28 August, 2008

Questions for the dead

Location: thin air
Mood: wishful

We cannot ask questions of the dead.

They're gone. Forever. We can look at photos. We can talk about them with our friends, or family. We can remember them. They can appear to us in dreams. We can visit their graves. We can read things they'd written to us. But we can't ask them questions anymore. And we can't call them on the phone when they pop into our minds, matter-of-fact, as if they're still around.

It's funny how and when these urges to talk arise. I've not lost many people in my life, fortunately. Of course, as the years go by, that will no longer be true. But losing my mother this year really was the first time that I have experienced this sense of loss. When my grandmothers died, I was much younger, and was self-absorbed (even more than now, if you can believe it), so I didn't devote much time to the thought. Additionally, there was such a large age gap between my grandmothers and me (over 60 years) that I probably didn't feel the same closeness many people do with their grandparents. And my grandfathers died either long before (maternal, 1955) or just after (paternal, 1971) my birth.

So I wasn't really primed for the experience of losing my mother. But I guess nobody is.

When her health took a downward turn in the past year, at age 80, I started to withdraw, instead of doing the more sensible thing, which would have been to spend as much time with her as possible. I called less. I came home infrequently. It's not for lack of love. At one point, when it had obviously been a shamefully long time since I'd phoned, I actually confessed to my mother that I thought I was withdrawing because of fear of the known. And she said she kind of suspected that, and that it was okay. It's funny, because she wasn't always the most forgiving or understanding with people. She could hold a grudge like you can't imagine. She could be stubborn. Spiteful. You didn't want to cross her, seriously. But on this one, she understood, and she gave me a free pass. She really understood.

Sometimes I go for walks now on the weekend, in the mornings. And very often, while I am walking around the Capitol Hill/Central District area, I get this impulse: "Now would be a good time to call Ma". And it's as if it is as natural a thought as it would have been a year ago.

But I can't.

I can call Dad.

For years, when I would call the house, the conversation would almost always be between my mother and me. My Dad wouldn't even come to the phone. It wasn't that he didn't want to talk to me, and it wasn't that we are not close. It was just that he wasn't always a huge fan of the telephone since his hearing isn't great, and he also was okay with the idea of hearing the news filtered through my mother's conversation, because he's a little uncomfortable with those nitty-gritty emotional things, and problems, and conflicts. Though maybe I never gave him enough credit?

So sometimes, he'd get on the phone, and he'd ask me the basics: How's work? How's the car running? All the usual questions. How's the band? Etcetera.

But now I talk to Dad. Because there is no Ma to mediate that connection. And we actually do fine. And we've even had some fairly intense emotional discussions about relationships, life, losing someone close, dealing with sadness, getting through conflict. He's better at the emotional stuff than he probably even knew he was. And I have an easier time being close to him than I thought I could be.

But it's not the same as talking to Ma.

She was so haphazard and unpredictable depending on her mood! You could call her up and tell her about some problem you are having with a relationship. And if you call her on one day, she would give you a deeply philosophical answer. You call another day, and she would say "I don't know what you want me to tell you!"

It was like consulting a Seattle weather report.

But I miss that. My mother was a Magic 8 Ball...

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