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, January 05, 2004


My father got a video camera for his fortieth birthday, and the family logged a substantial number of hours on it in the months following. That was the year I turned nine. My favorite bathing suit was green on the bottom and pink on the top, and the two parts connected on my right side. I had been Narrator #9 in the school play, and I treated the camera to a stirring rendition of “Go Home Professor” from the musical Wackadoo Zoo. I also performed “Sardines,” a Girl Scout camp song, on the patio by the pool, clad in that green and pink bathing suit with my hair still wet from swimming.

In those videos, my parents didn’t act or look how I remembered them, and I don’t know if that’s a function of relative memory or lack of perspective at the time. The world is so black and white at age nine. Life was good. I could play in the pool all day with my friends, and school was just fine. I loved my family, and they loved me, even though Paul and I didn’t get along. Now I know that my mother was struggling with Dad’s drinking and that Dad was definitely drunk in some of those scenes. Mom seems to have come out of her shell in the last fifteen years, doing what she wants when she wants.

My paternal grandmother lived with us part-time for several years, and last night, Brooke and I watched the video from one of the Halloweens she spent with us. Three days a week, Gramma went to an adult day care program so that she and Mom wouldn’t be at one another’s throats. On Halloween, Gramma was dressed as a clown to go to day care for the party. One scene showed her whacking at a pink donkey piñata with a cane. I don’t remember her from her lucid days, and I worry that these videos will imprint a false memory of her. I worry about that with Mom as well.

When I am left with these cassettes as my witnesses to her life, what will I remember? Will I always know the subtle differences between Mom and those tapes? Should I let my memory of her appearance be subsumed by the reality of the video? She had bad hair. We all did. It was the 80’s. The thing is, I don’t remember that about her. I remember her fuzzyfuzzy blue bathrobe and sitting on her lap before kindergarten, the bathrobe and her arms wrapped around me. I remember throwing myself into her arms after my first full week of summer camp and the shock on her face at the number of mosquito bites I had. I remember being very small, too small to be in the deep end of the pool by myself, and the smell of her skin as she bobbed with me.

In the summer when I rest outside in the sun, I have a similar smell on my skin.


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