Not Deleted

I could attribute the start of this blog to a bad idea: it wasn’t too smart to help De-facto rip up that old carpet, especially just after running a 10K race. When my back went out, the doctor ordered bed rest and I was horizontal with my laptop for three weeks. To relieve the nerve-wracking stress of the Obama vs. McCain race, I scoured the internet in search of political perspectives and predictions and in doing so I learned the protocol of the blogosphere. I forged further, beyond political content, and encountered a whole variety of blogs: some charming, some ridiculous, some hilarious, some rife with typos, some even murderous (death-by-adverbs). Others poignant and personal, wordsmithed with beauty and vulnerability that moved me to tears, making made me wonder, could this be a place to play, in the genre of the literary blog?

There was much to learn about hosted and self-hosted sites, themes and widgets, plug-ins and API and php and CSS style sheets. I remember staying up until three in the morning while De-facto and the girls snored in their beds. I’d be typing away or adjusting the sidebar or figuring out how to configure the RSS feed. I experienced the pleasure that comes with feeling your brain grow – learning to do something new, something modern, even. The first post was daunting. Few people read it, and surely nobody discovered it on their own. But now I was out there. I was self-publishing.

My mother visited us in Paris just a few weeks later. She sat at the dining room table and read through the five or six posts I had already published. It’s not easy to watch someone read your work, but she smiled and laughed at all the right places. (You can count on your mother for that.) I had just added the subscription option, so she was one of the first to sign up. Each time I’d post, she’d get the notice and click through, right away. She did so religiously, and though she never contributed to the comments section, she never failed to write me a message after reading a post.

During that same visit, my mother was out of breath, a lot. When I put her in the taxi to the airport, I made her promise to call a doctor as soon as she got home. She did, and that’s how she discovered that she had leukemia.

She lived much longer than the doctors predicted, and with a heightened awareness of each day. This made her appreciate every little thing, including each installment of my blog. I realized, from the messages she sent after every post, that she was coming to know me in a different way. She had never been one to ask questions that would provoke too emotional a response and she was sometimes inclined to change the subject if what I volunteered was too deep. But the blog changed that, or maybe her perspective shifted when she knew she was dying – whatever – it all came together to create a bond between us that lived in the lines of every post, a long story about Short-pants and Buddy-roo and my life in Paris, told bit by bit. It was not what I had intended, but the blog had become a vehicle for a final narrative from me to her. And she read it. She read every word.

Months went by and I did not mention her illness. It felt too private, and it was hers, not mine. But I knew it would help me to write about it, so I sent a draft of a post to my mother to ask her permission, which she gave readily. Later, during those icy winter days of her hospice, I wrote about her dying and about her death. I wrote about my grief. I wrote about cleaning out the rooms of the house she inhabited for over 50 years, and gradually emptying the memories of my childhood. I wrote about it all, right here, on this blog.

Last summer, a thoughtful friend posed the question: Did I have someone in particular in mind when I sat down to write a post, or was I thinking about a group of readers? He blogs about rebuilding a vespa, and when he’s writing a post, he said, he has his dad in mind. I told him about how I’d come to realize that I was writing to my mother, but that now that she was gone, I really didn’t know to whom I was writing anymore.

“What makes you think you couldn’t you still be writing it to her?” he said.

~ ~ ~

After she died, I directed all the email from her server into my computer so I could unsubscribe her from the e-newsletters and mailing lists, and catch any stray correspondence that needed closure. For months I monitored her mail, fascinated by what came in to her inbox, an eclectic mix of investment briefs, political news, digests from the various on-line groups she’d joined. Sometime last fall we cancelled her email service, but I couldn’t bring myself to delete her account. It’s grayed-out and receives no messages. But I’ve left it there.

Her email address remains on my subscriber list, too. Each time I publish, a notification is unsuccessfully sent to her no-longer-in-service account, disappearing somewhere in the ether. Whenever I’m doing housekeeping tasks in the dashboard of my blog, I tell myself I need to remove her from that list. But I’ve not yet found a way to put a check in the box before her name and press delete.

Losing friends and family has stages of heartache. Who knew that deleting an email address and a phone number and those last electronic points of contact would be so hard to do? I know there are legacy services that save all your on-line profile data and passwords, so those surviving you can easily shut down your active participation in the world wide web. But that doesn’t help friends and family who still have that data stored in address books and friend-lists. Maybe there needs to be an electronic cemetery, where we can drag and drop those details with some ceremony. Then we could send flowers and e-cards. Think of it: a whole new industry of condolence e-commerce.

~ ~ ~

It was a year ago today that my mother died.

I thought about her a lot last weekend, marking the entire series of “lasts” that preceded her final breath. Those slow, quiet, waiting days are forever fixed in my memory. It so happens that my sister was in Paris, so we raised a glass together. My brother and I spoke on the phone. He said it seems like it all happened just yesterday, and at the same time, wasn’t it forever ago? Friends of my mother sent gentle emails; I’m stunned that they remember the date as precisely as we do. I wonder, have they deleted her email from their address books yet?

This blog, it turns out, has been a little bit of medicine. It set me to writing, on a regular basis. It refreshed the parched pages of my journal. It buoyed my dampened, unpublished spirits. In a way I never expected, it drew my mother closer to me during the last months of her life, and it keeps her near now, because I can still write to her, and I do. She’s gone, but not deleted.

11 Responses to “Not Deleted”

  • Elizabeth Marie Says:

    Oh. Wow. This is beautiful. So beautiful, you’ve rendered me speechless.

  • Amanda Says:

    Not deleted leads to utterly moved. So glad you started a blog that would create the rivulets that would lead to us knowing one another.

    I adore you.

  • Virginia Gowen Says:

    Oh, you have reduced me to tears again. This is so beautiful, Thank you.

  • Tracy Says:

    Thank you. That was beautiful.

  • Mamie Says:

    I am sorry for your loss but I also wanted to say that it is a beautiful thing that this space gave you a way to breathe new life into your time with your mother. She is part of it in a way that cannot be lost. Thank you for sharing these words. a

  • marketingtomilk Says:

    What a resonant, special post for me to read today.
    Last Tuesday my mother was diagnosed with Lung cancer. We are awaiting her full prognosis next week, but it is likely to be poor.
    I want to read you posts about your mother, and will do so when i am stronger.


  • Andi Says:

    I have never deleted her out of my email address book. It’s as if I’m still expecting that once or twice a year update from her. And I agree with your brother, it seems it was just last week, tho also long ago. She is still so loved and missed.

  • Julie Olson Says:

    This post really touched my heart. I was just telling some HLAA folks yesterday, February 8th, about why I’ve chosen not to attend the national HLAA convention this summmer. And I got tears in my eyes. There are a couple of reasons but the fact that I lost my favorite room mate is the one that clinched my decision. We always joked about those conventions being a bit like ‘summer camp’. We came for fellowship and friends mostly. We shared pictures of our children and grand children and enjoyed talking about their adventures. After I left the national board of HLAA, she remained my closest connection to HLAA at the national level. I didn’t realize that it was exactly one year ago yesterday that your mother left us. Maybe she is there somewhere reading all thise blogs and e-mails. Last week I deleted a whole bunch of old e-mails from my laptop. I couldn’t bring myself to delete those I receive from your mother during that last year of her life. I’m not sad, I’m sentimental. Some people come into your life in ways and for reasons that are so unusual. Hearing loss, which is not something I would wish on anyone, has enriched my life with special friendships I would never had enjoyed otherwise. I hope she’s up there with the best of them tipping a good glass of something as she watches her children and grandchildren, good friends go on with their lives. I started writing memoirs and blogging a year ago to relieve stress in my life thanks to the trials and tribulations of family life! You have inspired me.

  • magpie Says:

    I’m a little weepy here.

    My mother loved reading my blog (though she didn’t comment). And she told people about it, and she was tickled when I wrote about her.

    I know just how you feel.

  • Elizabeth Says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. I’m always so eager to read what you write and I think this post helps me realize why. First, I am in love with Paris, so that always keeps me interested. But, most importantly, when you write about your mother, it always reminds me of my grandmother. I have never put into words, not on a computer or on paper, how much she meant to me and how much I miss her, or how much I think of her every single day even though more than eight years have passed since she left.

    …and my comment has to end there or I’m going to start crying at work.

    Merci, encore.

  • geekymummy Says:

    What a lovely post. My mum and dad read my blog too, and send emails rather than leave comments. So very sorry for your loss.

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