As the mother of two girls under the age of 4, I spend a lot of time answering questions: “Was Santa ever a baby?” “Do houses die?” “Does Bruno Mars go to sleep every night like we do?” “How does the traffic light see us?” “Why did it get too cold for the dinosaurs?” “You should stay away from a bull, right?”
The questions sometimes seem endless, and many times I am just finishing up one explanation when the next question, totally unrelated, comes at me.
Our questions to our parents start out like this — us asking them for help as we try to figure out the world around us. As we get older, the questions become more complicated, and then, of course, there’s a period of time when the last thing we want is our parents’ opinions on anything.
My mother died when I was in my mid-20s, and thankfully I was long past the stage of thinking I knew better than she did. When she died, I felt confident there was nothing left unsaid between us, no question left unanswered. What I didn’t comprehend was that my life would go on without her, and that with each new phase of that life there would be questions that had never occurred to me before that I would want to ask her.
As a newly married person, I wondered about how she and my dad had adjusted to living together, if being married had been what she had expected. Shortly after I had my first child, I spent hours combing through my baby book trying to find similarities between her careful notes and my own experience. As my children have grown, I have wondered about how she found balance in her life between being a mom, a wife, a nurse, and nurturing the other relationships and friendships that were so meaningful to her.
Several years into my mom’s illness, about a year before she passed away, she stayed overnight at my apartment in Boston. She had an appointment with her oncologist the next morning but was feeling well. It was summertime, and we went out for dinner at a restaurant on the waterfront and shared a few glasses of wine and a great meal. It was one of those nights you don’t ever want to end. When we got back to my apartment, she suddenly took my hand.
“I never want you to wonder if I was happy,” she said to me.
I was in deep denial that she was as sick as she was and tried to brush the conversation off, but she was insistent.
“I always wished that I had asked my mother if she was happy,” she said. My grandmother had passed away when my mother was just 22 years old. “It’s something I wondered about for years, because I never really got to know her as an adult. And I don’t want you to ever wonder, because my life has been more than I ever could have imagined.”
“OK,” I said awkwardly, giving her a hug. As much as I didn’t want this conversation to continue, I also could sense it was something she needed to say. “Thank you for telling me.”
I didn’t realize at the time what a gift she had given me, because despite having been blessed with more than two decades of time with her, I’m not sure I ever would have thought to ask that particular question. And while I never got the chance to ask her about the early days of her marriage, if my brother or I had trouble taking our first bottles, or if she ever felt as if she couldn’t possibly answer one more question from us when we were toddlers, she answered the most important question of all.
I didn’t even need to ask, and I’ll never have to wonder.
Laura Shea Souza is a freelance writer in Stow. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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