Grief: Confusion and Clarity

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“The storybooks are bullshit!” -Ronny Cammareri, “Moonstruck.” 

I’m back again. 

It’s folly of me to suggest that I’d have this licked, especially during the first year. And I don’t. So that’s how it is.

I say without any snark or irony at all: It’s fitting that my complicated mother would die on a brand-designated federal holiday.

Her actual death was September 2, 2013, which was also Labor Day. It’s like another death in my extended family which I believe occurred on President’s Day, if not, the weekend. So … what’s a person to do? April Fool’s Day is always April 1. Christmas is always December 25. Thanksgiving is always a fluid date. If we happen to be born on New Year’s Day then it’s a celebration and happy time. But if we die on a designated “holiday” or date of significance, what the what? 

True to her form in life, she will keep us guessing. That’s cool, I suspect, up until a point. I simply have to make a decision. One of my brothers said, “September 2 is when she died, September 2 is when I will deal with it.”  

I use the word “Mom” for my own sanity. I’m reading The Prince of Tides (I know, a knee-slapper) at the moment and I’ll get in line to hand it to Conroy, he paints a vivid picture of “mother.” “Mom” was a brand, a label; my mother was always Mimi. My father never referred to her as “Mom” either. It was always, “your mother,” or “Mimi” or “Mary Joan.” I suspect it is generational. She referred to him as “your father” or by his first name or other monikers. 

She was Mimi. “Mom” simply didn’t really apply; she was her own.

So when she died, or the news of her ailing came down, I was home with my husband. We were on our deck and he was off for the holiday. That was really quite nice: I didn’t have to bear alone the suspicious and crystallizing incoherent news from my father that she’d fallen from a probable heart attack. I didn’t have to deal alone with management and oversight for my kids because my neighbors were home. I didn’t have to drive, much less navigate to my parents’ house amidst the constantly changing roadways. I didn’t have to tell me to be quiet to hear the cop interrupt me in my teenage front hall to repeat the news that she’d died; my husband told me to be quiet. I didn’t have to try to console my rigid and overwhelmed father upon recognition of the news. I didn’t have to again drive, to follow the well-intentioned young cop to the hospital where I would meet the doctors who said she went so fast it was painless. I didn’t have to bear alone the vision of her worn, calcified and finally rested body under that white sterile sheet in the dimly lit, quiet, cold hospital room alone, there on that gurney with no machines or lines hooked up to her because she simply had no use for them.  

That day sucked. I mean: really sucked. Death is hard, I get it now. I watched my father-in-law take his last breaths and that was hard. He was a good man and to me, terribly uncomplicated. Doesn’t mean he was simple, because he wasn’t. He, like his son was very “what you see is what you get,” and that is what I loved about him. There are no games. This is how it is. That’s how I am. 

Mimi? Not so much. This isn’t an indictment. It’s just a fact. I spent much of my life when she was alive wondering about who she was and what motivated her and then why it motivated her.

The next time September 2 lands on Labor Day will be in 2019. My oldest will hopefully be a senior in college; my middle son will hopefully begin his freshman year in college and my youngest will begin his freshman year in high school, and I will be a fantastic writer with a few published books under her name. RIGHT??? There is much living to go on in my life and theirs and yours between now and the next “on-time” commemoration of my mother’s Labor Day death. I gave her so much of my head and heart space when she was alive, I can’t keep doing it. Continuing that charade changes nothing. 

I see in myself the trap: if I tarry over this kind of thing too much, I invite my old friend chaos. So I have decided that I’m taking back my Labor Day. We don’t change the date of our birth even if it occurs on a leap year, I’m not going to let this transition of my mother’s steal the final holiday of the summer. So her death date is September 2, a year tomorrow.  And I’ve come a long way. I thought the depths of the grief I felt over her death would never shallow. There were pits of grief, and sobbing, bereft moments that were unyielding. I had to “feel all the feelings” though, as they say, or else it would just keep coming back, like keeping them held up in US Customs. It gets better; I and those who’ve felt these depths know this now. Just not then though. But we do now.

All this chatter reminds me of a moment in “Moonstruck” when Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello) is calling Cher (Loretta) from his mother’s home in Sicily. Johnny is paralyzed with anxiety over pleasing his mother and denying his loins. Mothers have a tendency to do this to us. (Good God, I hope I don’t do this shit to my boys…)  Tomorrow, September 2, I will deal. 

In the meantime let’s watch this clip instead. “Love don’t make things nice. It ruins everything. It makes things a mess.”

Mom loved Moonstruck. I still do.  

Thank you. Thanks for indulging me. Really. 

Whatcha Think, Smahtypants?

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