My sister and I had made all the arrangements, so nothing should have been a surprise to me, but, for a flashing moment, the bright flowers laying on the stone bench by an open grave didn’t make sense to me. The handle of a shovel sticking out of a large mound of fresh dirt seemed like a dare. The cover of a plain pine box staring up at me was surreal.
Her instructions were clear in the hidden letter – pine box, no service, no eulogy and don’t stay when they lower me into the ground.
Yes, the instructions were clear. She never was, but the letters, poems and musings which she started writing over sixty years ago said everything she never could.
It was a five-inch old-fashioned blue loose-leaf binder found in one of her suitcases with over 150 pages all typed out and dated with page protectors on each one. We had never seen this book or even known it existed.
The relationship we had with our mother was complicated, to say the least, but had we known what had been on her mind for all the those years, it might not have changed the dynamics of the relationships but, at the very least, we would have known how she felt.
She spoke to the paper, created pretty collages with the people in her life and surrounded herself with the pictures but not the people. It seems it was easier for her to deal with life this way.
No death comes at a good time. Now, to go forward, I find myself going back.
She walked out when we were eight and ten years old. Raised by my father, I had no idea she regretted leaving, that she was aware of all the special dates in our lives, that she had a son who died a few days after his birth and who she missed on a daily basis. That, although she walked out, she did have motherly instincts and, in her own way, loved us very much.
I learned all of this from the letters.
Yes, we saw her after, she was the ‘other’ parent, she picked us up on the weekends although, it became less and less frequent as the years went by. Some months we spoke, some we didn’t.
The letters tell a story, give a timeline and show inner turmoil. They are both a blessing and a curse.
So, I ask myself, what would have changed if I had read these letters years ago? The big things, probably not much, but the little things, I would have seen her more and had more compassion.
There, I said it. Now I have to find a way to live with it.
I don’t think the words ‘it’s too late’ have ever taken on the meaning they now have for me.
Sometimes it really is too late, so final.
Some people say it’s easier to process the death of a loved one if your relationship was a good one, but when it is a strained relationship with questions hanging in the air, it’s harder to find closure.
Instinctively over the years, I have always tried to communicate with my daughter (19) and my son (18). Hug them, kiss them, talk to them whenever I have the opportunity. I never had that with my mother so you could probably say I have gone overboard with my own kids in order that they never have to wonder or speculate.
I don’t know what we will do with this binder of letters. I haven’t even read them all yet, it’s still too new, fresh.
Part of me thinks they would make an amazing story, or a book of poems, insight from a woman I didn’t really know but always wanted to.
The lessons learned here seem obvious but, as I get older, I realize that what is obvious to some is not so obvious to others, so it is worth saying.
We need to remember.
Whatever it is, now is the time, not when it’s too late.
Give the people you love a chance, give yourself a chance.
We only get to do this once.