Today I received a Christmas card from an old friend of my mom and dad’s. Inside was a picture of KH, dressed as Glenda the Good Witch on Halloween 2015: she wore a long white fitted dress with lace sleeves and knelt down low to the ground snuggling with her two young granddaughters. She looked beautiful – just like I remember her from the picture she and her husband took on the beach with my parents decades ago. Her hair is longer now but she has the same youthful smile. The grandkids are new too.
I’ve been more connected to my parents’ old friends lately than ever before: just last week, I recorded a Podcast with AC, who shared a first-hand account of the accident that killed my mom over the phone. He was in the backseat. Our conversation was recorded and it will be edited into a 30-minute episode that we both hope will reach people who need to hear it. I’ve said over and over again lately – after my TED talk in November and after recording this Podcast last week – that my excitement for this opportunity to talk out loud about my parents’ deaths is about making meaning out of what happened.
[Podcast recording, Dec 2015]
Losing my mom in a car accident when I was five years old was an awful thing. Because it happened so long ago, sometimes its awfulness shocks me when I really think about it. Losing my dad to alcoholism and isolation a few years ago was terrible too. If I can somehow weave the stories of their lives and deaths into something with reach, if others can listen to what happened in my life and think about their own difficult circumstances in new ways, then perhaps there’s a reason for all of this.
I tell myself that, and it’s certainly true to some degree. I’ve felt good about what I’ve shared lately, and I am motivated to keep sharing it. But when I see KH in her long white fitted dress holding her two granddaughters on Halloween, I feel a pain I don’t often let myself feel. My mother died dressed as a goddess. She had attended a costume party the night of her death, and she wore a long white dress with baby’s breath in her hair. What if my mother were still here to dress as a goddess this past Halloween?
The lives of my parents’ friends have gone on. I know from my conversation with AC and his wife BC just a few days ago that they held onto their grief for a long time and until recently didn’t start to let it out the way they should. Yet their children grew up, and their grandchildren were born. My mother will never hold my daughters. Though our intersecting lives – the touch points between what was, what is, what will be, what could have been, what should have been – will always exist in our hearts and minds and bodies and conversations and meditations, my mother will never dress up on Halloween and pose with her granddaughters for next year’s Christmas card. That makes me profoundly sad, and it’s the kind of sadness that feels fresh despite the years of separation between my mom and me that I have lived with already.
I am so happy that KH sent my family a Christmas card. I am now plugged into this old network of friends, and I know that there is healing to do within it. I think I can help with that. For a moment tonight, seeing Glenda the Good Witch so beautifully dressed for Halloween, I saw my mother in the costume she wore the last night of her life. I have tried for so many years to understand who my mother was and what I missed, the everyday things that would have defined us as mother and daughter, but I can’t deny that she is and always will be a goddess to me. Untouchable. Out of reach. Inhumanly perfect.