Moms and May

Personal Narrative

A friend’s tweet about his mother’s passing triggered memories of my own. It feels selfish to talk about it, but I’m owning my need to write, so I am writing. I’m also challenging my fear of sharing, so I am sharing.

Mother’s Day does not bother me too much. My mom’s birthday does not either. Even Memorial Day weekend, the anniversary of her passing, doesn’t make me feel any kind of way. Rather it’s random things that make me think about her, feel her, miss her. Sometimes it’s a song, a picture, a saying… today it was a tweet.

Ours was an interesting relationship to say the least. By the time she died we had learned to express our love for each other in productive and traditional ways. We made it through the tumultuous years when I was filled with rage toward her most of the time. Genuine rage, even when I wanted desperately to feel otherwise.

These memories – snapshots of our complicated relationship – these are the things I’m exploring these days. When I mention writing as inquiry, or truth-telling, I’m talking about writing to understand why couldn’t we say I love you to each other. Why did I threaten her with bodily harm? Why did I think horrendous thoughts about her in the dead of night and how did we get past it? Why didn’t I hug or kiss her the times I wanted to? And why did distance, space, time, and indeed my writing, bring us closer?

We had a happy ending, but was it luck? Or the lesson I needed to learn in this lifetime? Or?

When the doctor announced she was brain dead, I was immediately grateful for the healing that had taken place between us. I was elated that rather than “stuff” for Mother’s Day just a couple of weeks earlier, I had given her laughter and time and love.

My mother was pretty fabulous in a million ways, but I can’t act as if our past didn’t exist. All of it – the good, the bad, and the truly ugly. On days like today, I swallow the lump in my throat and write, and think, and feel.  And I miss her, and I love her and I wonder…

I Am Love

Love, Personal Narrative

The official record states May 25, 2003 as the date of death, but I know the truth. My mother took her last breath on May 24th after a heart attack earlier in the day. They thought she would make a full recovery. Doctors admitted her for a couple of days, you know, just for observation. I sat by her bedside that evening as she was supposedly sleeping, but even then I believed she had already slipped into a coma. I chanted nam-myoho-renge-kyo softly. A nurse overheard me and peeped in the room to ask what I was doing.

“I’ve heard of that,” she said. “Tell me more about it.” Just then, my mother sighed, her eyes opened, and the machine monitoring her vitals went haywire with falling digits. The nurse, unsurprisingly concerned about this turn of events, asked me out of the room and quickly urged others inside. I heard an unfamiliar voice announce code blue on the speaker. They were talking about my mother, I thought. I burst into tears. Afraid. Alone.

No one was in the hospital with me that day. My mother had insisted she was fine and didn’t want to needlessly stress anyone. I had told only a couple of friends but she was laughing and alert at the time. I’d told my dad, calming him down when he expressed too much concern. After all, everything was fine. She was admitted, but it was routine, I had told him.

A woman I’d never seen stopped me in the hall. Are you okay? She was worried I would hyperventilate because of the gasping. I mumbled something about my mother coding and miraculously found my way to a phone.

I called my father, barely able to get the words out. My mother stopped breathing, I managed to choke out. Twice, since he couldn’t understand me the first time. He assured me he was on the way. I sat in silence. Crying. Alone. I thought to myself over and over again, I’m all alone. I’m all alone. I’m all alone. I mourned for the husband who didn’t yet exist. For the best friend I couldn’t reach. For anyone who would be there with me so I wouldn’t be. So. Alone.  I remember vowing at the moment, I would not be alone any more. I didn’t have to be, I reasoned. There are people who love me. I just need to connect. To reach out.

That was seven years ago. I think about that moment today because I am anything but alone. I just left my family reunion…I was able to see branches of my family I never knew about and recognize my ancestors’ faces in cousins from all over the country. I paid for nothing – not registration, not traveling, not even coffee and treats while I was there. My family took care of me. All I had to do was reach out and go.

Leaving the closing dinner, I felt full. Loved. People told me they were proud of me and loved me; that my parents would be so proud of me. They encouraged me to continue my journey to finish my PhD and then do whatever I was called to do next. They hugged me tight and long, and kissed me over and over again, wishing me well. Some of them have known one or both of my parents for as long as 40, 50 and in some cases 60 years, and they loved me on their behalf.

I don’t know how or why my life was in such a place as to feel so removed from love, but it was an illusion. The love is always present. It always has been, and it always will be. I was never truly disconnected from spirit, from love. It was up to me to seek it. And in so doing, I found what was always there.

Memories of Stuff

Personal Narrative

My dad was easygoing. He was one of those people who always said, “Don’t give me gifts! Just be a good girl!” or “Just be happy.” And he actually meant that. Stuff was cool, but peace was better.

My mom on the other hand? She wanted STUFF. Flowers, jewelry, gadgets, whatever. Just make sure you got her STUFF. Preferably, wrapped goodies she could shake and pinch and guess about, then unwrap, ooh and ahh about.  Me being the (sometimes) good daughter, I’d shop, and wrap and give her stuff for Mother’s Day. We’d also go have brunch somewhere that required reservations and stockings. Such was our tradition leading up to 2003.

But that year, I wasn’t feeling it. I called her up and suggested a movie instead, fully prepared for her to laugh me off the phone and ask what time I was picking her up for brunch. Instead she readily agreed. We ended up seeing Bringing Down the House, the silly movie with Queen Latifah and Steve Martin. She laughed so hard during that movie, I remember being glad no one could see us in the darkened theater. She laughed from beginning to end, and all I could do was snicker and shake my head.

Afterward we had a late lunch at Applebees. We ate well and then ordered a dessert we’d normally never get. Some kind of cinnamon crisp, apple something or other that was surprisingly delicious. More laughter, although I can’t recall what on earth we talked about. She was glad we broke “tradition” and didn’t seem to mind that she didn’t get stuff, but laughter and smiles instead.

Two short weeks later, Memorial Day weekend, she was dead. A brain hemorrhage, a result of the clot buster doctors gave her to stop her heart attack, was the culprit.

Shock and devastation inadequately express my emotions at that time, but I remember being so glad we shared that time and laughter, rather than stuff.  I was especially glad because my mother and I did not always get along. Especially during my teenage years. There were many ugly moments that I’m sometimes embarrassed or sad to admit we had. I remember being grateful we had the time to work through our shit (because that’s what it was) before she died.

When she first died I tried to whitewash those bad memories – pretend they weren’t as bad as they were. I cursed her. I yelled at her. At times I hated her. But I realized it was wrong to try to wipe that away. It happened. It was us. And we made it through to the other side.

They really made me appreciate our laughter so much more – those ugly years. It’s the totality of our experience together that makes me a better person. A better daughter. And hopefully, when I am so blessed, a better mother.

Thank you mama. I love you. Always and forever.