I’m so glad to give you my condolences.

I just finished the second letter to my aunt. The letter that I had wanted to put in the mail early yesterday morning will go in the mail early tomorrow morning. Letters are hard.

Bittersweet is the closest word I have for describing this, but it sounds a little trite. If I were watching this in a movie I would call it bittersweet. In real life, in my life, it completely fails to reflect the depth of emotion involved, or the fact that there’s a great deal more bitter than sweet. Maybe it would be accurate to say that the high points, like finding out that I have half siblings or that my aunt really does seem to want to know me at least a little, are bittersweet, and the rest of it is just really, really sad.

So I write this letter, and I ramble quite a lot. It has to be handwritten, of course. A letter asking a stranger if you might be a long lost relative can be safely typed, but a letter to your aunt has to be written by hand. I ramble quite a lot, even though I’ve typed it up in advance so I can think things through and edit it before transcribing it into my spontaneous, handwritten letter. I ramble quite a lot, because the letter has actually become spontaneous, when I realized that my carefully typewritten thoughts just don’t come through well in the actual physical act of putting pen to paper. The context is all different, the mindset is all different, it’s so much more personal. I guess this is why people like handwritten letters. Like utterances in a conversation, each one is unique and prepared only for its intended audience.

Another way in which bittersweet almost applies to this (but ultimately doesn’t) is in the content itself. I’m so happy to have heard from you. I’m so sad to have my conclusions confirmed. I’m so happy to have found who my mother is. I am so sad that she is dead. I am so happy to hear stories about her. I am so sad I will never hear her tell them. I am so happy to hear I have siblings. I am so sad they lost their mother, too.

Actually, I didn’t say the last one. In fact, I didn’t give my condolences at all. Giving condolences would set me apart from the rest, and imply that the loss is theirs but not mine. But it’s polite to give condolences when people you don’t know have lost someone they loved, who you also do not know, so I wondered if I should have. I didn’t know her, but I did love her. It’s hard to figure out which option seems less insensitive. The fact that eight years have gone by for them makes it easier to not worry so much about it.

Now there’s the big fear of rejection looming again. Did I screw this up somehow? Will she turn her nose up at my unpracticed handwriting, or be offended by my choice of valediction? Will something I casually mentioned in my letter turn out to be deeply against her religion? Will I come off as too pushy? Too detached? Too needy? Too distant? She seemed so very nice on the phone but really I do not know this person, my aunt, and she does not really know me. How do you write a deeply personal letter to a stranger? And just how deeply personal do you make it?

So I tried to strike a balance, talk a little about my feelings and a little about my life. A few pictures but not too many. A copy of some of the relevant documents just so she can feel fairly certain I’m not some random person making all this up. And a lot of talk about how I would love to hear from everyone, meet everyone, but of course only if and when they are comfortable with that, if ever. I’m just dying to meet you, if you’re okay with that. If not, hey, I’m cool, no biggie.

This has to get easier with time. But of course I get to repeat it with each person I try to contact. And the constant fear of rejection, the need to keep reassuring everyone in indirect ways that I’m not some weirdo who will stalk them, and the occasional worry that maybe they will turn out to be the weirdos, won’t be going away anytime soon.

Mom, I miss you. I miss feeling that you were alive out there, somewhere, and that one day we would meet. That feeling was a constant in my life, all my life, and it’s gone now. All the photographs, stories, and newfound relatives in the world will never fill the hole that’s left behind.

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1 Response to “I’m so glad to give you my condolences.”


  1. 1 Valentina July 5, 2007 at 7:04 am

    Bittersweet indeed. Although I had a different outcome, a decade after my find the word still applies as strongly as it did back then.


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