Speaking with the dead


It’s been four months since my mother left us. I get along most days with few and brief teary episodes. But a friend emailed today to tell me her mother had entered into hospice care. What a shitty thing to happen in spring, when life is shouting and exhulting and bursting into blooms and babies and renewal.

But winter is a shitty time to lose your mother too. All seasons blow when it comes to losing the important people in your life. My friend’s news brought back that white-knuckle feeling I had when we made the decision to let my mother go, that terror of skidding out-of-control over a cliff into a chasm deep and cold, where you know your heart will be dashed and shattered on hard reality below. A sharp edge of panic sliced through my composure and threatened to cut my day short with sorrow.

Instead, I tried to collect myself, kept myself busy. I worked extra hours and extra hard to ignore her absence, to forget that I haven’t spoken with my mother since December.

Four months. It’s the longest I’ve ever gone in my life without talking to my mom. Even when I lived abroad, or was traveling in a camper van for months on end, I called her as often as possible. And when I couldn’t call, I wrote.

I learned from her. She and my grandmother were great letter writers. When I was a little girl, we got a letter from my grandmother every couple of weeks, and my mother read it to the whole family at the dinner table.  I know my mother wrote back to her often as well. They had to write; long distance telephone calls were expensive and dollars were in short supply. Stamps were cheap.

Their letters weren’t particularly poetic or erudite or filled with abstract thought; the folded writing paper, so thin it was almost transparent, was filled with stories about the neighbors, or the garden, or what was for dinner. I wish we had some of those letters now, but I have so far not been able to find any. I long for anything bearing my mother’s or my grandmother’s voice, even if it’s just a laundry list of chores, or that they heard a particular bird singing in the trees.

These days it’s hard to believe in a time when you couldn’t simply poke at a screen and connect with your loved one. But in those days, what we now take for granted—skype, face time, Messenger—seemed impossible. Science fiction.

Now I talk to my dad every night. I wish I had talked to my mother every night. We had the capability; it’s the age of miracles and wonder after all. But I let work, tiredness, stupid Facebook, and sheer laziness stop me from calling her. And the calls I did make, we didn’t record. Who ever thinks to?

I wonder. Will we ever conquer the distance that death puts between us? Will someday some tech company make gazillions of dollars patenting a device that will let you talk to your dead mother, and let her answer?

If so, I’ll mortgage everything to buy it.


3 thoughts on “Speaking with the dead

  1. I wish my mom and I had a relationship like you did with your mom. I really need to stop at least once a week and put family first. Thank you for reminding me.

    1. Thanks Natasha. I was super lucky in the parents department. And yes, family is so important. In the end, it might be the only thing that’s important.

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