This afternoon I had my first public reading of piece I entered in a local literature, music and arts contest. My essay about my mother’s death in November 2005 won the Barclay Arts Dr. Harry Wilmer award for nonfiction–biography. Dr. Wilmer was a local psychiatrist, a pioneer of group therapy.
Here is the original unedited version from an earlier version of my blog:
“Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure.” The opening lines of Albert Camus’ The Stranger have been hovering in my head since Friday, the day my own mother died–in a nursing home, as does Meursalt’s mother. I don’t want to sound too pretentious, too literary when I say lines from literature come to mind when I learned my mom had died. Actually, Friday morning, when my sister called to tell me, she said, “Mom passed.” That’s how I heard it. That euphemism for finality, implying this death was a temporary thing, not an end, but a movement, a shift from the physcical into the spiritual, an afterlife. These days I’m agnostic–I can’t make up my mind about God, much less an afterlife, although all throughout this weekend, even at the end of the funeral as I stood around talking to cousins I knew and to distant relatives I didn’t know, I kept imagining Mom and Dad (though divorced almost ten years) floating somewhere in the clouds, together, all the past forgiven, Dad foregoing the soul of his second wife to reunite with his first. Happiness would come to them, though it had stopped here on Earth a decade ago. Or, maybe, several decades ago; I can’t be sure.
“Mom passed.” Those words are less blunt than Monsieur Meursalt’s. “Died” is a journalist’s word, and Camus was a journalist; I work in journalism. It’s definite, certain–“Mom died,” final, no more. Supposedly objective and not surrounded by connotations, at least as the journalist uses it, “died” means what it says, says what it means: there is no possibility of an afterlife, no speculation, no nonsensical bullshit; such things are for clergy and philosophers; journalists are neither, they have no opinions either way. Mothers and fathers cannot reunite and forgive and forget. That’s sentimental, and something you cannot prove. But, today, despite my agnosticism, I want to imagine my mother happy and my father happy, that maybe they saw each other in some after-realm, somewhere–maybe on some spiritual facsimile of the train where they met–Mom is able to walk without pain, with no Parkinson’s tremor in her arm; and Dad is able to talk without pain, no cancerous white blood cells overloading his body. I can’t be sure. Only, for now, it’s what I want.