Thursday, June 08, 2006

Sympathy cards

A giant box arrived on my front porch a couple of months ago, one of several due to be sent. My father is moving from the modest home he has lived in for more than a decade, and he will have space for little in his next place. What he had kept of my mother’s life and death will now be ours—ours being my sister and me. This particular installment of “This Was Her Life”? Piles of sympathy cards sent upon her illness and death…

My mother and father held occupations—teacher and pastor, respectively—that put them in the public eye in a (quite literally) contained community. Our home was an island, and serving in any sort of public capacity was cause for knowing and being known. News of my mother’s sudden diagnosis with pancreatic cancer spread and metastasized as rapidly as the unstoppable tumor within her. Within days it seemed everyone in our island community and the towns we had previously called home had somehow heard. My young (45), lively, energetic mother was dying, and soon. Florists worked overtime delivering displays that covered any clear surface. Our post office box was crammed daily with cards and letters—some simply signed, and others pages long as the writer attempted “aloud” to make sense of what simply had no sense.

Years ago I read every one of those cards and letters, secretly hoarding those which spoke most deeply to me. (Tonight I read every one of them once again.) When the box arrived recently, it was not so much the well-meaning and sympathetic words that most affected me as I skimmed through, though there were rare exceptions to this. What I somehow wanted to capture for my own memory and for future stories to my children was the sheer volume of all those cards and letters, pouring out of the giant box. It’s irrelevant, I know. To tell Kyra and Lucas that thousands of words were exchanged in their grandmother’s honor—to somehow weigh her worth in the notice given her illness and death—would in no way capture her significance to me. While it is a mark of her life that her loss was seen as significant to so many, the loss would have been no less sharp and complete if she had only been known and loved by me. And for the thousands of words written to her and to us, I have written thousands upon thousands more, sending them off in my heart as the shape of my memories, my grief and my fears came to life on paper. While the notes and cards of remembrance slowed gradually to a trickle and now are more personally exchanged between our immediate family on those resonant anniversary days, my letters to her go on and on and on….I still have so much to say.




Sue Sehulster said...

You still have so much to say, and you always will. You will never run out of words, for as you continue to grow -- and your children continue to grow -- and you continue to experience life in so many different ways, the words will always be there. And in that way, your Mom is very much part of your life, and will be for your children, too. When my grandma died 2 years ago, I mourned the fact that my children will never get to know this amazing woman. And yet the words keep coming, and I find that I get excited about sharing her with Aidan, and with Grace in time. While your kids won't know their Grandma in "obvious" ways, they'll know her in other ways that are just as meaningful and life-affirming. Your Dad sure did give you a Treasure Chest, worth more than any pirate's gold. Thanks for sharing that today.