It was a beautiful evening at our neighborhood base playground, and as usual I was pushing my twins and watching the sun set while making small talk with another new neighbor. I love PCS season- the chance to connect with new people and welcoming them always feels exciting to me. We were exchanging the usual chatter about where we came from, and where home is to us. “Well, to my older kids, home is Ohio, since we were there for over six years. My husband is from South Carolina, and I’m from Colorado.””So is that where all of your family lives then? Colorado?”

I pause, as I always do before answering. “I have one sister who lives in Missouri, and then my other sister and my dad are in Colorado.” And there it is, making my heart skip a beat like it always does. That gap where I don’t say where my mom is, where I feel like I don’t know what to say.

Do I say that my mom has died?  

It feels awkward to drop into casual conversation. It’s been a little over four years now, and something about that ever expanding time period makes it feel like I’m supposed to be a bit more healed than any of us in our family are. My mom was a very private person about her stunning diagnosis of an aggressive type of breast cancer, so in some ways it feels disrespectful to mention her death to someone who I don’t even really know. I don’t want the person I’m talking to to think I am saying it because I want sympathy. Often when I mention her passing, the person I have just met offers a condolence “I’m so sorry”, and I accept it and then direct the conversation back into it’s lighthearted original path.

So why even mention it, I’ve asked myself many times after departing the park with my kids in tow, if I am not trying to initiate a fuller conversation about her early death?

I think, when I recite where my dad and sisters are, and don’t say a word about where my mom lives, I can’t stand the idea that someone could infer from lack of mention that my mom abandoned us in any way. She’s not just “not part of my life”, which is sadly a very valid choice for more people than I ever realized until recently. 
I think, more than anything,  I want the person I am interacting with to know that I did have a mother. My mom was a smart, funny, beautiful woman who loved us all so much.  I am who I am because of her. She is who taught me to love others selflessly (and did it so much better than I could ever hope to). She is who inspires me to see as much of the world as possible, and more importantly meet people who live differently than we do. She is why I know how to make real enchiladas from scratch, and how sharing them with those you care about makes them taste better than anything. Things that you will never know about her, because if I’m just meeting you, even if we become the closest of friends, you will never have the chance to meet my mom. 

All of that is much too big to say on a first encounter with someone, and I know that. Afterall, I’m not the only person with a wonderful mom of course. But I need to acknowledge that she lived, once upon a time. 

And so, I need to say that my mom died. Maybe someone else has said that to you casually, whether at a kids birthday party, or as you chat in line for coffee. Maybe it was their mother, or father, or a much missed child. I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but they probably aren’t trying to make things heavy. I never understood before I lost a parent that there is a deep need to acknowledge the life that once was when we’re accounting for where our family members are while we’re traveling the world at the whim of the military .

I hope if you’re ever faced with the choice of skipping over mentioning someone who has passed, or sharing their life, you choose to share it.  Even if it’s a casual interaction, we can help each other by normalizing the mention of an immediate family member who has already passed instead of making it a more isolating experience than it already is. 

1 COMMENT

  1. This one touches me so deeply. You did such an excellent job with this. It is worth enduring the moments that follow when we mention our loved ones who have passed. They existed. They loved and were loved. They are still with us in so many ways. Thank you for you for sharing your encouraging perspective. So many of us need it!

    Happy Heavenly birthday to your Mom!

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