Love, loss and finding some words
November 28, 2012
Many people mark dates. Anniversaries, milestones, important events. I rarely have, dates mean little to my mind. More than ever, now. My mom is gone.
Only the general passage of time, in weeks or months, years maybe, and flashes of memory register. And then the recollections become realizations, visceral, and acidic.
Mere days after my wedding during which I can’t even be sure she was lucid, she suddenly died.
It’s been over a year since her passing and I haven’t been able to write a memorium post. I keep thinking to do one, on a milestone date, and they keep passing by. And I sit, empty. I can’t write, because as important as everyone else I’ve memorialized here has been to me, she was the most important loss of all. I can’t eulogize her when I still haven’t forgiven myself for losing her. For failing her so remarkably.
A memorium would be as much for me letting her go as to memorialize her, and I haven’t found that peace.
I don’t know why I picked up the phone that night.
I’m ashamed to say that calls from home by that point had begun to spark an adrenaline rush, a flood of fear and trepidation, a “what’s wrong now?” reaction that I coped with, tamped down, by putting time and space between myself and the call before I could connect. The needing, the bad news and the “can you fix this.” They pulled at the scar tissue, picked away my scabs.
After a long workday, usually a hard one, my emotional reserves were dregs and so, more often than I like to admit, I’d let myself return the call later.
Not this night.
There couldn’t have been any reason for it. I had no sense, no feeling of anything, except a question mark in my mind about the timing of the call. And that lasted for as long as it took to raise the phone to my ear.
His voice half firm, spiralling and tottering to an end, a sentence spilled out that broke sense and language and life for me. Your mom has died.
It couldn’t be….and yet never in my life had I heard tears in Dad’s voice. Only losing his wife could move him to cry. As much as the words, his voice seized my breath.
Selfishly: this was the beginning of the end. Selfishly: if it was true, we didn’t have to worry about her every waking and sleeping moment. She couldn’t hurt or be hurt anymore.
A minute passed, I needed to know…. A minute passed, he needed to call back….
I had to tell my new husband of less than a week. I had to say it out loud to begin to understand the world fracturing around me.
A coward’s way out – I texted a friend instead. Texting, testing the waters, testing the edges of my sanity. My new reality.
I stood there in the station, back to the street, leaning against a pillar, sightless, unsure what to do next. Unsure of breathing.
They say weddings and funerals bring out the most in people. I couldn’t manage a wedding during her illness, but the funeral showcased the Best of the Worst of her family. The offers to pay for the funeral expenses as a show of their love, after years of abuse and neglect were clumsy at best, and insulting in the main.
Even hadn’t I the cash ready to pay for the funeral, I would have gone into debt before I allowed them that gesture. Such is money and emotion. But it’s been many a year since money was a leash attached to my collar.
That week was rough shod practicality. Making the funeral arrangements, running errands, contacting family and friends, hunkering down, holding my breath.
They waged warfare, her family, those who had treated her so sneeringly, and far worse, at the end. She never did see her mother one last time, before she passed, though her desire was only fueled by fear for her mom’s advanced age. My paternal aunts quietly wished that she’d reserved her strength for herself; my maternal grandmother had been in no danger, well preserved by spite and malice. I clung to my last remnants of civility at her funeral, under provocation, for her sake.
Even Dad’s famous patience frayed around the edges with the innumerable calls from her father to pressure us.
In a haze of incense, Buddhist chants and the murmur of relatives, we honored my mother as we laid her to rest. Across the altar, my new husband and my father’s new son, PiC stood up for my mom, to her relatives, greeting our guests in a tradition new to us, courtesy of my paternal aunts’ arrangements. They may not have always been her family, but in the end, they were. She would have appreciated that.
My brother, in a new iteration of his usual fashion, couldn’t be relied on to stay in through the first day of viewing and didn’t show up for the second. His spiral into wherever he was headed, now ever more unchecked, couldn’t be held back for love or money.
She wasn’t suffering anymore. This was a release from a long, slow, painful, and humiliating degeneration to which I’d been losing my mother and friend, confidante and ally, beloved hero and mentor for the past seven years.
I should be grateful she wasn’t living in fear and pain, worry, doubt and regret during her few lucid moments between the long stretches of mania and childish regression.
I should be grateful for Dad’s relief from long years, endless hours, days on end of caretaking for his lifemate long without respite, without the daily fear that she’d slipped away from him, without bending or breaking under her illness’s capricious moods.
I should be grateful for the freedom from watching my mother slowly slip from my grasp no matter how hard I held on; for the ability to make some decisions for myself and not entirely around how it would affect their lives; not to live in fear of the sound of my phone ringing lest it bear bad news, of a fall, of an illness, of an injury.
I am, for the painful parts. But for lost days, I can’t. Because I bore always in me the hope we’d find a way to bring her back from the dark, to lure back that spark to the flame I adored.
When she became ill, I took up her standard. And when I lost her, I didn’t just lose my mother, I lost my way. We lost the foundation of our family.
I mourned my matriarch, grieved over our lost future, regretted my decisions that failed her, my choices that led to a life lacking redemption.
I mourned my mom. I mourned for her, the mourning she only allowed to creep in, in her last, her never-loved days, for the childhood she never had. For her life with parents who beat and abused her, wishing she’d never been born, siblings whose selfishness reached beyond her death and etched themselves even unto her funeral day as grasping and ignorant souls. For her fears, real and realized, of a family slowly falling apart.
I grieved, alone. The person who loved me unconditionally, a gift she was never given, the one I could rely on to tell me the truth as she saw it. My mother, become a friend, become a soul and mind wandering in shadows and darks I couldn’t reach, swallowing daggers and poison, lost. My last ten years spent in fruitless attempts to save my family, all for naught. Our jokes, our possibilities, our plans, gone.
A life I once led without fear was now filled with regret: why hadn’t I done differently, better, been stronger, or smarter? How had I failed so badly to spare her that pain and this early demise?
No slow healing of wounds, no steady grieving process for me. Instead, the months and weeks of self-examination gathered up loose threads of guilt, accusation, failure and missed opportunities. I hadn’t loved her well enough and made the wrong choices. If only I’d done this differently, if I had made a different decision in that year.
Bit by bit, I unravel the past seven, ten, twelve years of our lives, questioning where it had finally irrevocably come apart, when had I steered us completely off course, how each little misstep led to a larger misstep, how my indecision or my inability to see more clearly had cost her more suffering.
Why didn’t I know sooner about her dental problems? She couldn’t have hidden her eating discomfort if I’d been more patient with her, more present.
Why didn’t I go with her to more, to all, of her doctor’s appointments – what was I doing that was so important? I should have kept better track of all the diagnoses (or lack thereof), of the treatments and medications like I had managed her diet after her surgery.
Why didn’t I choose more carefully my career or school? Which of those had I gone more wrong with? A millenia ago, it felt like I was lucky to have parents who encouraged me to pursue what I loved, not money, status or prestige, but now, what hubris, what lack of foresight was that for me to think that I’d make anything work?
Could her depression, anxiety, the panic attacks that compounded her myriad other health problems have been alleviated if I had taken a different path?
Would their business decisions have been different if I had made different choices of schools early enough?
How did I end up such an utter failure that at 30 I’ve managed to lose one of the most important people in my life, with my family basically disintegrating?
We buried her and I returned to a professional life, all personal life in a box, and climbed back into a competitive saddle. I was immediately interviewing for a promotion against people with twenty years more experience. Mom would have wanted me to get it together. She simply expected me to win out. That’s the adamantine she put in me.
I went home for the weekend, a year after her passing. Not to remember, there isn’t time to forget; not to commemorate, all’s too raw to bear fanfare, but to …. simply be there. Be home, where it feels I should have been more and better, somehow.
Coming home, it was clear that Dad’s immersed himself in work and projects as much as I have, more so without a partner to keep living for, leaving all the niceties of civilized life to slide away. It was no more than I expected, and yet the state of the house rang so hollowly, reflecting, resonating to my core, it was only by the labor of my hands that my head didn’t sink forever to my knees with new loss, renewed grief.
The essentials function. The plumbing flushes; the hot water is hot, the cold is cold. There is electricity. But throughout the neglect is draped.The toilet is jury-rigged, sinks and walls grimed over, clutter crowding shelves, boxes stand half full.
Looking around, it’s clear. Scour a wall, clear the boxes. It’ll make no difference. The soul of our family has been torn away and only ragged bits of us remain.