.
    Perhaps it was that way for your Mom; at life’s most critical painful juncture, she just didn’t know what to say.
    Looking back, I don’t remember that call with my Mom, but I am sure just having her to call was soothing for me. Now they aren’t there for either of us.
    And we grieve.

  3. Lucia Maya

    You’ve written about this so beautifully. It brought up my own feelings of “never enough”, with my daughter – wishes I have for more conversations, wishing we had talked more about death before she got really sick (which felt like it might make it real, or invite death in if we did), wishing I knew her even better… I’m blessed to have lots of her writing, much of which delves into her greatest fears and desires, things she didn’t always share out loud, and I’m grateful to have that as some comfort in not having her here in body.

    Thank you so much for sharing what you have, and I agree with the writer above, you are not average in any way, you are special, kind, insightful, bright, thoughtful and loving. It is clear that you are your mother’s daughter.

  4. Cancer in My Thirties

    Written so beautifully. I can feel the pain and anguish in your words and it makes my heart ache for you. I am so sorry on so many levels. My warmest thoughts continue to be with you… xx

  5. John Eden

    Again, we seem to love your pain. I’m sorry. We can’t help it – you share it with such candor and straightforwardness, so we have to say something. But I’m sorry if we are taking pleasure in your anguish. And again, all I can say is, thanks for sharing, it is helpful to others… No, that’s not all I can say. I can say unequivocally that you are deserving, you are far above ‘average’ in so many ways, notably in capacity to love and give to others – and I think from your writings that you too are beautiful, unfailingly kind, bright, and wonderful. And this IS great powerful stuff – you are really getting deep and soaring high!
    — In my experience, not many people are really able to open up in the grip of death – it takes a lifetime of practice to be ready, really ready, to die. So maybe you had higher expectations of your mother than she could rise to… and so you just know she was human.

    1. bornbyariver Post author

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, John. I don’t feel that the positive feedback of my more painful/raw writings demonstrates any twisted tendencies in my readers– we all need a balance of the sunshine and the darkness, afterall. If anyone can find some of their own truth in my words, I think it is worth it. Thanks for the encouragement.

  6. Heart To Harp

    I wish there was a way to ease your pain, to take the edge off of the profound sense of being shut out of your mother’s heart. The chance exists that she thought she could protect you from her death by not sharing her own fears and despairs, that she thought you already had too much of a burden to carry and she hoped to save you, her precious daughter, from carrying an even heavier load. I fear that parents never recognize how much their children want to save them, and do not recognize the strength we grow into, and so we are shut out of helping them with the most profound moments of their lives.

  7. StephanieStephanie

    Is it possible that your mother did not share her grief and fears because she didn’t feel those things? I have no doubt that my husband Jim was neither afraid, nor ever grieved for himself despite knowing the gravity of his diagnosis, and knowing full well when he was coming home to die. He showed his love for all of us through by being himself–cracking wise and practical jokes and all, going outside to see the perigee moon, and being in charge of how things would be done–until the very end, and he didn’t share the emotions of fear and grief because he didn’t experience his life or its end in that way. Some remarkable people are like that. We grieve his loss terribly, but he never let go of thinking that he was a happy and lucky man.


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