In the Wake

December 2, 2010
By , chevy chase, MD
We stood there as the people shuffled by, quickly shaking our hands and muttering grievances with turned down heads. The poor motherless things made them uneasy and they refused to look at us as we stared up at them with our watery eyes. It was the day of my mother’s funeral and I don’t remember much, just my brother and I stumbling around the service of a person that we would never know again.
I think of the last time I saw her. It was two o’clock in the morning and we were awakened to give our final farewell. She was propped up in bed completely frozen. We tried nestling into the warm familiar spaces of her body, but they were gone. What was left was cold, and skin, and bones.

This is the last memory I have of my mother. I have others, vague and cloudy memories that taunt me with their allusion to a deeper feeling. But there is a vacancy, a part of me that I feel I’ll never really understand. She’s left her traces on me, in my manner and my speech and my looks but I’m lost as to where else. My grandmother says I’m lucky I get to see her everyday in the mirror. She’s tried to fill this vacancy by reassuring me that my mother was kind and gracious and caring and loving. I know that these characteristics may make up a good person, a great person, but they cannot make up a real person.

In these years without her I’ve tried endlessly to gather the information to create a solid portrait of her, but no one has been willing to share with me who she really was. On a walk this past summer my brother talked about my mother for what I believe may be the first time in the twelve years since her death. He told me that she was loving and gracious and kind but that she could flip. Like a switch her emotions and her satisfaction turned on and off. As my brother talked more and more about her, I finally began to fill in the spaces. She was a woman conflicted. She had the boundless and perpetual love of a mother and yet the streak that defines the women in my family. This streak is the inner voice reaffirmed by every mother before her; it is the voice that says something is always lacking.

This streak, this characteristic, would have molded me into a radically different person. Like most children, I was incredibly impressionable. I would flip through books or television channels, plucking out people to model myself after. Kids do this, whether they know it or not; the key difference is that there was no person to espouse their beliefs upon me. I could model myself after whatever character I liked but at the end of the day I would come home to a house full of doors that were shut tight. My father was unable or unwilling to guide me, and as a result I’ve grown up in a world that is solely mine. My values, my beliefs, my morals, all the things that we believe make us who we are; I’ve had to create for myself. I’ve learned everything important to me through observation or experience and I believe this is an achievement. I’ve grown up to become a free thinker, I analyze and I question all on my own terms. Having a mother would have drastically changed this. I would have latched onto the opportunity to emulate my mother and would have become a much different person than I am today. It saddens me to think this way, but I have no choice. I think in this progression because it is who I am to do so, and if nothing else, I can appreciate that for what it is.

When someone dies they leave a hole in the shape of themselves in the universe. There is a hole in the universe in the shape of my mother. It is comprised of everything my brother and I will never know. I cannot know what it is to have a mother and I cannot know what it is to fill that hole. What I can know, and what I do know, is what has grown out of it. That is, the fully realized and fully alive versions of my brother and myself. We are both living and we are both evolving in order to make up for that hole, every single day.





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