The old woman’s steel grey eyes did not give any clues as to what was wrong. In her tiny, transparent, fragile hands, she clutched a crystal crucifix, attached to a string of tiny white pearls. She gently touched each one as her thin lips quietly whispered the prayers of the Holy Rosary. Forgiveness of oneself is much too difficult. Focus on the beads Caroline, repeat over and over the poetry drills of redemption, from your youth. This always gave her spirit rest. No one will know. No one will ever know.
Born at the turn of the century in a large northeast city bordering the Great Lakes, her mother was a controlling, upwardly seeking, jealous, religious, woman and Caroline was her only child. Her kind, loving father worked as a baker and his beautiful, shy daughter was the love of his life. He doted on his only child, spending as much time as he possibly could with her, but his wife’s jealousy of the special relationship the two had, was something she became unable to control. She would do anything to make her daughter unhappy. Creating reasons for her to not see him became her mission. “You will take the lessons Caroline, your piano teacher arrives tomorrow.” How quickly she became accomplished at whatever her mother asked her to do. This made her mother more angry and controlling. Her mother eyed the local convent for Agnes to aspire to. Her cousin had chosen the path to become a devout Catholic Nun, and with the continual prodding of her mother, Caroline too had thoughts of joining the order. Religious study for Caroline, however, made her realize that there would be so many changes in her life, and she had blossomed into a beautiful, dark-haired, petite young woman of 16. That year she met, fell in love, and embraced with abandonment a handsome young man, and in an afternoon of youth filled passion, completely forgot herself, along with all the mores of maternal criticism and fear that had always ruled her life.
No one will ever know. Taken to a remote location outside of the city, Caroline spent the next six months in reflection and prayer. “A woman at the church, with other young children has agreed to take this child, and raise the girl as one of her own. No one, including the child will ever know that you are her mother.” At the time, this seemed a horrible way to continue living, however, she would still be able to watch her child from a distance, as long as she would never speak of it. The domination by her own mother overwhelmed her, and her fears, compounded by the religious teachings of a lifetime, made her accept the one thing that even 93 years of life would not cleanse from her memory. No other children were ever born to her, and the unspoken acceptance of internal guilt, was the only way, with her religious, fear based, upbringing, to keep on living. The hidden secret of a lifetime.
Alone, in an elder facility home. Forgetting who you really are, and what you have experienced is impossible. All life’s secrets come to dwell with you. The child matured, became a young mother herself, and as your friend, shared many of her happiest moments with you. She was always your young friend. You could never tell her who you really were to her. Could she have known? She visited you almost every year, driving or flying miles to spend a weekend or whole week with you playing your favorite games, taking you for drives and walks. Being a dear friend to you.
I can still remember the day you told me you wished you had your own daughter. To me, you were always my grandmother. When my Grandfather married you, I was only 8 years old. You had taught me to knit, cook, plant roses, and how to enjoy afternoon tea. A late whisper by my Grandfather, told me that there had long ago been a rumor that the woman who was your good friend was really your daughter. I questioned it in my mind, but could never speak of it to you. Once Grandfather had died, I visited you regularly in the old folks home where you did not want to be. You had reached the end of a life you no longer wanted to live. Somewhere in your life the lies became so real that living seemed much worse than death and forgetting forever. Going through photographs that you had saved one day, with you, I remember my shock at seeing the photograph of your friend that told me the truth, that she indeed was your daughter. My eyes as an artist saw the photo and I knew, I saw you. The resemblance, as I remembered you at a younger age, was, for me, the answer to why for all the years I had known you, there had always been a strange pushing away of those who loved you, and an unspoken anguish to your spirit. I suddenly felt such sadness well up inside of me for you both. How could you possibly hide that wonderful truth till death?
When they found Caroline on a cold winter day outside of the facility, and on the ground shaking after a fall, dressed in her good clothes, hat, and holding her empty purse on that very dark night, she told the nurses who found her she was on her way to visit her good friend in the Northeast.
Her wonderful friend.
Her only child.
To say goodbye?
We will never know. She died a few days later, at age 93.
No one will ever know.
They say that at this time of year the spirits of those we have loved come close. I honor you, and wish you well on your continued journey.