Witnessing the death of a loved one is one of the most difficult situations that one can face. The mental agony of such times cannot be expressed in words. This is increased by a thousandfold if we also have to witness their sufferings. If the loved one is your mother, the experience is almost traumatic. This account of the death of her mother by Simone de Beauvoir shows a daughter’s devastation at the imminent loss of a bond that was as thick as your life’s blood.
Simone had an estranged relationship with her mother. Her loss of faith in Catholicism and the free way of life shocked her mother. She also had to face the criticism of the so-called “pious” relations, who constantly harassed her about Simone’s way of life. Her own shock and disappointment as well as her relations’ chastisement over Simone’s moral downfall (which they believed it to be) made the mother-daughter relationship somewhat strained. However, Simone was a successful author and the mother depended on her; they had to keep in contact despite their differences. In Simone’s words, she was doing her duty as a daughter to her mother, but absence of any true affection. But the sudden diagnosis of cancer in her mother completely changes how Simone feels.
In the weeks that preceded death, her mother suffered the worst agonies of death. Seeing her mother’s struggle with death was so torturous to Simone that she actually prayed for her release. Yet at the same time, she dreaded her death; she wanted her to live and keep secure the mother-daughter bond. She didn’t want it to end. And the worse is that Simone realises that she hasn’t really lost the mother she loved as a child. True that her success, her independence, her way of life, and her loss of faith had distanced her from her mother, and that they somewhat may have cooled any open demonstration of her affections towards her mother. But the love was never lost. This truth, although coming home a little late, makes it impossible for her to let her mother go. Simone’s conflicting feelings of wanting to keep her mother alive and her desire to see her released from her death agonies form a very sensitive self-narration of a daughter’s torment. She says: “When I said to myself that ‘she is of an age to die’, the words were devoid of meaning, as so many words are.” How true it is. We just say it about the old age. But they are mere words. When the time comes, we are not ready to let go. Moreover, there will always be regrets, of the things unsaid, things not done. “When someone you love dies you pay for the sin of outliving her with a thousand piercing regrets” are her words.
As a daughter, this was an extremely difficult account for me to read. I was moved beyond words. It was with difficulty that I forced myself through the book. I felt Simone’s pain which the words failed to express. It was transported from one daughter to another daughter. I don’t know why she wrote this account; perhaps to unburden herself. But this is the most moving real-life story that I have read of true loss and grief over a mother’s death.