I Miss Not Being Able To Witness My Mom Witnessing The Things I've Experienced Since Her Death

Damon Young

I began writing this at 10:30am.

Three years ago at this time, I was home, going through my morning ritual — which consists of some combination of working, showering, getting dressed, eating, and walking the dog — a bit slower than usual. A deliberate and intentional slowness because I knew that when my routine was complete, I'd have to drive 15 minutes to my parents' house in Penn Hills, where my mom's lifeless body would still be in the hospital bed delivered into their living room a couple weeks earlier. I'd spent the last four days bracing myself for hearing that my mom passed away, which is what my dad called to tell me at (roughly) 8:30am that morning. And then, after receiving that call — where my dad also told me to take my time and finish my usual routine before coming to the house — I transitioned into preparing to see her, to walk through that front door knowing that my mom was gone and the body she used to inhabit would be waiting for me there.

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As I think about that day today, my thoughts often segue to the thousand or so days between October 18th 2013 and October 18th 2016. And I think about the specific way I miss my mom. I did not (and do not) need her the same way I did when I was eight or 18 or even 28. I loved her, of course, and I wanted to spend as much time around her — talking to her, watching TV with her, driving to the mall with her — as I could. But I was no longer dependent on her. And while I miss not being able to call her or email her or ask for her advice or eat her french toast or just hear her voice, I miss these things because we enjoyed them and she was one of my favorite people. Not because I need(ed) to experience these things to function.

What I miss even more about her, however, is more abstract. I miss her not being able to witness and be a part of my life today. Specifically (and selfishly) I miss not being able to witness her witnessing the things I've experienced since her death. I miss that she missed my wedding. And while she got a chance to know my wife when she was still my girlfriend, I miss her not being able to experience having a daughter-in-law. I miss what she'd say and how she'd feel about all of this hair growing on my head and face. I miss not being able to witness how happy the success I'm having professionally would make her. She loved Melissa Harris Perry and Michelle Obama, watched CNN faithfully, read EBONY and GQ regularly, and loved her Kindle. I miss not being able to watch her watch me on Melissa Harris Perry and CNN, I miss not being able to experience her reactions to the pieces I write in EBONY and GQ, and I miss not being able to buy her the Michelle Obama anthology I have a chapter in. Before I started writing this, I sent my agent a couple last minute suggestions to the pitch letter she attached to my now completed book proposal. And I miss my mom not being able to go into Barnes & Noble in a year or two and see her son's book on their shelves.

But more than any of this, I miss her not being able to meet my daughter, her granddaughter — the perfect and hilarious and fearless 10-month-old named after her. I miss her not being able to witness how my daughter is turning into an octopus. Her progressively-less-short-but-still-very-damn-short limbs touching and grabbing and pulling and reaching for everything within her field of vision. I miss not telling her that my daughter's favorite word right now is "stop," and I miss not sharing the joke I told my wife that this must mean she's already a feminist. I miss not possessing any memories or even pictures of them together. I miss them so much that I invent them. Sitting somewhere within my brain is an entire library of fabricated experiences and artificial acts. I've pictured how it would look to see my mom holding my daughter, and I've taken and stored multiple snapshots of that manufactured moment. Also within those archives are the words my mom would have said to me after seeing her for the first time, the advice she would have given me about parenthood (and the times I would have been annoyed by that advice), the image of her affixing bows and berets to my daughter's hair, the memories of the act of driving to her house to drop my daughter off for babysitting, and the experience of my mom handing her back to me after I pick her back up.

Hi mom! Meet your granddaughter, the feminist octopus.
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There are moments I forget my mom is gone. They're ethereal though, as they always occur either during an especially vivid dream or in the first few seconds after waking from it, when floating in that subterraneous space between consciousness and unconsciousness. I like to tell myself that this is where she exists now. That during those few and fleeting instances of mindless cognizance and transient hyperalertness, those invented memories, regardless of how major or mundane, are real.

And on days like today — where the thought of her being and existing is less abstract and more material; so material that I can literally feel it — I believe it.

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About the author

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB and a columnist for GQ.com. His debut memoir in essays, What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins), is available for preorder.