“Hey, I know this might be weird, but your mom’s profile posted on my wall the other day. I think someone hacked her account. I thought you should know, just in case you were planning on deactivating it or anything. Sorry to bring it up, but hope you’re well!”
I’ve received multiple messages like this over the years. Friends who are doing what they think is best, who, I’m sure, are a little creeped out to receive a message from my dead mom. I can sense the “elephant in the room”, the question that is implied: “Why haven’t you deleted her page by now?” A subtle nudge (in case I’ve forgotten) that this should have been done a long time ago.
My mom did not leave much behind; there were no parting prayers or gifts, no final words. I left the hospital the night before she died with my alarm set to drive back the next morning. Instead, I’ve resorted to clinging tightly to things that others would describe as disposable: pieces of paper that state “Don’t forget bread!!!”, phone numbers on sticky notes, old hair ties, half-used tubes of lipstick, and, oddly, her Facebook profile. They’re souvenirs of our life before things were upended, before grief became the new member at the dinner table forcing us to take care of ourselves sometimes at the expense of others.
The longest stretch I’ve been able to keep her account deactivated was one week. There’s not much there: a handful of pictures, some statuses, her posts about high scores on Farmville, a message to me with no context that states “magda you’re smarter than that when are you going to learn”. It holds nothing that needs to be saved, nothing that holds any sentimental value. Then, as it usually goes, one night I am drunk or bored or it’s her birthday and I scroll through the three posts she made before she passed, the five profile pictures she posted (two of them the same), the friends that wrote on her wall years after she was already gone: “You said hi to me yesterday”. I am overwhelmed with an eerie sense of calm. Without trying to, her profile has become a museum of who she was before she got sick: the person that was concerned with her weight and loved wine and Grey’s Anatomy. I have proof that she was here, that she existed, that she played Farmville and celebrated birthdays, that she was like any other parent on Facebook: a little invasive and a little endearing. It left things preserved as if she’d simply disappeared one day into thin air and was eventually going to come back. I can remember the mother I knew for sixteen years rather than the one I met in the eight months before her death: confused, angry, bald and reserved- someone I feel guilty admitting I didn’t particularly like.
In the same way that her personality shifted before and after the diagnosis, it began to happen to our family at different times and speeds. It occurred slower for me (or, I tried to slow it down). Over the years, portions of the Magda I was before she got sick started disappearing. Seven years later, I feel like I’m standing at the edge of a battlefield after a long and violent war: I see parts of myself I thought were integral to my identity lying still on the ground. There’s the people I could have been if she were still alive, the Magda that I’ve tried to find again in so many different ways, the one with more optimism, with less sadness, with more self-respect and a different kind of ambition. Things feel stunted, dulled, dead. I’m angry that I cannot meet people as the Magda Before. I think she was a better person. It’s when I have these small tastes of that life: a sticky note, a conversation with my father, her old profile, that I feel, even if only for a second, that she’s back again. No amount of drunk, high, food or boy has ever gotten me closer.
I’ve kept that struggle private, for the most part, because I’ve only recently begun to understand that she’s not someone I will return to. That girl, the one I was and thought I would remain, left me a long time ago. I’ve tried to find her by denying who I am now, by pretending I’m stronger, more capable, less sad, less angry. I’ve rebelled against losing the Before by trying to destroy the After: smoking, starving, filling myself with people and food and possessions. That’s not who I am. That’s never who I’ve been. The battle is finished. I’m no longer running from her or denying that this is where I’m at. I’m trying to meet her halfway, give her a shot. She will serve her purpose and leave one day too. I already feel that happening.
I’ve wondered too much about why I choose to write about my mother so publicly, why there are things that I feel I can say on paper that I haven’t been able to speak about with my own family or friends, why it seems so necessary, so much a thing I continue to come back to even when I feel like I’ve exhausted it from every angle possible. I believe it’s because I want to keep these small pieces of them around – my mother, and the person I used to be (the less jaded, less angry, Before Magda). I want, so badly, to return to the life I knew best, the one where my mother posted that it was a “beautiful, sunny day:)”, the one where she commented “life is good !!!” -, a testament to the kind of person she was, the kind of joy I hope to (genuinely) experience again, the one I scroll to read about when I feel most lost.