Broke in Philly

With Love: A Philly mom says goodbye to her hero — the mother she hadn’t seen in a year

“I wonder whether your life was everything you wanted. I hope it was at least close.”

A creamer the author inherited from her mother

A creamer the author inherited from her mother

With Love Philly

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With Love: Messages to those lost to COVID

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The tragedy of COVID is huge but also personal. There were many people lost to whom we never even got to say goodbye. The “With Love” project from the Resolve Philly reporting collaborative offers a chance for closure — and a chance to tell the stories of those who’ve died. This letter originally appeared on WithLovePhilly.com.


Mommy,

I was on my way to teach our community weekly outdoor Zumba class when I got the call that you had died. I hadn’t even known you’d been sick! The news of your terrible suffering was almost worse than facing the fact of losing you, at least at first.

I had no choice but to go ahead and lead the expectant participants who had already gathered. Shock and numbness somehow made this possible. Lurking grief made it necessary.

Of course, the loss became reality over the next days and weeks. I was consumed by anger: For your safety, I had avoided seeing you for nearly a year! You got sick anyway! And, apparently, horribly so! Why, oh why, hadn’t I just ignored recommendations and visited you anyway? I didn’t even get to say goodbye.

I had stepped away decades ago, in response to the family’s refusal to responsibly manage a child abuse situation, and in recognition of the dangerous maladjustments and flaws that had long defined us and been embraced by our family as normal. But after many years of separation, as a mother myself, I had to admit that nothing could be crueler than causing parents to go to their graves in the absence of connection to their children. I am grateful that I was wise enough to make the decision to recreate a relationship with you and Daddy in recent years. While neither acknowledgement of nor amnesty for atrocities effected was part of our new association, at least we got to converse a bit and enjoy some precious time together, most memorably an outing to Chanticleer in Wayne.

Since Daddy’s passing a few years ago, I got to connect with you even more meaningfully. For the first time in my life, I called you my hero: A mother raising five youngsters, and the hardest worker I’ve ever known, you made it all look easy and welcome, a feat I never mastered while parenting my own three children. I’m glad I got to tell you that.

I want to thank you for inviting me to share, in these last couple of years, my paltry-in-consequence-but-huge-in-personal-triumph accomplishments by way of posted video recordings as I grew in my experience as a Zumba instructor. Many times I felt as gratified as a toddler seeking encouragement and praise by shouting, “Mommy, look at me, look at me!”

Now, every few days I find I am struck surprised, as if for the first time, by the sudden realization that you are gone. There is still numbness and shock. The grief no longer lurks — it looms.

Perhaps above everything else, losing you has made me ponder every child’s loss of her mother. It’s something that almost all children will experience, and whatever their relationship with their mother, it might be the most profound experience of their life! This was actually surprising, new information for me! I made a point to connect with my children about this after you died. It remains an ongoing conversation. I’m grateful for my harsh education and the opportunity to act on it.

Mommy, there are no words prodigious enough to express my gratitude to you for bringing me into this world and for all your efforts to raise me from childhood to adulthood.

I wonder whether your life was everything you wanted. I hope it was at least close.

I wish I could have said goodbye.

JLS

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