Yesterday (Saturday) morning, I was still sleeping when the phone woke me up. Somehow, even in my sleepy haze, I knew. Sure enough, within seconds, John opened the bedroom door, holding the phone.
Mom had passed away about 2:00 in the morning. M wanted to know if we still wanted to come over, or if we wanted to postpone it. No, I said. We’d like to see you.
John crept into bed with me as I spoke to M, curling around me, pressing his face to mine. My tears ran over his forehead and into his hair, but he did not move away.
I told him I couldn’t face lunch with his mother, but he should go anyway. He understood. He got me out of bed, showered and dressed, and then took off to see his mother.
Feeling stunned, I went online, reaching for distraction. There I found a no-reply, form email from the Way With Words Group, stating, “Thank you for your interest and for submitting your application and test. Unfortunately…”
I didn’t have to read the rest. Perfect, I thought. Nice touch. Let’s get all the possible kicks in the gut out of the way, shall we? They offered no explanation, no clarity as to how I failed their test. It sucked.
We drove to my stepdad’s. I asked where my mother was, and he told me the hospital had already come to retrieve her. She had donated her body to medical research, as he will do also. There would be no services.
So I figured, I will say my final goodbye here. Even though I’ve known this was coming for a long time, the finality of it is still a shock. Wow, I thought. I have no parents. That is a creepy feeling.
I am grateful that my mother is finally at peace, but I am disgusted and furious that she had to come to the end of her life in such a miserable and undignified fashion. That she had to die in degrees; first her mind, and then, slowly, year by year, her body. She did not deserve this.
I’d rather not think about the past six years or so. But neither do I wish to canonize her. Those of you who read my book, who have been reading my blogs over the years, know how tempestuous and difficult my relationship was with my mother. It was not easy being her child. However, I know she did the best she could. She was raised in an effed-up family and shown very poor examples of parenting. And of course, she made the mistake that many of her era made — “I’ll have kids myself and do a better job.” She didn’t. But she tried. She meant well.
Wasn’t she beautiful?
I don’t know the date of the above photo, but I’m guessing she was in her early 20s there. It was a different time, a different era; I‘ve never looked that glamorous in all my life.
Here she is with my brother and baby me (having a bad hair day):
This is a candid shot from my college graduation. Not the greatest shot of me, but I love it because it’s one of the extremely rare photos of my mother smiling with her whole face. Mom did not like her smile (she claimed she looked like a chipmunk), and, long before the advent of Botox, she trained herself to smile with her mouth only. After all, scrunching up one’s face and eyes caused wrinkles. (sigh)
Mom’s 70th birthday — still gorgeous:
And finally, this was from her 37th wedding anniversary party, seven years ago:
(Yes, I was a bit taller than she; I took after my dad that way. I got his coloring, too)
She was 83 here. And this was her last good year. Shortly thereafter, she had hip replacement surgery, a risk at her age, but she was in a lot of pain and it was necessary. During the surgery, she had several small strokes that affected her brain. After that, the slow downhill slide began.
According to family legend, the night I was born, one of the nurses jumped the gun. I was a big baby, 8 1/2 pounds, and I had broad shoulders. When I was halfway out, the assisting nurse exclaimed, “Oh, look at the big beautiful boy!” My mother, in her stupor of pain and whatever drugs they gave you in 1957, moaned, “No, NO! I don’t want another boy! Put it back!”
Damn. Good thing I turned out to be a girl, huh? But… I know I wasn’t the daughter my mother wanted. Somehow, I doubt that I could have been. She hungered for so much, wanted me to have everything she didn’t have, wanted me to be everything she couldn’t be. I took after my father in many ways and she couldn’t stand that.
This weekend, I said to John, “I wonder if Mom was ever proud of me.” Ever pragmatic, he replied, “Does it matter, really?” Probably not. She loved me. And her criticism, deeply personal as it was, still wasn’t personal. She was hard on everyone; herself, most of all.
Mom, there were so many things I admired about you. I admired your adventurous spirit, your lust for life and different experiences, your love of travel and other cultures. I loved how you could welcome people in your home, numbering anywhere from two to a hundred, cook for them, make them feel at ease, entertain them — all the while keeping your cool and grace, looking spectacular and making it seem so easy. I loved your cooking and how you could make even the simplest of dishes, such as meatloaf, taste like something special. I will always miss your homemade soups. And ohhhh, your stuffing. A year in the making; you’d save every heel of bread, every leftover roll, the last few tortilla chips in a large plastic bag in the freezer, and every Thanksgiving, you’d take all these odds and ends of bread, combine them with onions and celery and chicken broth and seasonings, and make stuffing that I’d eat right out of the casserole dish, it was so good.
You were an open book, an open door — you had no filters and no protective armor. Everything affected you so deeply and brought out your passion, your anger, your rebellion. I still remember something you said years ago, when I was a teenager. We were discussing about how Orthodox Jews disown their children if they marry outside of the faith. In essence, they pretend these children are dead. This made you furious, and you said, “That makes me sick. If I could have my son back, whole and alive, I wouldn’t care if he married a giraffe.”
I’m sorry you had so many hardships in life: a family of lunatics you couldn’t wait to escape, so you went into a bad marriage. The loss of your child. The regrets, the disappointments, the restlessness, always feeling like a better life was just beyond your fingertips. But you had good times, too. You won the lottery with your second marriage. You saw the world. You had so many amazing experiences, met so many incredible people. And oh, my God, you were so beautiful. And smart.
I wish I could have made you happier, but I hope you knew that I loved you. Even when I disappeared for a year, I thought of you every day. I have no excuses; that was my weakness, my fear. But I never stopped caring.
Rest well, Mom.