Perhaps death is the great equalizer. More so than money or raising a family, more so than love or sex. It can bring those left behind closer together or drive a seemingly permanent wedge between family, friends, and lovers alike. It can coax some to examine a flawed life more closely or be falsely called upon to justify any behavior, good or bad.
Death can turn the coward into the courageous and brave into the charlatan. Certainly, few are prepared for death, and even fewer ready for the lies others tell in its aftermath.
To learn that your second cherished brother has died without warning devastated my father’s sister without question, but to later receive a letter stating that my mother no longer wanted to maintain contact with his family surely broke her fragile heart.
The letter’s content, written less than a week after my father’s death, was a lie penned by a woman who had claimed to be both a friend to him and his family—a woman called Gloria.
Though I mistakenly assumed that the third party, a woman named Gloria, was a person my father had met via the medical community. The person, my father, trusted was one he had known for decades. Gloria, too, hailed from the village my father had once called home.
My father trusted Gloria. She, too, had emigrated to the United States after the war, lost family and friends, and struggled to stay in contact with those who had survived. Gloria, unlike my father, visited Ukraine during the treacherous years of Soviet rule.
Gloria volunteered to transport and deliver warm winter clothing, money, and gifts to Olga — all purchased by my parents. Along with material items, my mother painstakingly organized and labeled photos of my father at the hospital, photos of me through the years, even photos of our family dog. In letters from my father, Olga took comfort in knowing that her older surviving brother would always support her daughters.
Within hours after my father’s death, however, before my mother and I had returned to an apartment reeking with loss, Gloria showed her truest self to both my father’s family and my own. Going behind my mother’s back, Gloria phoned the hospital where my father had worked for years to ascertain the cause of his death. How did Gloria learn that my father had died? Why was she hunting for the cause of my father’s death? The hospital staff stonewalled the woman no one knew, refusing to release any information to her.
Instead, Gloria confronted my mother on the telephone days after our return. Rather than being a voice of solace, Gloria grilled her and demanded to know how my father died, when he died, the reasons why he died. Beaten by jet lag and grief, my mother sobbed to the woman she had never met, besieging her to understand that she was devastated. Her daughter was shattered. Gloria hung up the telephone.
Unbeknownst to my mother, Gloria unleashed her fury in a letter to Olga.
In the letter Gloria penned less than a week after my father’s death, she wrote that my mother had abandoned my father and had taken his precious daughter away for good. Claiming that my mother had had no intention of returning to the United States, Gloria painted a picture of my father’s distraught psyche. She intimated that my mother’s selfish decision caused his heart attack and subsequent death.
Discontent with the first string of lies she had written, Gloria piled on more falsehoods declaring that my mother wanted to sever all contact with Olga and her family.
Olga died many years later, carrying the lie she had been told to the grave.