My mother and I had stopped talking a few years before she died. We had somehow split apart and it was only when she was near death that we got back together. This was possible only through my aunt’s intervention. My mother and I saw each other twice before she died – once she knew us and the other time, well, it’s not something I like to remember. It’s not right to remember a woman of such strength and perseverance lying frail and sick in a hospital bed.
I wish I had written this letter before you died. We had stopped talking a few years before you passed. We had split apart and it was only when you were near death that we got back together. Only because Aunt Pat had sent me an email telling me that you were sick. She didn’t mention cancer at first, and without that intervention, I never would have known. We met twice before you died, once you knew me and the second time I don’t like to remember such a strong woman lying frail and sick on a hospital bed. I never understood why we stopped talking. Something happened, but I don’t think I will ever know what.
We fell apart, which was the constant in our family. Still, I stayed with you during the tough times. The divorce, my brother leaving, the remarriage, and the constant moving and changing schools just about every year was tough, but I stuck it out. You were always there for me, even when I was always feeling like the new kid (because, often, I was). You still had a smile for me.
Then when something seemed to be going right for you, or maybe it wasn’t, you felt you couldn’t tell me. You just stopped calling and writing and answering me back.
I stopped trying to contact you after a while, moving on like we all did. It took an email from an aunt and sickness to bring us back together. Sometimes, when you think you have all the time in the world, you avoid the hard conversations. At least, while you were coherent, you knew there was a grandson named after your father. You met your new daughter-in-law and knew I was remarried. Yes, there were a few changes in my life since we had stopped talking. There are always conversations that we should have had with people who mean a lot to us. Sometimes it’s more than a conversation; it’s a connection. It’s that connection that you miss more than words can ever say.
The word “why” is so powerful and says so much and so little at the same time. One of the hardest questions to answer – especially when left unanswered – is one of the most nagging and difficult to leave alone. Like a wound, I would touch it sometimes and think, “What if I had driven out unexpectedly or called at an odd hour?” I think about what might have happened. But in the end, it still never answered the real question of why we lost touch.
During the funeral, many people gave me their condolences. They were people I never knew, people who said you were a wonderful person, saying the platitudes that everyone says during a wake. They didn’t know the truth. How many years since we had spoken? How long since we’d shared a cup of tea, or a beer, or sat down at the kitchen table and talked? As people who seemed to know you better than I had in the last years of your life touched my hand, that question rose in me: Why? Why did you stop calling? Why were you cutting off the ties to the family you had known? Why could you not tell me what was going on?
Even after the funeral, when talking with my aunts no one seemed to know why you cut off the family ties. I never felt as if I understood, but we move on. Sometimes the question still nags at me, though all the years that have gone by have made it a familiar friend. It’s a mystery I will take with me, but one I hope I may understand one day.
Your loving son,