It is not incorrect to say that, for years, the way my family grieved my mother was to avoid acknowledging her altogether. It is not incorrect to say that we hardly invoked her name or told stories about her.
Shortly after college, my father, Caroline, and Steph descended upon my cleared-out group house in Washington, D.C., for Thanksgiving. In my childhood home, my father’s stacks of clutter multiplied until they overtook the space that my mother had so carefully cultivated; it crowded my sisters and me out. I reacted efficiently, diligently, which is to say that I pretended that trips to Steph’s apartment in Rhode Island or Caroline’s in California were just a chance to visit another part of the country.
We’d decided to exchange Christmas gifts a month early, since we wouldn’t be together in December.
Caroline, dressed in a key-lime-green onesie, handed Steph and me sets that matched hers.
“They’re actually really comfortable,” she said. She smiled toothily and pulled up the hood to show us the outfit’s ears, her faded highlights a spray of lavender around her face.
The onesies were from the kids’ section, which was fine for us since everyone in our family, including our father, was small and roughly the same size. Steph and I donned ours, and I was grateful for anything to distract from how cobbled together holidays had become since my mother’s passing. My sisters and I stood on my front stoop to take a photo of us modeling our new outfits. In the photo, Caroline and I jam our hands into our pockets while Steph is wedged between us, her arms thrust into the air. We look so much like sisters, not just because, in this image, we are dressed identically, but because the ways we hold our mouths enthusiastically, wryly, are the same.
Afterward, Steph passed out slender boxes.
“I thought this might be good for everybody to open last,” Steph said. There was a question in her voice, a preemptive apology that made me tense. Read More