Once upon a time, this would have been Annalee-Mas

This seems to be the month when I am writing about the great women who raised me. Last week I wrote about my extraordinary and eccentric Aunt Rose Mary.

Well, in another era, tomorrow would have marked the start of Annalee-Mas. Annalee-Mas was the season surrounding my mother Annalee’s birthday. Her birthday was not until April 3rd, but we were expected to celebrate it beginning around the first of the month. On a good year, she would make it last a week. Think Hanukkah, in terms of stretching out the presents; think Christmas in that she expected a whole lot of ribbons and bows.photo

Now, this makes her sound greedy – the Veruca Salt at Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. She wasn’t. She just wanted excuses to party. She was actually insanely generous: If my brother and I finished opening our Christmas presents before early afternoon, the holiday in her mind was an absolute failure.

My mother died almost two decades ago now. That means she never saw anyone twerk. She never downloaded a virus from the Internet. She never tried to find an old college roommate on facebook. Her cell phone, when she died, was not quite the size of a walkie-talkie, but she sure as heck didn’t carry it around with her: As I recall, she thought a call on it was only slightly less expensive than being a space tourist. It sat in her car for emergencies.

Also, it was only a phone. No apps. No Instagram. No texting.

She died years before the two World Trade Towers were destroyed by terrorists, which would have left her devastated. She died years before the election of President Obama, which would have left her thrilled. She died years before almost all of her friends did, and over a decade and a half before her husband – my father.

Moreover, she never got to know any of her grandchildren, including my wife’s and my daughter. Our daughter was 20 months old when her grandmother died.

And yet as April 3rd nears, I still have moments now and then when I have to remind myself that it’s not Annalee-Mas. There’s no one to visit, no one to call. No one to shop for. The sensation is not what I imagine a phantom pain must feel like – the twinge where a limb once was. It’s not an ache and it’s certainly not grief. I am decades beyond grieving.photo

Rather, it’s more like a very gentle regret. My mother’s and my last conversation was a cataclysmic dysfunctional mess: She was dying of lung cancer in a hospital room and I was waffling between whether to catch my flight home that day to Vermont and return to Florida in two weeks as planned, or stay. (The doctors were sure she wasn’t about to die in the foreseeable future. They were positive. But my mom sure fooled them. Was gone in three days.) In any case, while she and my father were arguing over cough syrup dosage – which is truly rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic when you’re in the final stage of lung cancer – my indecision finally got to her and she snapped at me to go. Just go, she said. Go. So I did.

But she knew I loved her and I knew she loved me. So the regret is not about things I wish we had said or done, or not said or not done. The regret is not about leaving Florida that morning. (Oh, hell, maybe it is. But I have always striven mightily to repress that little notion.)

I like to believe the regret, pure and simple, is this: By dying as young as she did, my mother may have been spared such nightmares as 9/11, but there was far more that she missed that she would have loved. Far more. There are so many people she would have adored, and who would absolutely have adored her – including my daughter and my niece. She would have dressed them as Ralph Lauren models from the time they were three.

And so even though the week around her birthday hasn’t been celebrated by Bohjalians in decades, this week I will once again smile at the sky for my mother.

Merry Annalee-Mas.

(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on March 30, 2014. The paperback of Chris’s novel, “The Light in the Ruins,” arrives in three weeks.)light in the ruins pb

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.