Monday, December 27, 2010
It strikes me as odd now that I didn't expect the news I received when I returned her call. Her voice on the message was neutral, and since I'd only heard it one time before, I didn't have a frame of reference for reading anything into her tone. I've wondered if some part of me already knew, and was protecting me.
"This is Shirley, Kathleen's adoptive mom. Would you call me as soon as you get this?"
I remember thinking that it was interesting for her to be calling the Monday before Christmas. Maybe she wanted me to be a part of a surprise of some kind for Kathleen. Or maybe Kathleen had ended up back in the hospital and wanted me by her side badly enough to ask her mom to call me. Maybe even one of Kathleen's children was ready for contact, and Shirley was the messenger.
I called back right away, my voice cheerfully friendly as I said, "What's up?" still thinking it both odd and cool that Shirley was reaching out to me. Shirley, the adoptive mother of my daughter, Kathleen. Shirley, the woman I love, fear and owe an unpayable debt to.
"Kathleen took her life on Friday. I thought you'd want to know."
The human body is an amazing entity. I could feel mine flood with feeling that was quickly surrounded by a blessed blankness. Questions flooded that space. The ones you would expect, and many more I've been holding all these years of watching my daughter reach toward me and pull back before my reaching toward her could complete the connection.
I asked as many as I thought I could and still respect the great loss of the woman who had spent the last forty years trying to keep our daughter safe from herself and (in Shirley's words) the profound and insidious illness that she had battled for many years.
It was hard to stay with the conversation even though I wanted to know everything. My mind kept bouncing away from our words to another phone call. The first one from Kathleen sixteen years before - the call I'd been hoping for for twenty-four years. The miracle of hearing the voice of the woman I'd relinquished at birth and had been told it would be as though I'd never had her. She was no longer mine, but from that point forward, someone else's daughter.
Except she was always my daughter, too. Every birthday I saw her at that age in other children and wondered about her life. Every milestone I saw in my students, my nieces, characters in movies, I wondered about hers. I looked for her in every chocolate-skinned, curly-haired smiling girl who crossed my path.
And even after I met her and fell in love with the reality of her, as wounded as she was, and she could not deliver what we both so desperately wanted, I waited and hoped and prayed for her healing and the possibility of a real relationship with her. I stood with open arms and a mother's heart and a fierce desire to somehow lighten her burden.
My daughter is gone. Just turned forty in July. The mother of three children she loved. A woman much loved by many. Beautiful. Bright. Kind. Funny. Haunted. Mentally ill.
She left me without goodbye, without ever allowing the relationship she initiated reunion to have with me, without ever really feeling how deeply I love her.
I'm surprised at the depth and strength of this loss. I can't imagine how her other mother is managing, except she has Kathleen's children, both to be strong for and to turn her love toward. I have what I've always had: love and sadness. It's just magnified and without possibility of being anything else. What I also have is a family and friends who accept that I am a mother who has lost her child - for the second and last time - and who hold me gently in my grieving.
I am so sorry there was no way any of us could give Kathleen the power to feel that very same unjudging and embracing love, to feel her value, to feel anything that would have allowed her to stay.