This post is not about my dead Mom.
Well, not directly, at least. So much of who I am and how I think and what I write always leads back to her. The fact that she had breast cancer. The fact that it killed her at 57 years old. The fact that I’ve been without her for almost 14 years. The fact that she never met my children.
But this isn’t about her.
It’s not about the hole she left in my life and in my heart. Or the questions I’ll never get answers to; the advice she will never give me. I’ll save that for another day.
It’s about one specific thing her death took away from me. And two very specific things that it gave me. In fact, it’s all about my dad. (Who is still very much alive and kicking.)
This is what her death took away:
Every Christmas, every Valentine’s Day, every August when Mom’s birthday rolled around and every September when their wedding anniversary came up, Dad would ask me to help him pick out a gift for her. Often we’d start with lunch out, just the two of us, then wander around the mall looking for a new house coat or nightgown, some earrings or a necklace. A few hours of uninterrupted father-daughter time. The memories of those shopping trips go as far back as I can remember and continue until I moved to a city an eight-hour drive away in my twenties.
I expected to miss her. Her black sense of humour and her unbridled laugh. The talks, the walks, the always-thereness of her and the ever-present tinkling of ice cubes in her topped-up martini (the soundtrack of my childhood and youth).
Here’s the thing: Dead people don’t require gifts. Not Christmas gifts, not Valentine’s gifts, not birthday or anniversary gifts. It’s not something you think about when someone dies. You only notice it when Christmas and Valentine’s Day and birthdays and anniversaries come around and your Dad has no reason to ask you to head out with him for lunch and a trip to the mall.
I didn’t expect to miss shopping with my Dad.
This is what her death gave me:
When my Mom was alive and I lived far away (a summer in France, a year in Quebec, my new home in Ottawa) I called home to talk to her and only her. If Dad happened to answer the phone, we’d toss around a little small talk and then he’d pass me on to Mom. “She’s chomping at the bit here,” he’d say, and hand the phone over to her. This is what happens when you’re a (callous? insensitive? self-centred?) girl and your larger-than-life mother is your best-friend-confidante-centre-of-your-universe. Your dad is only there to hand over the phone or take a message to have her call you back.
Now I call to talk to him and he calls to talk to me. I’ve gotten to know him better in the past 14 years than I did in the previous 29.
Here’s the thing: Had the conversation never ended with my Mom, I don’t know that it ever would have started with my Dad.
Mom was a downtown, five-star hotel, rather-be-anywhere-but-out-in-the-great-outdoors kind of woman. Dad, on the other hand, admitted to me when I was about 10 years old that if he could have survived living off the land all alone somewhere in the backwoods in a little log cabin, with only a fishing pole and a gun to his name, he would have. I remember looking up “hermit” in the dictionary and going back to him crying, thankful he’d chosen Mom (and me) over this solitary life he so desired.
Here’s the thing: I’m a lot like my Mom. I like the city. I like luxury. I like running water. I hate bugs and discomfort and I have a irrational fear every time I’m near a campfire that someone is going to trip and fall in face first and burn.
But every summer since the boy was born, Dad and his wife, and Luc and the kids and I head to a cottage together for a week. This never would have happened if Mom were still alive. She and I would be heading to a downtown spa while Luc and my Dad took the kids camping in the wilderness. That’s just the way we were and just the way things would have been.
But she’s dead. And things change.
The cottage does have running water. It also has bugs and discomfort and campfires. I like it though. And, like Dad, I’ve grown to like fishing. The stillness of the lake. The perfect cast. The tug of a bite. The victory of reeling in a big one.
No, I’m never going to put the worm on the hook myself (eww). But I can appreciate the act of catching your meal and serving it up fresh and battered and deep-fried to your family.
This is not about my dead Mom…but it kinda always is. Her presence in my being; her absence in my life. I’d still rather have her around than gone.
But here’s the thing: I wouldn’t be who I am today if she were. And that includes the relationship I now have with my Dad.
Had she lived, Dad and I probably wouldn’t talk regularly on the phone. We wouldn’t have an annual vacation at the cottage, complete with hours of fishing in the boat or off the dock. We might still have quarterly trips to the mall to go shopping for a gift for her, but then again we might not. And even if we did, would that be enough?
She might have taken away something special from us when she died, but she ended up giving us each other.
Here are Luc’s thoughts on his dad.