I thought a lot about what Ms. Roiphe wrote and, of course, it makes sense. I have often repeated to people that when my mother died, I felt that she and I had connected and said our goodbyes. I described it as “we were clear with each other, we were confident in our love.”
But I didn’t regret not grilling her with answers to my questions. Of course I had many. Of course I wanted to know everything I could about her, her life, and our relationship, since I knew I wouldn’t have another chance. But is that really the right time? Not in my opinion. There’s no right time to have that conversation (except maybe right now). But if you haven’t, is the right time when your parent is leaving you? Frankly, I don’t think so. I’d like to think what my mother wanted from me on her deathbed was thanks and assurance that I would be fine. Like what Ms. Roiphe said about wishing she had reassured her father that he didn’t need to worry about her or her daughter. I think my mother wanted to die peacefully knowing that the people she loved would remember her, would love her, would appreciate all she did for us, and would go on to have happy, fulfilled lives. Isn’t that what parents want for their children? Isn’t that what we want for any of our loved ones? Isn’t that what I could have given my dying mother? The peace she wanted.
Before my mother died and indeed, before my father died many years later, I made sure I asked many of the questions about their lives. I had more and I didn’t get all the answers. But I got what I needed. Questions still come up, many years after both of my parents died. And sadly, I will not be able to get those answers. It’s not like being able to uncover a new room in King Tut’s burial chamber. I won’t know how my mother and my wife would have loved each other because they never got the chance to meet. Or what she really thought when she was on stage singing at the Palace Theater. Or what it was about my father that drove him to go to night school to become a lawyer, despite being a high school drop out. Or what it is about me that comes from them.
But I do know that the last time my father and I spoke, just a couple weeks before he died, he told me that he was at peace. He used the word “content.” I hugged him then and told him I was happy to hear that. He had seen me grow up. He had seen that my brother and I had created good lives for ourselves. He really was content. We had achieved, what Mr. Roiphe called “clarity.”