A Letter To Momma

A Letter To Momma

A Story by Asya Kardzhaliyska

A woman deals with the death of her mother by scattering her ashes, in the process--asking herself what it means to be alive and to remember people.


Dear Momma, 

I dreamt I was back at the crematorium again. But I couldn’t see anyone’s face, and you went up in flames�"but you were screaming. I tried to fight my way through the crowd, to tell someone you were alive, but whenever I tried�"the throng would just squeeze in closer until I felt like I was suffocating. I never could reach you in time, and I would wake up, covered in sweat, chest heaving, tears streaming down my face. 

It got to the point where I would do anything to avoid going to sleep. I drank so much coffee that my hands would shake and people thought I had some kind of condition. When my heart started beating so hard I thought it would break my ribcage, I stopped drinking coffee. Instead, I started doing whatever I could find around the house. I would clean the kitchen from top to bottom, I would dust things I’d never dusted before and there was even a fateful evening where I repainted the living room. It didn’t help, but I think you would be proud of my paint job. You always told me I needed a husband because it wasn’t a woman’s place to tinker with the house. But I couldn’t find a husband and the house always needed tinkering. 

So now here I am. Driving through country lanes, watching the pine trees blend into one organism as I try and hold onto you and let you go at the same time. I tried to imagine you driving down these roads too, wondering you ever knew that one of those journeys would be your last. You couldn’t have known that, right? 

I pulled up to my childhood home, creaking and ancient. It stood slightly slanted to one side, almost imperceptibly. I could never be sure if it was actually crooked or if I was just imagining it. 

I no longer had a key, but I knew there would be one beneath the dying flowerpots. This house was technically mine now. I was an only child, and there was no other family to leave this to. I’d put it on the market months ago, but nobody wanted it. Maybe it was because of its remote location, or maybe it was because nobody wanted to live in a home where someone had died.

The first thing that hit me was the musty smell. I tried not to think how strongly the smell reminded me of decay. I tried not to think about how you smelled like that, at the end. 

Everything was dark, and I thought I could see the dust motes floating through the air. Memories I hadn’t thought about in years jostled for my attention, but I didn’t want to remember any of them. My memories of this place had been forever tinted with the fact that this was the place where you had taken your last breath. I knew this was just a bundle of bricks and concrete, but I couldn’t help but feel resentful of it. 

I pushed the door open to my momma’s room. It was painful to be here. Everything looked exactly the same as it had before she’d died. All of her perfume bottles lined up on the vanity. The perfectly made bed, now with a thick layer of dust. I tried to ignore the twisting of my heart as I walked over to the wardrobe. It creaked slightly as I opened it. I don’t know what I expected to find. Maybe my momma’s skeleton hiding beneath miles of cloth. 

I tried not to think about what I was doing. I wasn’t going through my momma’s clothes, I was just sorting through old clothes to donate. That was all they were, just old clothes. They stopped belonging to anyone the moment her heart stopped beating. I think this was the first time I’d ever looked through my momma’s belongings. I’d tried in the past before, of course�"but she’d always chased me away, telling me that she needed her privacy. When I was younger, being in here, the forbidden room�"had felt like an extra slice of chocolate cake that I couldn’t have because it would make me fat, and I couldn’t find a husband if I was fat. Now I could have all the chocolate cake I wanted, but it felt wrong.

I went past old winter jackets, blouses for work, sweatpants and even a few dresses which I had never seen her wear. It was at that moment that it hit me that my momma had her own life. She had people she loved that I would never know, and inside jokes and hopes and aspirations that now she would never get to achieve. That realisation punched me in the gut like an experienced boxer. But�"I couldn’t believe this was all that was left of her. Cloth and fabric, things that didn’t mean anything to me. I just�"I don’t know. I thought that seeing these things, these remnants of her, would somehow make me feel closer to her. But if anything, all of these remainders of her life made me feel even more alienated. I mean, what was half of this stuff? It might have meant something to her, but it certainly didn’t mean anything to me. It was just f*****g junk�"and it was all I had left to remember her by. 

She was just f*****g gone. And there was nothing anybody could do about it. She didn’t leave anything. No heartfelt letter in the closet, no secret messages, no instructions�"she just f*****g died. And it made me furious. I was furious that she was gone, and I was here, and there was nobody else to deal with this except me. And somehow I’m the a*****e because she’s dead.

I was hiccuping, trying to choke down the grief I thought I was over. I carried box upon box to my truck. Once I dumped them onto the cargo bed, I took a second to wipe my eyes and I jumped back into the drivers seat. It was strange how I’d never forgotten the layout of my hometown. My truck trundled down the narrow lanes as if I’d never even left. 

I didn’t wait for anyone to come out as I gently put the boxes down by the second hand clothes store. It was a small town, and people didn’t forget. I didn’t want anyone to pity me. My heart was pounding against my chest like a jackhammer, and I just sat in the drivers seat for a second. Shouldn’t I have felt something? Wasn’t that what all those shows and movies told us? That death was cathartic, that there was closure, and at the end, everything made sense. But really, nothing made sense, and I felt nothing at all. Did that make me a bad daughter? A bad person? 

I reached into my backpack and pulled out the heavy urn I’d carefully wrapped up for today. Where was I supposed to scatter them? My momma had never said. There was no one else I could ask, either. She hadn’t spoken to them in years, and she’d forbidden me from ever reaching out. I never bothered to ask why, and now I wished I had. What could they have done that was so bad? Well, now that she was dead, I guess there was nothing stopping me. Would it be so bad to reach out and tell them that she’d passed away? Would that be disrespecting my mother’s memory? How could she do this to me? She couldn’t tell me not to do something for my entire life and then never offer an alternative.

I was still holding the urn, and I could feel it slipping under my sweaty, meaty hands. I’d been keeping it on the mantlepiece�"but every time I walked into the living room, I felt uncomfortable; knowing that I was eating opposite the last remnants of my mother.

It felt strange knowing that this pot in my hands was now all that was left of her. It felt like too much responsibility, being the one to decide where she should rest. Did it really matter though? She was dead, it’s not like she would care where she ended up. Death is death, after all. 

I wasn’t prepared for this sort of thing. I don’t really think anybody was. Maybe if I was smarter I would have seen this coming. I should have prepared for this. We’re told for our entire lives that our parents won’t outlive us. We’re spending our lives getting ready for their deaths, and at the end of it all, we’re still not ready to say goodbye. Doesn’t that seem awfully selfish of us? We had a lifetime with them, and we still want more.

Death is death. It happens to us all. Is that what this all means? That when someone passes through the veil, we need to be prepared to think about what will happen to us? Our life is short, so terribly short. What does it mean? Does it mean anything at all? I was starting to get a headache. 

I put the urn down and started to drive, zooming past the familiar roads and trees, not knowing where I was going. I drove in a blur, my subconscious seeming to follow a route not known by my waking self. 

I pulled up by a viewing point for Red Fox Hill, and instantly I knew why I’d come here. This was where my momma had wanted to meet when she first told me she was sick. This was where she told me to not be sad, because she’d had a pretty good life, and she wasn’t afraid of what came next, and I shouldn’t be either. And this was where I used to come, every damn time I got my heart broken or I needed a reminder that our silly little human lives didn’t mean a damn thing to nature.

And every time, without fail, momma’s car would pull up, and she would sit on the bench next to me, silent. We would sit side by side, watching the trees sway in an invisible breeze. Sometimes she would reach over and hold my hand, squeezing it so tight I thought she would break my bones, and we didn’t have to say anything at all. 

Those were some of my fondest memories of her. 

I went over to the bench and sat down, on the left hand side so close to the edge that I was scared I would fall off. And I just sat there, and breathed the forest air, and for a moment, everything felt okay again. 

As my eyes filled with tears, I thought I heard a car engine. I turned around, my vision blurred, almost expecting my momma’s jeep there. But there was nobody there. Not this time. 

There was only me now. 

I unscrewed the urn lid and tipped it, watching the ashes scatter to the wind like they had a special destination. 

I thought I would feel something. But I didn’t. I didn’t feel anything. I just felt numb. I thought I would feel relief. I thought that this would give me one last chance to feel close to my momma in a way I hadn’t been able to feel toward the end. 

I sat there long after the sun had set and the sky was tinged with purple. I didn’t know why I was sitting there or I what I learned. Maybe I hadn’t learned anything at all, because death wasn’t a lesson. 

There was no fade to black, no inspirational music. It was just me on a bench, holding an urn, my back aching, my feet getting cold. She was out of time, and I had never been much good with metaphors. 

© 2020 Asya Kardzhaliyska

Author's Note

Asya Kardzhaliyska
This is the piece that I've submitted for my grad school applications, I'm not much of a short story writer but I would appreciate any feedback!

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Added on June 23, 2020
Last Updated on June 23, 2020
Tags: grief, loss, mother, family, funeral, death, existential, short story


Asya Kardzhaliyska
Asya Kardzhaliyska

Surrey, United Kingdom

Hey! My name is Asya! I mostly write prose and longer pieces of work, but recently I've started dappling in short stories and poetry! I hope to one day get into the publishing industry by reading and .. more..