It’s been over half a century since the chilly Halloween afternoon when my mother took her last breath and kicked away the stool that stood between life and death, the known and the unknown. My sisters and I were at a costume party nearby. We came home in the darkening dusk and found her, but at ages two, three, and four, we didn’t grasp the significance of the unresponsive body we encountered hanging by a rope from the basement beam. We didn’t know what death was.
When our father came home, he promptly had us whisked away, without explanation, never to return to what was our first home, never to grieve with him and say farewell to the woman who gave us life. In the nine years he had left on this earth, I never once heard him say her name, Mary Agnes. It wasn’t until about 25 years after her demise that I began to own my feelings about the elusive Mary Agnes and to integrate the abandoned girl inside of me with the stranger I had to become to carry on. It’s been a long process.
Losing someone you love is always difficult, no matter what your age. The grief and longing, so emotionally jarring and even debilitating, can be triggered by anything—the whiff of lavender bath salts, the sight of autumn leaves falling outside a window, the feel of damp wool, the taste of chocolate milk. But to be baby-soft and just starting to piece the world together and to have those in charge of your upbringing do everything in their power to erase the very existence of someone you loved dearly can fracture a soul. In my adolescence it almost drove me insane.
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