19 years…. It’s a long time, Mom…. So much has changed… Let’s see, you’d love cell phones. Seriously… The idea of being able to connect at any time with your daughters, and now two magnificent grandsons, would be like magic of the best sort to you. And once you got a computer, the internet would never be the same… I wonder if you’d blog? It would likely be a fascinating read.. Scary, but never boring.
It is an odd way to start this letter to you, but it feels right. You were an amazing, intense, damaged, and loving woman. All the best parts of me are from you: my intelligence, sense of humor, love of reading, nurturing heart… Thank You
You went through hell… and yes, you took me with you… and Faith… Some of my most vivid memories are terrible ones, ones where the police are dragging you away, where your voice rings in my ears; angry, raw, and slightly unhinged.
However, they are more than balanced out by lovely, if bittersweet, moments. Christmas’ when, despite the being in depths of depression, you dragged yourself to Caldors (anyone else remember Caldors?) and brought back a few gifts, placing them in their plastic beige and brown bags under a Charlie Brown Tree.
When you sang silly songs, and danced. When we all cuddled up in your bed and watched TV. When you told me, over and over, that I was beautiful, that I was smart, that I was an amazing singer, and that you were so proud of me…
You spent a lot of time in hospitals… Treatment centers, really. And Faith, your other treasured daughter, once asked me, “Doesn’t freak you out that everyone in the mental hospital knows everything about you?”
Yes, when we entered the treatment centers to visit, people would always ask, “And which one of you is the singer? And which one of you is the horseback rider? Your mom sure is proud of you girls.”
You once told me that we were the only thing you ever did right, your only successes.
And it showed, the love and pride you took in us showed. And, despite all the odds, we are doing great, Mom. God, I hope you made sure she knows I got into Harvard. If heaven was really like that community of folks just hanging out on clouds then I bet a whole bunch of the other denizens were like, “Yes, Kathleen, we know. We all know… Your daughter got into Harvard. For heres sake, enough.”
And I hope you see Faith. She is working so hard, to take care of herself finally and to make sure that her son has a life that brings him a far easier entry into the world than she and I had. Don’t feel bad about that. It is what kids are supposed to do: take the best parts of their growing up and improve on the rest. I am not going to lie; it took both of us a long time to get to this point. There was some… stuff to get past. And it took work. And takes work.
And I hope you see these boys. My heart breaks to think that these boys will never know you. You would have been the most amazing grandmother. In fact, you would have taught these boys what it is to be completely adored by someone whose only job is to build you up, support you, and enjoy you. Max, who sometimes sees a world we do not see, told me once that he talked to you. He came into the bathroom where I was showering and said, “Mama, my gramma is here. My dead gramma, Katty. Come and see her.”
In my haste to get out of the shower it is a miracle I did not join you in heaven, but I made it to the living room and Max looked at the couch and said, “Oh. Oh, she’s gone mama. She said she would stay. She said she was your mama and she was dead and that she loved me. She’ll be back.”
Watch over our boys, Jacob and Max Archer.
You always, always said you would be back after you died. “When you look everywhere for your keys and find them someplace you know you already looked, that will be me.” And you’d laugh and laugh.
You would be so happy if you were here now…
Well, that’s probably a lie. A big fat untruth that sounds great, but that everyone who rode the roller coaster ride of Kathleen, Faith, and Charity knows I am creating out of whole cloth.
You would likely be very sad, very sick, and in reality, caring for you would have changed my life and Faith’s life dramatically. Mental illness and addiction were your vicious, unrelenting, and ultimately deadly foes. And this is not a fairy tale. And most of the time in real life the happy ending is brutally elusive.
And so, although I miss you like crazy, and I would give up a lot to be able to see you with your grandchildren, I do not wish you were here. You suffered enough. We suffered enough. I was so sad for such a long time after you died, it lasts until this day and will for as long as I live, but I do not miss the reality of you. I miss the best parts of you, the parts that for the most part died a while before your body. Those are the pieces of you that I hold close to my heart, the stories that I have begun telling your grandson, the moments that make me smile and shake my head, and the parts that I bring into my own parenting. The parts that I know were the true you, before the beasts got you and dragged you down.
Your Death was not a tragedy. Your Life, eaten up by addiction and mental illness, was the tragedy.
I hope I see you again, Mom. I long to hug you and to cuddle up to you. I’d like to sit beside you and watch Max grow after I die, as hard as that is to contemplate, and kvell over him.
I miss you, I love you, and I do not wish you were here. And that is the most loving thing I can think of to say. It is okay that you left us. It was time. You had no more good left to give us and a lifetime of pain for all of us lay ahead. It was time for you to go. And in my heart I know you chose to leave.
And that’s okay too.
Nineteen years today since I got that terrible phone call. Since my beloved friends and Faith’s amazing crew came together to create a funeral. Did you see the reception after the funeral? Did you notice that the girls, who loved you too, Faith’s friends, desperately wanting to do something, offered to go buy the food? Did you notice the chips and dip, cookies, and soda? I know you laughed.
Did you see me fall into the ocean while illegally scattering your ashes off the rocks in Stonington CT? Did you see me, in my business suit and heels, duck under the water over and over trying to get your remains off of me in the freezing cold sea? Linda and I KNOW you were there. We cried with laughter. Then we cried.
Stay near Faith, Mom. Remind her to care for her body and spirit, to do better than you did. Remind her that Life is short and precious and is to be enjoyed.
Stay near me, Mom. Help me to find my way, to move forward, and to stay on my path.
I love you. I miss you. And, truly, I do not wish you were here.