|Liza, Elle, and me. Outfits made by Mom. Circa 1974.|
Phone conversations are not my forte, except when it comes to talking to my sisters. My inner social moron inexplicably disappears.
Talking with Liza usually means listening to each other mildly chide our husbands and children, report on the crazy friends we have, and discuss some family issues (or, more likely, me listen to her tell me what I need to do--she, after all, is the oldest of us three sisters, and quite the bossy pants). While our conversations are largely the same, the death of our Mom has made a small but significant change. Lately she's been uncharacteristically sentimental and ends our conversations with "I love you" which initially shocked the heck out of me. I nearly fell off my chair that first time, but quickly recovered and reciprocated with a "hey, I love you, too!" awkward outburst. I now expect her to end our conversations this way, and am ready to say it back without sounding stunned. Sometimes I get a little tearful after hanging up the receiver, a little happy/sad at Liza's subtle transformation, and I can almost feel my Mom smiling from wherever she is.
My phone conversations with Elle are a different matter. She's always been one to wear her emotions on her sleeve, and whenever we talk it always takes the tone of a Church confession. It's a two way street, this bearing of the soul. I seem to tell her things that I normally wouldn't say aloud, and I'm often surprised at what comes out of my mouth. But lately I've been holding back. Elle still bears her soul, talking about her "last times" with Mom, her sleepless nights, and her overwhelming sense of regret. I listen and try to chime in, tell her that she's not alone. But I'll go no further.
I listen to Elle laugh about watching a video that her son Michael made before my parents went on vacation a few months ago. It was the last time Elle saw her alive--well, alive in the way that she wanted to remember her. In the hospital, my Mom was not the kooky, funny, loving person that shows up in the video. She was unresponsive and getting colder by the hour, a dreadful promise of what we could never have again. And when Elle talks about watching the video a second and maybe third time, something inside me wants to break open, and it hurts to keep it from doing so. She can hear my Mom's voice, she can almost imagine her in the same room with her. And I want to tell Elle to stop, not because I think she's wrong for trying to bring my Mom back from the dead with her thoughts, but because I wish that I could do the same thing.
Whatever Elle has been telling me in our phone conversations is what I've been feeling but not wanting to face. The last times, the sleepless nights, the deep ocean of regret that sits inside me. Instead of allowing her--or anyone else for that matter--to see what my grief has been like these past 5 weeks, I sit with myself and shore up the walls, not letting anything in--or out.