My mother thought that inner strength, moral strength, moral superiority, were best dealt with through silence. It was the best thing to do to appear unaffected by the traumatic event one was just passing through or had recently endured.
After Aunt Sudie’s death, a few days before which my mother could be heard from behind the closed door of her bedroom shouting “But why me?”, my mother moved through the house slow and dazed in manner, sustained by receiving and answering condolence letters and phone calls and planning the funeral with my uncle and cousins. A few more weeks were spent by her in the same daze, more silent than usual, no shouting behind the bedroom door about how horribly unfair it was to have taken a much loved, vibrant woman from her sisters and husband and children and through such a horrible disease as cancer. She contained her grief, at least when I was home after school and before I left in the mornings.
I felt sorry for her, and sad that my aunt was dead. But Mom displayed no grief, and I was too young at only 14 to understand the processes of grief. I resumed my usual activities, the homework, the slumber parties and overnights, the television and the reading. I wanted to go to the mall with Missy. I wanted not to have to remember to take my gym uniform home occasionally to be washed.
My noise and activity must have grated on her nerves, but she went through the daily schedule of drinks with Dad after he came home, dinner, sleep, waking, showing nothing of her pain. I got the idea that it didn’t exist. I got a bit peeved at her, disappointed that she was not affected by the death of her twin. She must be shallow. True, it’s awful to be around someone who collapses in tears every day for months and years after a death, but shouldn’t one look a little sad, from time to time? Look like something happened, and that you know it but are trying to get along as best as you can anyhow?
Nothing. Needlepoint and bourbon with my father every afternoon, dinner — meat and two veg — homework, sleep, wake. What was wrong with her, that she couldn’t feel even the most basic of emotions?
She was noble, I see now, but only in a way that was visible to her. Maybe that was the point. It doesn’t do to be human. We must be better.