If your mother has recently died, here is a post I wrote for you.
Saturday, July 2, 2011
Mother died today. I am not trying to channel Camus, just trying to make sense of how it feels to suddenly become a 65-year-old orphan in New York while my mom’s cold body lay in Philadelphia.
I’m sitting in Union Square, one of my favorite places to work when I visit New York. The usual bustle is going on around me: a pair of Boston terriers rollicking in the dog run and the farmer’s market actively trading consumables, like the quart of organic skim milk in a glass bottle I bought to go with the chocolate chip banana cake I brought here in my bike basket.
A church group on a neighboring bench is painting their faces red white and blue for their annual pamphlet giveaway to promote patriotism and Christ. We take a picture together, my first thought being I can’t wait to show Mom, even as I know from my brother’s phone call an hour ago that, with her hand in his, my mom had just taken her last breath.
I so wanted to be there with her, but one never knows when the end will happen. I knew she was in the homestretch and, though I saw her last week, I figured she would hold tight until my visit tomorrow.
It’s comforting that I spent so much quality time with Mom, yet would a better daughter, knowing she was rapidly failing, have rushed to her side? Would it have mattered to her in her remote state or would that have been only for me?
A few weeks ago when I kissed her good-bye before heading home to D.C., I said “See you next week,” and she asked “Why?”
Although mid-week her eyes began to be closed more than open, I had planned to read to her the picture book of her life stories, which I made 2 years ago for her 90th birthday. It was my fantasy that she would then slip into death while I was there, with her hand in my carbon-copy, arthritic hand.
So, now who will enthrall to what I do every day and to the photographs I take?
Proceeding with today as planned seems odd. At the same time, it’s as though in a way my mom died after we moved her from Florida to Philadelphia, when it dawned on me she would never again be talking on the phone with me from her club chair, the one my dad had sat in for so many years until he died in 2006 and she inherited the throne.
I can just see her now, the books, magazines, newspapers piled on the table beside her, the remote control in her hand, watching the TV in her mirror-backed wall unit with the Lladro figures and other pretty things she had collected reflecting sunbeams while Chris Matthews ranted about the Republicans.
She wielded that remote with the facility of a man half her age.
I meet my friend Anita at Joe for a cup of joe. When I say, “My mother died this morning,” her expression of shock is far greater than mine was when earlier I had seen my brother’s name pop up on my phone and answered it with, “Mommy died.”
After coffee, Anita and I proceed as planned, pedaling into Brooklyn for a look at the local culture and lunch.
Mom would have loved hearing about the Chasidic family I passed on the Willaimsburg Bridge, the gaggle of kids and the man in a long black coat that flapped as he walked, white tights and a big fur hat (she would know the Yiddish term for this).
We stop for lunch at Fada, reported to be the only authentically French bistro in the area. Happily there is nothing pretentious about this place that feels as though it’s been here since the invention of French fries.
We sit by a counter on high stools in the front that, being on a corner, is open to the street on two sides. My appetite has not faded with the loss of my mom. Rather, as I dig into my salade niçoise, I feel a numbness that friends have reported feeling after their parents have died.
My mom’s was a life well-lived and filled with love that ran its course with no regrets. How many people can say that? This doesn’t minimize how much I will miss our leisurely nightly calls and monthly weekends together. Her laugh, her insights, her contentedness that set the bar high, yet provide a great role model, for when I reach my walker years, if I do.
Pedaling back toward the Manhattan Bridge, I pass an African Arts Festival and shops shuttered for the Sabbath with names like Schenkel’s Fish Market, just the kind of travelogue Mom would have loved.
[Cheesy alert!] On the bridge, high over the river, I feel a bit closer to the clouds, closer to Mom.
MORE ABOUT MY MOM, MARRIAGE, RELATIONSHIPS AS WELL AS PSYCHOTHERAPISTS, CHINA, ADOPTION, MY DOG AND OTHERS IN MY NEW MEMOIR . . .
“Readers of all ages will relate to this deeply personal story, told with comical sensibility by a quirky, startlingly honest mother, daughter, ex-wife, and dog lover, who—à la Nora Ephron—will feel like a dear friend. Confessions of a Worrywart: Husbands, Lovers, Mothers, and Others will stay with you long after you finish reading it.”
My Worrywart feels self-serving linking to/promoting my other articles as I write this about losing my mom, yet she would be all for it! She loved hearing about my writing, both the substance and the successes and even the flops. And, we had so much fun writing a number of my Home Goes Strong articles together: