Mom: When did my brother Bill die?
Me: Bill died in 1990.
Mom: When did Bud die?
Me: In 1978.
Mom: When did Bob die?
Me: In 1983.
Mom: When did I die?
Me: I don’t know, mom. When did you die?
She laughs the minute she realizes her mistake. But for the most part, there’s no humor in the sibling death conversation. She misses her nine brothers and sisters, all of whom are gone.
“I can’t believe I’m the only one left,” she says. “I’m all alone.”
I remind her that her three daughters, and four grandchildren, are all still alive.
But it’s not the same.
Many days, she doesn’t remember that her siblings or her parents have all died, and she asks me, one by one, if they’re still alive. I don’t lie.
More often than not, she’s surprised. Sometimes, she starts to cry, as if she’s mourning the loss for the first time.
“This is so strange,” she says. “Does this happen to other people?” Since she doesn’t remember their deaths or their funerals, it’s as if her family members died and were buried behind her back.
Or, like she’s a small child who went to bed one night with a family intact and woke up the next morning an orphan.