Oh, my old friend ...
You ask me to remember what it was like for me when I was sixteen and my mother was dying.
Your friend has a daughter the same age and what worries her most is leaving her child: What should she be explaining to her, telling her, advising her?
You ask me what questions I wish I could have asked my own sad mother, who checked out of her life at forty-seven as if checking out of a rented room.
So here are my questions, straight from the heart, no fancy talk, no wish-I-were-more-tender-or-loving, no emotional editing. What's clichéd is clichéd; what might seem overwrought is merely hard-won.
It's uncut, like a bad movie or (I hear) good dope.
Questions for Mom
1. I'll think of you every day. We'll always have a relationship even when you're not here. So what little thing, what tiny, ordinary detail, would you like to serve as your bookmark? When I see a black butterfly, when I hear a door slam, when I smell coffee? When I hear a certain piece of music, a scene from a movie, a TV character? I'll be looking for you everywhere. Please give me a hint about where you'd like me to find you.
2. How can I honor you? In all the big ways, of course, by being a good person, by being brave and loving and smart and having integrity and all that, but how about in smaller ways? Would you like me to dedicate a book to you, write a song for you, a play for you, start a scholarship in your name, volunteer at a school and dedicate that time in your name, paint a picture with your portrait at the center?
3. What stories would you most like me to tell about you? What stories can I tell about us? I'll talk about you all the time. Of these stories, which is the most important to you? All of them are great, but which make you laugh the most or mean the most to you? Is it when I was very little or when I started school or when my brother and I were playing or when you and Dad talked about me? How did you think of me when you first started to see that I was different from you? How are we most alike? What stories show those parts, our likenesses and our differences?
4. I'll always remember those days when I could have done more for you. Is there anything you might want to say to an older version of me who might feel bad that she wasn't mature enough to be even more focused? Can you reassure me that I've been a good daughter even if I'm not the best daughter in the whole world -- because that's impossible?
5. Do you think if we were the same age -- if you were my age now or if you'd known me when I was grown-up -- that we'd be friends?
6. Is there anything I've ever said to you that you'd like me to say again? Because not only will I say it right now; I promise I'll say it all the time and that you can listen for it wherever you happen to be.
7. What do I need to apologize for? How did I hurt you and how can I best ask for forgiveness?
8. You don't mind that I'm not going with you right now, do you? You don't mind that you're going on your own? Is there a way to let me know that I don't have to feel bad about hanging out here?
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Reprinted with permission from St. Martin's Press from IF YOU LEAN IN, WILL MEN JUST LOOK DOWN YOUR BLOUSE by Gina Barreca.
Photo credit: Parents.com