I realized I was an adult when I stepped into the foyer of my mom’s condo wanting so badly to put my head on my mother’s lap and cry at the death of my youngest sister. I wanted my mom to stroke my head the way she would when I would come home from middle-school crying for courage I did not have to stand up for myself. I waited in the guest bedroom upstairs for my mother to come and comfort me. She came and when I rushed to her with my sorrow she held me at arm’s length herself blinded by eyes nearly swollen shut from her own tears. I was startled at the harshness with which she grabbed my shoulders. “Don’t you dare break down on me now!” I stepped back knowing any consolation I was looking for would not be found in the arms of my mother today. “You’ll have to take care of this,” my mother told me. “Your sister’s body needs to be claimed at the morgue and funeral arrangements need to be made. And I’ll be damn if I am going to pick out another coffin for a child of mine. This is not the way it should be.” With that, my mother made her way down the hall to her room slamming the door against her misery. I was 42 and as selfish as a four-year-old. I collapsed in a chair by the window knowing I’d have to take that four year old to the time-out corner, let her know that her mother is, for the second time in three years, suffering the death of a child. If she didn’t have courage before she’d have to have it now.
My mother was right – a parent should not outlive her child – it is the way of life, its continuum, its mobius loop of existence. But reality has its own heartbeat – one that skips and murmurs through the vicissitudes of the calendar. And for the remainder of her day, my mother remained stuck between the nether days of sorrow and loss – again. Putting my mourning on hold, I eventually got up from the chair and, as an adult, did what had to be done. Flying back to New York I was overwhelmed with sadness at my baby sister’s death. It was a sorrow doubled by the loss of personal vitality. To this day I continue to mourn my sister – along with the loss of my youth.