Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Letter

No matter how much you work on some issues, they will still come back to haunt you.   Sometimes current events will trigger you.  Sometimes an anniversary or a holiday will trigger you.  Sometimes divine providence interrupts the tranquility.  The result is that you have to work through issues that you have worked through before.  Such is the reason I haven’t been writing for the past couple of months.  I have had to wrestle with an old issue yet again.  
Fall has always been a delicate time for me.  My mother died on September 25th, my parents anniversary was October 25th, my Mother’s birthday was November 25th and Christmas was always the big holiday in our house.  In succession, these events would emerge each year to require that I feel the loss.  Early in our marriage, my wife pointed out that if I didn’t allow myself to feel the sadness during Autumn, I would get sick by Christmas.  
One of the complications of my mother’s death was that just prior to her getting killed she visited Connecticut.  I was finishing my internship, the only thing that was holding me here.  During her visit she asked me if I would return to the family home after my training.  I could complete writing my Masters Thesis from the farmhouse in Rochester as well as I could in Connecticut.  I knew she was lonely and wanted my companionship, but I wasn’t about to move home at the age of 26.  I declined and I knew it hurt her.  I think she took it personally.  It was only a few weeks later that she was killed.  Along with all the other emotions that accompanied her death, I was overwhelmed with guilt that I had not moved home.  I reasoned that if I had been there, maybe she wouldn’t have died.  Maybe I could have saved her.  
This question has haunted me over the years.  I knew I wasn’t responsible for her death, but did my absence contribute to her demise?  I also became angry with my father who had died 6 years earlier.  Maybe if he hadn’t have smoked those damn Camel straights, he would have been there to protect mom.  Then during my grief I realized that if I had been there I might have died also.  Murderers don’t like to leave witnesses.  I rationalized my decision, while also acknowledging that moving home at my age, would not have been healthy.  But the feeling that I had let her down by not moving home had stayed with me.  For 39 years I have carried this small guilt.  
We have been in the process of cleaning out all kinds of stuff that has accumulated over the years.  It was on Sunday September 20, 2015 that I pulled out another box, from under the stairs to go through and see what could be tossed.  In the box, I found my mother’s purse.  I don’t know if I had ever looked in it.  It still had her car keys and lipstick.  Mostly it was filled with bank deposit slips for accounts long gone.  Then I came across a letter.  It was a letter from me dated September 20, 1976.  I had written the letter exactly 39 years to the day that it was returned to me.  I opened it and read.  
The letter described the work on my thesis.  It described my plans to seek employment.  But it also told her how much I loved her and that she shouldn’t take it personally that I didn’t want to live with her.  I needed my independence and to find my own way.  My not returning home was about me, not about her.  
She would have received this letter only hours before she was killed.  Before she died, she knew that I loved her dearly and that my not moving home was about my trying to grow up.  Reading the letter, finally after 39 years, absolved me of the guilt I had been carrying.  While it totally let me off the hook, it also triggered my grief again.  At times, during the next few weeks, I felt the devastating pain just as strongly as when she first left me.  For several weeks, I had to return to mourning the loss of my mother.  
I no longer avoid these feelings.  Over several weeks, I let the pain roll over me and through me.  It slowly ebbed away and I again feel grounded.  It took some time for me to recognize this experience as a “great gift” as my son called it.  The fact that the letter came back to me exactly 39 years later impressed me that the Gods wanted me to pay attention and work through another piece of my grief.