April is a difficult month. It feels like one long breath caught between what has been and what should have been. It marks the anniversary of my mother’s death, 29 years ago, new mom of two young girls, and only 24 herself. At a time when she should have been cradled by the promise of a long and beautiful life, she struggled with a deadly illness and to say her goodbyes. Instead of hope and excitement for what was to come, she suffered with intense fear and anguish over what was inevitable. Instead of choosing bright Easter dresses for her young girls, she was extracting a promise from her husband to take care of “her girls.”
Her girls, her husband, her whole life would move forward without her. Her spirit snuffed out before she had a proper chance to live.
It’s never easy to remember. So much of who I am and who I am not is laced with this history . As each year passes and I grow years older than she did, I struggle. I struggle with my own loss and sadness and with a growing and deep awareness that I will never know who she was.
In our youth, we believe ourselves invincible, that we will be and achieve and do all the things we dream of. I have my own twisted experience with this. As a younger woman, I believed that my day would come, that I would somehow know her. I’ve never faced her death and what it really means, the loss of her as permanent. I think that’s what happens when experience the death of your most primal connection at 4 years old. The reality is quickly, succinctly swept away by a higher power. It’s impossible to deal with the emotions surrounding such an experience as such an emotionally immature age. So your spirit takes over, covers it up, with years and layers of diversions.
But it never goes away. It’s there. Deep, profound, heavy and dark. All of it. It’s only hidden.
This year is particularly hard. My sons have the remarkable distinction of having been born on my birthday and my sister’s birthday. Even more stunning is that their age gap is exactly the same as ours, just shy of three years.
This year, this month, they are the exact age we were when my mother died: almost 5, and just 2. Little. Vulnerable. So young. Not even completely out of diapers.
Yesterday afternoon we were just hanging out. The two of them were being the boisterous boys they always are, bouncing on my bed as I tried and failed to read. I chose instead to stop and watch them, squeal and giggle. I soaked up their sheer intensity, delighted in the life that fills them up and said a silent prayer of thanks for my own.
I asked my husband. “How do you suppose it would feel to know that you would be raising them alone?”
He refused to answer the question. He preferred to change the subject. I don’t really blame him. To him, it’s inconceivable. To me it is too.
And yet I think about it more and more these days, probably because I knew we approaching this significant anniversary. I feel such pain for both of us. For her, and what she has missed, and for me, for what I have missed.