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Letting Go

It’s no simple task to let a loved one mourn on her own―especially if that person is your daughter.

By Karen Joy Fowler
framed photos and pen cupAnna Williams
My daughter Shannon e-mailed us from Europe. “I can’t do the holidays this year,” she said. None of us were in the mood. So 2002 was our year with no Christmas.
On December 23, I left my husband, son, and daughter-in-law in California and flew to meet Shannon in Madrid. On the 25th, we walked around the city. Almost nothing was open. We saw gardens, churches, and the outsides of museums. That night, we took pictures of Christmas lights but avoided all mention of the day.
It had been four long months since I had seen my daughter. On August 9, her boyfriend had been killed as they vacationed in Thailand. He’d been stung by a box jellyfish when they were swimming in the ocean. He had walked out of the water, collapsed on the beach, and died a few minutes later. One week earlier, they had sent me a joint e-mail announcing their engagement. He was 25 years old.
No one was home when she called. I was teaching. My husband was on his commute. She called twice, left two messages. They were still on the machine when I got home. “I didn’t know if you’d want to listen,” my husband said. “But I strongly advise you never do.”
Over the next few days, he and I talked incessantly about flying to Thailand. There were two impediments. The first was logistical. Shannon was on the island of Koh Phangan, waiting for Sean’s body to be released, which could happen at any time. It would take us so long to get there that she said she would be gone before we arrived.
The second was emotional. Shannon didn’t want us. On the rare occasions we could get her on the phone, she said so―vehemently: “Honestly, Mum, what can you possibly do that will make this even a tiny bit better? I don’t want you here. Don’t come.”
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