Postcards of Grief

Mourning is a process.

Comments on breast cancer by proxy, written by a woman coping with the loss of her mother.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Name's sake

Tonight, I held Sanna while she sobbed that she doesn't want to die. Six years ago, I held my mother while she did the same. I wish I had known what to say either time. Six years ago, I said nothing. Tonight, I simply said, "I know."

All I knew was to keep on holding.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


I called my mother on the phone today. Rather, I called the owner of my mother's former business, and the new owner, for whatever reason, has kept my mother's voice on the answering machine. After her death, when the business was being run by my father and still operating in his home, it made sense to keep it. I don't know if it doesn't make sense, if it's illogical to keep it now, but I can imagine a variety of reasons to change it. But the business is still named for my mother. Her voice is still there. The people in the office will hear it regularly.

So today, when I called the new owner to ask her to bid on some work I need done, my mother's voice answered. I took a walk, alone, after I left that message. It's been five and a half years.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I have to remind myself too often that Sanna and I are not the same person, but I forget. Maybe my mother was a better parent (likely) or I was a more compliant child (less likely) or my disposition and behavior are remembered inaccurately and flatteringly (middling possibility). There are stories of my rare tantrums, including one particular one in which I screamed at my mother that my swimsuit smelled like fish and, thus, I hated her. I was three. Sanna is almost three.

I feel like I know my mother’s love when I press my sleeping children close to me. I am able to have her again in only this thin layer, but she is there around us, gilding us in our embrace.

Today, I am buying life insurance.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Showers, cross-post

In the car on the way to Brooke's last pregnancy-related midwife appointment, Brooke asked me when my brother's birthday was, because she couldn't remember.

"April," Sanna repeated, thinking. "April, like... Grandma's!"
"Yes! And your Grandma S, too. Her birthday is three days after Uncle P's. She's my mom, and she's also Uncle P's mom like you and Karl have the same moms."
"And she's my mom, too!"
"No, she's your grandma; like Grandma is your grandma, Grandma S is your grandma."
"Oh! I like her!"
"She would like you, too."
"I want her to read me a book when she comes to my house!"
"Oh, honey, she would like that."

But she is not ever going to read you a book.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Present tense

I talked about my mother in the present tense today. "My mother says that," I told someone who knows full well that my mother is dead. "My mother used to say," I corrected myself, "that that would be a funny way to go, getting hit by a cookie truck." I talked about it a little too much, trying to quell my discomfort about forgetting that she's dead. "Just think," I said to my supervisor and coworker, with whom I was sitting down to have a quick meeting, "everyone would be snickering about it at the staff meeting." I had been trying to explain why I was late to our discussion; I was documenting procedures that only I know how to do.

Friday, May 11, 2007

We’ve talked about this before:

My mother got pregnant at 18, and that child was adopted by another family. I learned about this event when I was 21, and my mother told me any of a number of things about the experience. I remember some of them clearly. Others I never thought to learn from her. Still others are not clear to me as facts. One thing I know is that my mother never tried to find the girl child who was reared by adoptive parents.

When my mother died in February 2004, I took some time to breathe and stew, and I concluded that I would call the agency through which the adoption took place and tell them to tell the adoptee about my mother’s illness and death. They asked if I wanted a call when contact had been made with the adoptee, and I agreed. They warned that the process might take a year or more, and I said that I understood.

Three years later, I still hadn’t heard. A book review in Brain, Child alerted me to the existence of The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler. I was never more interested in seeking out that woman who was adopted as when I finished that book. I contacted the agency again.

Time went by. The promised calls were never returned. I called again.

This morning, I finally made contact with them. In 2004, they sent a letter to the adoptive parents. The adoptee called the agency. The agency told her what I reported about my mother’s breast cancer and her death. She asked for my mother’s age at death; they told her.

I can get the non-identifying information (date, time, and location of birth) from them by completing a form and sending a check for $60. I haven’t decided in the last few hours if that’s what I’ll do. I need to sleep on it.

She’s lived the last 38 years of her life without my mother. She is a half-sibling to me, biologically, and my full blood sibling couldn’t be more different from me. Calling her my half-sister seems too familiar and too intimate. We have shared nothing except a few genes and a trip down the same birth canal.

Three years ago, I wanted nothing from her. I grieved so much for my mother, and the need to get this information to the other biological daughter was so urgent. My mother’s illness and the process of her death is less in my mind now. I focus on her legacy, her memory, and the story of her life. Her life, rather than her death, is my urgency. I want her biological daughter to know about her life as well as her death.

It would be easier if they had called me after the adoptee—for whom I need a less dehumanizing name that is not so familial as “half-sister”—contacted them. She’s alive—or rather, she was alive in 2004. At least one of her adoptive parents was alive in 2004. But this is new. It feels like it happened this week.

When the form comes, I’ll have to decide to do it or set it aside. Until then, I will just think.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Molly Ivins

Another good woman, dead from cancer

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


My grandmother is locked away in the geriatric behavior unit at some hospital. She said that she’s severely depressed and can’t eat.

I have no idea how old she is. Somewhere in her 80s, I think. She hasn’t met Sanna yet, for the simplest of reasons. My grandmother and I haven’t seen one another since my mother’s funeral. Prior to that week, I saw her around the time of my grandfather’s, her husband’s, illness and funeral. And prior to that, I saw her not at all in adulthood. I made a choice not to see her. I didn’t know her as a child, after all, and I didn’t think Sanna would be any worse off for not knowing her.

But now that she’s hospitalized, my gut tells me to go there. Sanna and I will drive out on Saturday to see the woman who beat and neglected my mother.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


My mother has been showing up in dreams lately. She's back to her healthy self and looks how I had hoped I would remember her. In these dreams, we get in the car together to drive somewhere, and I can smell her perfume. Or I call her on the phone, and we chat.

It's nice to see her again. Someone told me that the day would come when I would look forward to dreaming about her. Given my prior dreams where she made an appearance, I doubted that very much. Then a period went by where I had no dreams about her at all. Until the last few days, I had no idea how much I missed her cameo; I knew I missed the person, but I also missed the simple act of seeing her.

The other night, she was in my dream in tears and told me that my father died. In my dream, I realized the absurdity of this: the dead telling the living that someone has died. Still, we wept together over my father's death, my mother and I. He's not really dead.

Sanna is in none of these dreams. I long for the night when my mother meets her.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Uganda: 4000 Die Daily Due to Lack of Breastfeeding

The Monitor (Kampala)
September 4, 2006

At least 4000 infants and young children die everyday in Uganda due to
lack of breastfeeding. This was disclosed by the Health Minister in
charge of General Duties, Dr Richard Nduhura in Gulu on Tuesday.

Nduhura was addressing a rally to mark the World Breastfeeding Week.

"Everyday, as many as 4000 infants and young children die because they
are not breastfed. Why should this continue?" Asked Nduhura.

He said the trend could be reversed if mothers are empowered with
enough knowledge about breastfeeding and are continuously motivated
and supported to breastfeed the children.

The minister blamed the increasingly poor breastfeeding culture in the
country on aggressive advertising for bottle feeding, where marketing
gimmicks and slogans are used to discredit breastfeeding.

"Those advertisers claim breastfeeding is best but bottle feeding is
almost as good as breastfeeding," Nduhura said.

He said they use striking images of well breastfed babies to persuade
mothers to buy their feeding bottles, yet they are putting the next
generation in danger.

According to a recent World Health Organisation report, babies who do
not breastfeed are six times more likely to die from diarrhoea or
respiratory infections.

The report said HIV positive mothers have to make the hard decision of
whether or not to breastfed their babies.

"For HIV positive mothers, the decision whether or not to breastfeed a
child can be difficult, because studies show that babies, who
breastfeed from HIV positive mothers, have a 5 to 20 per cent chance
of getting infected," the report said.

Nduhura, however, said health workers worldwide have realised the
fatal consequences of bottle-feeding. The theme of this year's World
Breastfeeding Week was 'Regulating the Marketing of Infant Foods.'

Gulu LC5 Chairman Norbert Mao promised to visit radio stations in the
district and stop advertisements of "junk bottle and other infant food
items." He called on husbands to support their wives in breastfeeding
their infants.

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