When my mother passed away years ago, we had been estranged for over a decade. After my efforts failed to resolve her verbal abuse through negotiations, I realized the toxicity of the relationship eventually would harm our four young sons. I feared one day I would look in a mirror and see my mother’s reflection glaring back at me as I repeated the pattern of mistreatment of my own children. So, I made the difficult, heart-wrenching decision to distance her from our family to protect my sons. I told her to call when she could be respectful. The phone never rang.
My decision left me to navigate the grief of our lost and unhealed relationship with little assistance. In order to make peace with a broken past and learn to forgive, I collected a list of unanswered questions that went to the grave with her. If I knew the answers to these questions, would the information help to heal our relationship? Would they help to heal me?
How would you describe your talents? Do you consider your love and bent for the medical world a talent?
Did your family ever travel abroad, drive across the country in a packed and steamy station wagon, visit the Appalachians or Santa Fe? Or did you always prefer to stay close to the salty air of Cape Cod, allowing its waters to spray mist in your hair?
How were you taught to drive? Dwarfed in a luxury car like your father’s Cadillac? Or in the MG they bought you as a lavish first automobile? Did your father teach you or did your mother sit sweetly by your side, her high-pitched voice rising impossibly higher with nerves?
Did you ever get pulled over by a mouthy police officer and issued a speeding ticket? What made you nervous about driving when you were older?
Did your parents also buy your sister an MG, or had she flown from the nest, looking back with jealousy at how they spoiled you?
Where did your first kiss take place, and was it with my father? Were you hungry for the way he sought your beauty after feeling so frumpy and chubby for all of your younger years?
Did you love my father’s sky-blue eyes the first time they met yours, the way he towered over you when he wanted a hug, lowering himself slightly to wrap you in his arms? Did you know how much he loved you?
Did the two of you watch stars at night from a Cape Cod beach? Walk the shores in the early dawn? Enjoy Cape Cod fried clams in rustic restaurants by the harbor? Sneak out to meet when your parent’s house was heavy with sleep’s silence?
Did you have other boyfriends before him?
Did Dad propose to you or was he given an ultimatum?
Did you get married at the courthouse, on the beach, in a church, in your parent’s living room with your parents in attendance?
Did your outfit make you feel like your wedding day was a time to remember or a day of shame? Did you cry? Why didn’t anyone take a picture of the ceremony? How far along were you?
Did the ring on your finger feel like protection from loneliness or a small clamp locking your life? Were you disappointed not to have a diamond engagement ring?
For the first seven days, seven months, seven years after you said, “I do,” did you?
What did you think when you laid eyes on your firstborn child? Why did you name my brother after my father?
Do you wish you married a doctor, lived in a rambling house and never had to think about my father’s unstable existence?
What did you think when you first saw me? Do you like the smell of babies? The warm feeling of them in your arms?
Describe motherhood with one word. Does motherhood give to or take from mothers?
How did you envision your relationship unfolding with your daughter? Were you surprised or expectant when conflict reared its destructive head?
What’s your biggest regret?
Did you wish I looked more like you? Did you wish that I had a more docile personality? Did you wish?
Did you want me to stay out of your hair or were you sad we rarely hugged, touched, kissed, held hands?
Why did you cry when I moved out at seventeen?
What did you feel when I called screaming from a dark phone booth in a terrible part of town to tell you I had been raped?
Did you need to be distracted the day your divorce became final? How did you spend the afternoon? Did an extra drink do the trick?
Did you feel left out at my wedding because so many new people had entered my life? Did you feel awkward being around Dad? Is that why you chewed gum so fast when you never chewed gum in the past?
Did the doctor give you your cancer prognosis over the phone or while sitting face-to-face in his office? Who flashed through your mind when he gave you the news? What was your course of treatment?
Why didn’t you tell me you were sick?
What brought you comfort in the end?
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