Growing up I realized a very peculiar thing and if you are a motherless daughter, I’m sure you will have no- ticed it too. Mentioning my mother’s death to other’s is a conversational weapon of mass destruction. When- ever mentioned, mostly en passant, it kills conver-sation. Faces go blank, followed by a split second of awkward silence, before hasty apologiesare spluttered.
As a child awkward silence is not something I could handle – I am not sure anybody could. I always felt ashamed, as if mentioning my mother’s death was committing a social crime. I didn’t want anybody to feel bad and I didn’t want to feel alienated.
Therefore I quickly adapted a little social mantra to deal with these reactions and try to smooth them over. When asked about my mother, I would openly admit that she had passed away and then quickly, before the other party had a chance to react, I’d say “but I was two and half when it happened, so I really don’t have any memory of her, so it’s not such a big deal because I really don’t remember it any other way. I’m not missing anything”. I know this helped people. It took some of the horror out of the four horrific words: “My mother is dead.”
It is almost like saying: “Oh don’t worry, I never really liked it anyway and it was already chipped”, when somebody breaks a plate/glass/cup of yours. It takes away the other person’s guilt. And yes, peo- ple do feel guilty. They feel like making me say the words out loud is going to cause me more pain. We are all raised like that. We want to make people feel happy around us – getting someone to say their mo- ther died usually doesn’t make them feel very hap- py.
The key point of the verbal defusing of the weapon was alway the “no memories”. Somehow people always felt this was a blessing disguise, as if not remembering her ment I was spared the pain of missing her. I believed that for a while myself – a long while actually. I felt that not having any memories ment I was not allowed to grieve. Now I understand that I am grieving my mom, that I should have had and that I can do that without actually remembering the person she was.
For a long time, I felt that lacking memory of my mother was almost like adding insult to injury. Not only was she gone and I couldn’t spend time with her building new memories, but also every random person knew more about my mother than I (her only child) did. It seemed unfair and it still does.
When I was 11 or 12 I heard that smells can conjure memories, so I stuck my nose into every spice container in our kitchen cabinet. No results. I spent hours in the basement, my nose buried in her old clothes stored away trying to sniff out anything, but dust and the irritating basement staleness. Eventually I gave up. I won’t ever have my time machine in the past. My time machine is broken and only works one way. The problem with that is that driving is harder when you don’t have a rearview mirror and can’t turn around because you are going to fast. Dangerous situations can occur when feelings creep up on you.
I think that’s (in essence) what happened to me in my “horrible teens”. I hadn’t gotten around to setting my time machine on “future” yet, the present was unbearable and my past felt incomplete. I felt lost. Lost in time and space.
I’m trying to find myself again and working very hard at it, but I will always feel insecure about not being able to fully grasp the one moment that defined my life forever.
You know they’re not there, but sometimes you can’t help checking.