I didn't make it home from South Africa in time to see my mom before she died (though luckily we Skyped from her hospital bed). She had been sick for a couple of months (and it had been two years since I had last seen her) but the truth is that because she was so stoic and strong, and had managed to survive several previous brushes with death, I really thought she would pull through. I thought she would outlive us all.
I always said "I love you" at the end of every conversation so I think those were my last words to mom. I hope they were. But now, here, back in Canada, in the house where I spent most of my youth, sorting through her things to give to charity, I am overwhelmed by questions I wish I had asked her.
In appreciation of both my mother's sensitive spirit and her sense of humour, here are the top 10 questions I wished I had asked my mom before she died.
1) Mom: Are you scared? Are you sad?
I spoke with the neighbour the other day and she told me you confided in her that you were ready to go and that you had accepted death. This gives me some comfort. Is it true? Did your belief in God and an afterlife make facing death a little easier and a little less scary? I would like to think so.
2) Tribbles? WTF?
When your cat, Tribbles, (who only ever loved you, and who, after you died, roamed the house at night crying as he went from room to room looking for you) scratches me/then bites me/then scratches me again as I try to pet him, is he just being "aggressively" playful or is he (as all rational evidence would indicate) actually trying to maim and/or kill me? Was there not a way you could have "taken him" with you? Feel free to "take" him anytime.
3) Where are the rest of the love letters dad wrote you?
I found one in your sock drawer and it was one of the most eloquent, funny, and piercingly beautiful odes to love I have ever read. I have been through all your things and have still not found the rest of the letters (and there is a reference to others so I know there must be more). Dad, in keeping with his staunch, old-school stance on feelings (i.e. men don't have them), refuses to comment. When pushed, he reverts to his typical grunts, which after 40 years I have narrowed down to mean one of two things: "I don't want to talk about it," and/or "pass me the remote." Where would you have put them? Where?
4) When can I get that $100 dollars I lent you?
5) Why did you keep drawers full of mismatched buttons, used shoelaces, and empty plastic Gatorade bottles?
Did you know of a secret market being developed for these seemingly useless products? Should I resist the temptation to throw them out and rather hold on to them so that one day when these items are coveted I can make a fortune?
6) Where is your wedding dress?
I would have loved to see it. I can't believe I never thought to ask before. I can't find it anywhere. What did you do with it? You kept used shoelaces but not your wedding dress!? Explain.
7) Dishwasher and oven? WTF?
We haven't had clean dishes since you passed. None of us can figure out how to properly use the settings on the dishwasher. And as for the oven, the rack seems to be stuck on the lowest level and we can't figure out how to move it. Sarah says she can't make a turkey for Christmas unless we figure out how to move the rack. We can't find the instructions for these appliances anywhere! You kept thousands of mismatched buttons but not the oven or dishwasher instructions?! Explain.
8) Remember when I was 13 and you accidentally gave my favourite anthology of poetry away with a bag of used books destined for the Salvation Army?
I thought it was the end of the world and I was so distraught and angry. You put an ad in the classifieds in the local newspaper entitled "Save a Relationship" and a woman responded. She had bought the book and was happy to give it back to you (I still have it). You know how thankful I was, don't you? Don't you?
9) If you're not going to be using it anymore, can I have my kidney back?
10) Did you think of me much as you grew sicker?
Were you sad I wasn't there in time? Do you forgive me? Did you know that despite our sometimes rocky relationship I loved you and miss you terribly? Don't worry, mom. I think I already know the answer to this last question. I Love you too.
RIP: Sylvia MacGregor