Monday, November 25, 2013

ROOM 517

By Hilde Garcia
Mom at Company Picnic
Room 517
November 1997
The Week Before Thanksgiving

My mom and I are sitting next to each other talking about the waltz I will dance at my wedding and how my dress would look; our usual conversation on any given day. Except that this wasn’t any given day and this wasn’t any given conversation, for we both knew it was the last conversation of its kind, yet neither of us could admit this.

This is when I began to write. There was a fear inside me that grew every day. What if I forget something she said? Even now, 15 years later, there are gaps in my memory. Intentional or not. It’s hard to say.

My mother was quite a force in my life, sometimes not a good one, but a force nonetheless. Her heart struggled to hold onto old traditions while her brain embraced new ones, even if she was unable to act on them, and I was caught somewhere in the middle. So, I decided to begin writing, just like that. For her. For me. Right there in Room 517.

I wrote a picture book about my first day of school in the U. S. at the age of 5. The book, (which graces the inside of a dark file cabinet and thank goodness) was preachy and didactic, kind of like my mother, but it captured my first vivid memory and trauma.

What is it that gives us this need to chronicle our moments in time? When my mom died 10 days later on Thanksgiving, I was alone in NYC, sitting in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. And the writing, my writing, stopped. Just like that.

I was so numb. I buried myself in my work (I was a theater producer at the time). I thought about writing, but it only happened in my mind as I walked the desolate streets at midnight to catch my train home. I thought so much about writing, I even wrote a play in my head about the events that had transpired in those awful three months from diagnosis to death that claimed my 56 year-old mother. The play would be titled Room 517. It’s been 15 years and I haven’t written a word, but it’s a masterpiece in my head and this post bears the title, so maybe that’s a start. Maybe.

And yet, it’s her death gave me the courage to keep going and not give up on my dreams as she had on so many of hers. I’ve since written a novel and a darn good one which is not being hidden in a cabinet, although it’s been rejected once or twice and still needs revision, but it has seen the light of day and my mother plays prominently in it.

Christmas Eve Dinner in Our First House
There was something she left behind when she died, a gateway to pain, to loss, to what happens when you’re alone. It taught me appreciate every minute I am alive and everything I am blessed with, like my husband, my children who keep me honest and hold me dear, my amazing friends who admire my love for people and for what I do- teach, write, act, bake- they love my chocolate chip cookies! But most importantly, I am blessed with good health, as are my husband and children, which is priceless.

My mom would say almost daily, without your health, not even the wealthiest can embrace life; you are without value. Memories fuel my writing- capturing these stories from my upbringing that need a voice, stories that need me to tell them to the world.

That’s the most essential thing we do as writers, speak for those who can’t. Bring to life the stories that matter. Inspire someone not to quit, or give them something to embrace. We are the vessels. And while this is important to everyone and for everyone, it really matters most to children for it is they who find their path through the voices we create.

How many times did I sleep with Anne of Green Gables under my pillow, holding her like a dear friend, a bosom friend who understood me? I re-read it after my mother’s death felling Anne’s pain in losing Matthew just as deeply as I was feeling my mother’s.

And I struggle to find time to write in the sea of teaching students, raising kids and endless laundry. I’m so busy inspiring them to reach for their goals; I forget to reach for my own. And then I remember my mother’s words, one of the last things she said to me.

“Don’t forget to keep going, don’t stop for me.” This was so uncharacteristic of her, who preferred to keep me sheltered.  I think that’s why it stays with me even after all these years. This, said to me on her hospital bed that day in Room 517, has never let go of my heart. I was ready to stop, to give up because even though our relationship was anything but smooth, it was a strong bond, deep and twisted (hopefully like the plot in my novel).

Family and In-Laws
So for my mom and all our moments of grief that lead to avenues of inspiration, “Don’t forget to keep going, don’t stop for me.”

During this Thanksgiving and holiday season, hug your loved ones a little tighter, grip your pencil a little lighter so the words just flow onto your paper and give the world the gift of your stories.

“Don’t stop for anyone,” she would if she was here now.

Don’t you.

Happy writing.
Happy Thanksgiving.
Happiness to you and yours.

Hilde Garcia and the Pen and Ink Blog.


  1. Sometimes it's what they said. Sometimes it's what they didn't say. But those who loved us and encouraged us in their own way, never cease whispering in our ears and help us keep going. Great post, Hilde. Happy Thanksgiving to all the Pen and Inkers. Onward! Judy

    1. Thank you Judy, I truly think she taught me more about life from being gone and for all the things that weren't spoken. And so onward I will go. HIlde

  2. Thanks Hilde. It brings me mories and I am grateful for yours.

    1. Thanks Sue. I am grateful for you. Hilde

  3. We live, we laugh, we love, we learn -- and we treasure our memories of our departed loved ones as I hope ours will cherish memories of us when we're gone. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

    1. Well said Penelope. Thank you. Hilde

  4. Hilde, this is one of the most lovely and heartfelt posts I've read. It is so reminiscent of losing my mother. And while it's an everyperson theme, you have done it so beautifully, so touchingly, so emotively. I'm better for having read your post.

    1. Thank you Nancy. It was hard to be in the city today, on such a rainy day. I visited St. Patrick's Cathedral and I hadn't set foot in there since the night she died 15 years ago. That Thanksgiving night, I sat in a pew and prayed. I wanted her suffering to end I let her go. She died later that night. I always wonder about the timing. When my kids and I lit a candle for her this week, if felt very surreal. They never had a chance to meet her. Or maybe they have. Your post has moved me too. Thank you for sharing. Hilde

  5. Beautiful! All of us who have lost loved ones can identify with it.

    1. Indeed. Thank you Janet. Hilde


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