Tag Archives: aging parents

50 Things about Mimi

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Sunday night, Mother’s Evening, a friend shared a post she read on Salon. It was written by a surviving daughter about her mother who had died when the writer was 25. I was struck by the seemingly enormous task of writing 50 fifty FIFTY! things about my own mother, in ways which did not repeat themselves from things I’ve shared here (likely impossible). I would also like to do my very best to keep things positive, because as we all know mother / daughter relationships can be storied. Mine was no different in that I suppose.

God did not give me daughters. There is a reason for that.

Yesterday morning, I watched the penultimate episode of Mad Men. The scene when Sally reads a letter from her mother (whom she always called Betty) was so lovely, especially that she signed the letter “Love, Mom.” Betty and Sally were a bit like me and Mom. But I was Betty and mom was Sally. But one thing I heard a lot about myself from my mom was that she knew I would make it. In much the same way, Betty tells Sally that she knows she doesn’t have to worry about her anymore because Sally moves to the beat of her own drum.

I’ll not bore you again with our history, but we were two souls who intersected for 45 years and I know we loved one another deeply.

So, off the cuff and mostly positive if not striving for it and it’s likely you’ve read a couple of these before if you’ve read anything I’ve written about Mom…

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Mom always had a glass of water by her bedside. It was never a cup. Never plastic. Always a glass and it was always, amazingly, filled.

She did not understand electronics. I think in some very primitive Irish way, she suspected they were instruments of faeries and pixies.

She loved her Polaroid camera.

She loved photo booths. Alone, with her kids, with my dad. She loved the capture of a moment, staged or organic. She loved to remember.

She would listen to Caruso at very odd hours at a concert-hall volume.

Her self-applied hair colorings were inventive. I distinctly remember a purple time and a green time. (Keeping things positive.)

She had cheekbones and a facial serenity which belied her inner consternations. She often was looking into the middle distance.

When she was a child, her left? eye / pupil was damaged, horribly, by a classmate and his pencil tip. She would recount that story with bravery and bittersweetness. I don’t know if she could see out of that eye; she said it was often difficult. I remember looking into that eye, she would never tell me not to, and feel pain in my body at the thought of the injury.

She never said a really mean or critical thing about anyone she knew socially. She was always very positive and sincere. I remember one person who was particularly unattractive, in more than a physical way, and she said, “He’s very smart.” 

She loved roller coasters. Again! Again!

As an obsessive, she had collections of things: books, audio tapes, handbags, clothing… much of it never opened. I see that in myself, to a very small degree: just having something, and it reminds me of her a little.

She would take my drawings of flowers and vases, pulled from those tiny little spiral notebooks, and she’d nudge them between the frame and her vanity mirror, alongside singular or folded frames from photo booths. 

She loved a Reuben. Pickle on the side. The musher the better. She was all about the sauerkraut. I see the allure of the Reuben but I prefer its cousin, a grilled ham & cheese on seeded deli rye. Pickle mandatory. 

Rosaries. Rosaries were practically everywhere — not out in the open, that would be too weird, too “ethnic” (my assumption, not hers); she had them in drawers and on bookshelves, tucked away. In a coat pocket. In a teacup on a shelf. In the spoon compartment. In the ashtray. I never saw her use one though.

Sometimes I would encounter a filled glass of water in a cabinet. And it would spill all over me. Sometimes I would encounter a glass of water in the refrigerator. I remember asking about putting a pitcher of water in the fridge and having it that way, but she didn’t like it cold. She just wanted to “keep it fresh.” 

She had her own climate with her mother, who was lovely, but psychologically encumbered to a degree that she made my mother look like the trapeze girl at the circus.

Speaking of the circus, Mom was a majorette, in her all-girl’s high school. I can see her now in her felt wool skirt twirling her baton and marching in her little boots. I remember finding one of her half-dozen batons in her closet in our Canada house and running downstairs with it to try it. At first she was all, “Where did you get that…?” but she relaxed. It was safe, she was safe. She loved to watch me, and she gave me tips. “Here, like this…” she’d say and she’d take the baton, and show me how to twirl it between her fingers, running it up one side and then flipping her hand and coming back for more… “like this… just … you know … start here … ” the sun glinting off the rifled, chrome finish and one of her hands on her hip while her feet gently marched in place, feathery footfalls, just to keep a tempo. I’d end up sitting down, dazzled by her trancelike state as she twirled it and tossed it up in the air, spinning to catch it, as easily as breathing. “Now you try!” I passed. I suppose at some point in my life I took her talent with the baton as an affront, showing off, but as I type this, I recall it with awe and pride.

At Sherks’ Hardware in Canada (which sold everything, not just hose nozzles and 3-in-One oil), I got a hula hoop the next week. I was better at that. She was terrible at it. I remember coaching her, “Here, like this…” We laughed.

She loved the Canada house. Loved the sound of rain on the roof and the click-click-click of the squirrels running over the eaves. She would cry when branches were cut from the tall sugar maples because they were breaching the roof. She liked the idea of being in a forest, hidden, secluded and quiet. She rests eternally beneath a sugar maple now in Crittenden, NY.

She would cook coffee on the stove in a pot. Just pour the grounds right in the pot and let the water boil and then just pour the liquid, deftly, into her M. A. Hadley mug.

IMG_4857 I think she took milk in it. 

She was one of those moms who could peel an apple with a knife; I still can’t do that. Her hands were like a surgeon’s.

She would capture a moment or a phrase and plug it into a cartoon in a breath. Her sense of humor and observation skills were keen; in my jaded years, I used to think she was just projecting, but I do believe she was acutely aware of her own issues and used the cartoons as a vehicle for releasing them. Some people make lists, my mother did too, but she also made cartoons. I think she was acutely aware of the ephemera of the human condition.

She would bound around the Canada house at times quoting Moliére or Shakespeare or Wilde, usually their funnier stuff. In moments of strife, I’m pretty sure she would quote them too, but I tried to hit the road.

She had favorite things to wear: a green and orange “bumble bee” dress her sister-in-law made her. 

  

Her Dr. Scholl’s sandals. I remember begging her for a pair for myself, but that never happened. She said they didn’t make them for kids, but I saw them … (keeping it positive…)

She would wear five static gold choker necklaces at a time. If you gave her jewelry, and it was valuable, it went on and never came off. If it was plastic or you made it at camp, she wore it, but it would end up in the jewelry box on her vanity. I see this in myself now; and I suspect it’s for a similar reason: the gold and silver are durable, they will last and be able to withstand daily domestic life. Those cute little plastic beads strung together with elastic won’t. There’s a part of me which wants to preserve those pieces, I think that was her angle too.

Family. Family Family Family. She was a master triangulator. I can feel her now, at times, nudging me to go one way or another. To be softer. She hated rifts. She hated divorces. They tore her apart, in ways I’ll never understand. I think watching her brothers go through theirs and the damage it did to the entire extended family network was galvanizing for her. She would never ever divorce. Never.

She was an absolutely terrible driver. Just … the worst. I think the first accident in modern times in Northern Virginia — when the vehicle in front which was rear-ended was blamed for the accident — was hers. She did NOT understand turning lanes… coming from a city, they just didn’t exist. They proliferate suburbia.

She hated suburbia. She just did. She liked the energy of a city, even a small town. I watch Mad Men, she’s a contemporary of Betty Draper’s, when Betty moved to the suburbs, a part of her died. In 1980s suburbia, Mom never fit in. I wish I were older, maybe 18 or so when we’d moved here, maybe I could have tooled around with her.

Pens. Pens were everywhere. Notepads too.

Kleenex in the pocket. Balled up. Unused for the most part, save for a lipstick kiss. Standard Mom issue. Smelled like leather, wool, Chanel No. 5 and dust.

Lipstick. Never left the house without lipstick. The one time I encountered her without it was at my younger niece’s 2nd birthday. Mom look positively ashen without it. I went through her purse and asked if I could put it on her. She brightened at the offer. I’ll never forget putting it on her. Her lipsticks were always flattened. Mine are pointed. We always joked about that: how hers were blunted and mine were not, “How did you do that?” we’d ask each other.

Cashmere. Every season was the reason.

Upper lip sweat. I remember it so clearly. She would be be drawing or cooking or sitting or reading. Sweat would form on her upper lip. She never brushed it off.

Skin. Her skin was beautiful. She had a car accident in the 70s and had to go to the ER. She needed stitches on her lower lip. She was devastated by the news and the scarring. After a few years, you could barely see it, but she knew. Lipstick helped her deal with that.

Egg nog. Duck lips. My mother had an egg allergy but loved egg nog. You couldn’t stop her. Mom had a streak in her: if she found out that something was tasty or delicious or good for you: she took it all at once. She encountered someone’s egg nog, I want to say “Giant brand” from a store down here and she drank an entire quart. Her face swelled up and her lips reminded me of the lips on Daffy Duck’s girlfriend, “Daphne.” She would get so mad when I said that to her, but I was terrified she’d never be OK again, so I think it was my humor kicking in to save the day and to keep me from coming unglued.

Bike rides. She had an old 3-speed “Why would you want anything more?” bike with a wicker basket. It had a bell on it. She would ride that around, again, free as a bird. 

As the mother in the Salon article, Mom, too, liked to stay for the credits. I don’t remember watching movies in a theater with her, but on TV, she would wait for the credits. “It’s THOSE PEOPLE who make the film, Maaallly,” she would say to me. “They’re the most important.”

“I’m doing yoga,” she would say, lying on her back on our olive green wool living room carpet with one leg elevated straight up at 90˚ and the other leg on the ground. Knowing what I knew of yoga in the 70s: turbans, contortions, the Maharishi and the Beatles, I suspected it was just another Momism. Little did I know then, but I do now, she was doing yoga. She was.

Local was better. Mom loved the idea of Broadway, but preferred local genius. She directed many plays benefiting Buffalo’s charities. She was a volunteer who knew her strengths. I have apparently followed in her footsteps that way. Mom was not and I am not a baker. Bakers are great people, we just aren’t them.

If you could buy it at a Hallmark store, it should stay there. Mom was all about the handmade, unique, “esoteric” being one of her favorite words. “Provincial” and “providential” were others.

She used to say that “symmetry was overrated.” I have come to understand symmetry as balance. I feel I have a better handle on what she really meant but didn’t know she was saying. Balance was hard for her, maintaining a rhythm, equal footing; I suspect so because she felt uneasy about it, internal conflicts and all. I don’t know if she strove for balance, ever.

“Cool it, Mimsy!” was one of her favorite phrases for me. She borrowed it from Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suites” — look it up, it suits me.

“Piffle” was another word of Mom’s. It’s perfect, actually.

My father bought me a long red cashmere overcoat. My brother bought me a red wool hat to go with it. She would call me “the raging pimento” when I would be off somewhere. Usually in a huff, I guess. I feel like red was her favorite color. It had to be a blue, cool red though. Nothing hot. Not “cherry” red, that was too common for her.

Bangles. Mom wore bangles like how the Kardashians wear false eyelashes. Her collection grew after her mother died. She took those on as well along with her monogrammed and cuff bracelets. Sometimes those danced along her forearm with a rogue pink or taupe rubber band, perfect for the impromptu hair bun.

She never did pony tails. Always did hair buns. I remember putting her hair, it was very thick hair, in pig tails and pony tails once. She indulged me, but when I saw her, it never felt right. She wasn’t athletic, so pony tails were out; she wasn’t coquettish either. I remember her saying that pig tails on a grown woman always seemed forced, raw. Unless the woman was a hippie or a farmer. Or in a play.

Linen napkins. If there was one available, Mom was using it.

She loved nature. Trees, birds, clouds, torrential rain and then a clear sky. She loved the unpredictability of nature. I dare say she preferred it to people.

She was cool to animals. I blame her mother for that. She loved cats though and we had many as children. She resoundingly did not like dogs. She was bitten as a child. The dog we had as a family, Toby, was a mess. He was untrained and just having him made her twitchy, I’m sure of it. But she knew I loved them and that when we had “big news!” as a newly married couple, we told her and my father to welcome their new grand-puppy, Maggie, she probably wanted to stab me. But Maggie was sweet and trained and she grew to like her. She even trusted her with my kids. My dogs, as you know, like anyone with a chip. I remember many times, how Murphy often would sit by mom, even if she didn’t have food. I think he enjoyed her mellowness as she entered her twilight.

She would chirp and squeal with delight at anything we did; I used to think she was unhinged. I didn’t understand such huge reactions to what I considered to be just something I got to become good at. “DO IT AGAIN!” She would cheer. I wouldn’t. I don’t regret that; she was in her space. I see my own kids astound me with their intelligence, reserve, kindness, humor and talents and I cheer once and then gush later. This is theirs, not mine.

She used to chew her milk. I never understood it and the sound of the compression of her jaw sent shivers down my spine as a child. 

Her favorite stroke was the butterfly. She used to swim it, laconically and loudly, in Lake Erie lake outside my cousin’s house in her star-spangled Speedo swimsuit. Her hair coming loose and wild from her bun, like tentacles. 

She said to me often, “When you’re a mother, you’ll understand.” I used to think she was nuts. Now I know she was right.

I loved seeing that sweet message at the bottom of her mug of hot cocoa. She used salt, butter and brown sugar in it.

I loved seeing that sweet message at the bottom of her mug of hot cocoa. She used salt, butter and brown sugar in it.

Gratefully, I could go on. That was nice.

Mom, know that you are remembered. Your most favorite thing of all to do, to remember. I remember you. I miss you, I wish I could undo a whole bunch of stuff I said and did, but I don’t dare ask anymore.

Thank you.

Grief: Alcoholics are Not Nice. ACOAs Have their Moments Too

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Little known facts:

Before I write publicly, I always take a few breaths and meditate on what I’m about to do.

Each post I write tends to have 20 small revisions before I click “publish” (which really is a misnomer, because I’m sharing, not exactly publishing, but that’s another post sentence paragraph altogether).

For the past year, I’ve not only meditated, but I’ve gone with my gut when I write, doing my best to cast any fear aside so I may best and most freely express myself.

For the past nine months, I have appealed to Archangel Gabriel, the angel of messaging and the one who visited Mary and told her about her pregnancy — to me Gabriel has it going on, and if I can get a smidge of that, I’m happy. What I’ve specifically asked for of Gabriel is three things: candor, humility and humor. Sometimes in differing order; I determined that Gabriel really knows the best way to parse out these things.

Last weekend, I hosted my family for what we call “Second Christmas” — it’s named as such because we don’t all see each other on Christmas. I host every other year. Thanksgiving is all my side of the family and Christmas is my husband’s.

Mom has been gone now about 16 months. Some “holidays” are easier than others; the last time we celebrated Second Christmas at my house, it was February 2013 and the experience was really emotionally profound for me personally. I recall going outside and looking at all the snow which had recently fallen and seeing our outdoor Christmas lights still on our bushes out front light up the snow from beneath it.

The street was silent. The snow, in its big fluffy flakes, was heavy yet soft and I could hear it land on all sorts of surfaces, other flakes, the leaves of the bushes, my jacket, my cheek … and I remember saying to myself that I was really so very happy. I took it all in, privately and alone outside looking in toward my home where everyone I cared for most deeply in all the world was existing, for just that moment, in what I inferred as a state of harmony and presence.

I remember coming back into the house, the contrasting heat and voices rushed over me. I came in from silent, dark yet white to chatty, bright and yellow. I said to everyone, “There could be no finer hour for me again because everyone I love most — in all the world — is safe and here right now.” I am sure one of my brothers made some snarky remark because I can tend toward the sentimental at times (it’s seldom but it happens), or maybe he didn’t, but the truth is that I was in such a state of bliss, it didn’t matter.

That was the last time I hosted and it was the last one Mom attended. She died seven months later of a massive cardiac arrest on her way to get a root beer float.

So this year, we were all together again at my house. I knew it was going to be hard for me; I was twitchy the week before and I knew it was just something I had to push through and I was really happy to do it. My immediate family is one of my most favorite things, but it was still a lot.

During one of our down times, we turned on the previous night’s Saturday Night Live. The musical guest was a former hip-hop artist named Sia and I’d never heard of her because I’m ancient and I listen to Pandora or yoga music. Her first performance was really … just so bizarre that I couldn’t turn myself away from wondering what the hell she was going to do for the encore. She did nothing bizarre, but she sang a song called “Chandelier” which simply took my breath away.

I Googled Sia. I wanted to know about her song, about her as an artist beyond what my family could tell me: she went completely underground for a while, but now she’s back. She obscures her face, in some form of ironic protest to the amount of publicity she gets, so now, instead of having a face everyone can see, she has created more interest in her face because you can’t see it now…I don’t know… People are weird.

Anyway, the song is about alcoholism and it’s an autobiographical anthem and when I say anthem, I mean Anthem: she belts out this song as though her life –and possibly others– depended on it. I could have been Sia; I could have been an alcoholic.

Maybe it’s the chords, or the song’s structure of minor keys and minor chords, but I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by it. It spoke to me about my own mother and the sadnesses she must’ve pushed away in order to perform as much as she could in a real world with real children who have real needs.

Sia isn’t asking for acceptance or your pity in this song. She’s just telling you how it is in the most primal and aggressive and self-sacrificing and beautiful way she can. I don’t know how she can speak after singing that song — not only is it emotionally draining, but her vocal range and thrust of the sounds that come out of her head are insane.

So it got me thinking, after reading about her, the song, her history and as much as I want to give my mother a break — even though she’s dead — for all the shit she put me through as a child and young woman and young adult and middle aged adult, there is a part of me that just … isn’t quite ready.

It’s not that I want to re-live all that hell, and I definitely don’t court it. Simply, part of me can’t move on entirely from it yet because I think I haven’t processed it fully; I haven’t fully accepted and decided that what all the books say about Adult Children of Alcoholics is correct: that we aren’t the cure, the cause, nor can we control it — “it” being the alcoholic’s alcoholism — and that thinking you have some control over someone else’s life choices is a bit of an ego rush, no matter how sick.

As much as I want to let it all go, there’s a hang nail: if I keep it — the pain of being an ACOA — in my chi, then I also keep Mom alive, and that’s really hard to deny, so I don’t bother. If that’s all I had with her, for the most part: her rages, her narcissism, her deflection, her projections, her denial, her lies, her manipulations, her rages and rages and rages — all those things coupled with my fear dressed as anger, then she isn’t really dead is she? And I get to still play a victim to it. (Lots of layers…)

The other thing is that I lived on “alert” about Mom for more than 40 years, so it’s going to take some time to wind down and let it all go and relax.

I have many wonderful people in my life who tell me to let it go, to move on, to forgive her, to let it go to let it go to let it go… and I have, for the most part, but it’s completely impossible, isn’t it: expecting me to release all the pain and fear and hurt and shame and guilt and rage is like expecting me to forget what the sun on my skin feels like. We love it when the sun rests on our skin for a few moments, don’t we? We do. And we recognize it immediately as a good thing, a familiar thing. It powers us, it feeds us vitamin D, it cleanses our senses for just a moment when we are zapped into that moment — from WHATEVER we had going on in our heads — to feel that eight-minute-old blast of heat, nourishment and “celestial love” from our giant blazing gas orb. The sun sustains us.

So it is the same with me and being my mother’s daughter. That relationship lasted almost 46 years. I’m no masochist and so I ask of anyone who knows an ACOA (who admits they are an ACOA) to cut us some slack when we get swept up by a song, a memory, a smell, a sound, a feeling or a silence. Just cut us some slack. This shit’s hard.

Growing up with an alcoholic parent is hard — like, the kind of hard some people can’t even imagine: We have to rely on someone like “Drunk Uncle” to take us to school or make our lunches or wake us for school or bathe us or take us to the doctor… But “Drunk Uncle” is a sloppy drunk; he’s funny and creepy but not super angry. Replace sloppy, funny, and creepy with pissed, snobby, paranoid, mean and morose and that’s what I had. Imagine that taking you to a friend’s house and meeting their parents. Imagine that opening the door or answering a phone call for you.

A part of my being an ACOA denies my mom her affliction because that is too hard to admit: that she chose a substance over caring for me. Plus, I protected my mother like a guard dog from a harsh society and its realities. It’s nuts.

How do we do it? Well, I do it with humor and candor and humility (“There but for the Grace of God go I”) which keeps me as stable as possible and well, slightly more off center than someone who grew up in a “regular” home. But I cheer myself also, because unlike someone who grew up in a regular home, I’ve overcome shit you don’t even understand and while that doesn’t make me better than anyone else, it does mean I’m not a damaged loser either — I’ve overcome it, with a semblance of love, kindness, humor, silent compassion and reality which can astound.

ACOAs are not into trivialities — we don’t have time to bullshit. We hug you because we mean it. We love you because we feel it. We repel you because we feel you’re toxic; we are like human barometers — we don’t have time to suffer your delusions, rationalizations, intellectualizations and obfuscation, excuses and blathering tedium because WE HAVE LIVED THROUGH IT already. So if we cut you out, it’s because we’re done; likewise, if we keep you around, it’s because we love you with a love that is powerful, humble, vulnerable and loyal. When we Do The Work of being an aware ACOA, we are probably one of the best things to have in your life. We’re like rescued pets…

Candor.

My dad asked me yesterday after I ranted about what a wretch my mother could be, about her rages (which he knew nothing about because he and the rest of the world was at work or asleep), “You say you miss your mother…. why do you say that and then say things like this?”

I thought I’d explained it before, but he’s older now and it’s been a rough ride for him — almost 60 years with that woman will take its toll and he has his own health as an aging human — so I cut him slack and say, “Sure. I get it. I know it’s a conflict. The thing is: I always missed her, or what she was supposed to represent: a mother. I mean, I am still here; she didn’t completely jack it all up…” But I don’t miss HER at all. I really don’t. Not for a second.

The worst was some of her AA friends. Mom had all the books, attended all the meetings, even worked the phones for AA at midnight to help people who were suffering as she was, to support them and try to encourage them from taking that drink in the middle of the night. I remember the phone would ring at all hours, waking me up. But I supported it. Some of the people calling were really hammered though. I resented them; I knew she would likely fall to having a drink on the call. The lure was too strong.

And her meetings friends … they were really insufferable, saying all the sayings and using all their codes, nodding knowingly at me as I would walk by, snarling and hissing. They disregarded my pain, the suffering of our family. They said many times that I needed to cool my jets, be a better daughter because my mother was so fragile, that I would toss her over the brink. Many times I told them to go to hell. I see it now, it was a form of self-protection: a tribal “thing”: they were doing the same things to their families and kids, they had to protect her from assholes like me… There was only ONE person I respected in her lineage of sponsors: Ellianet. She was a tall, lean and sporty woman. She was still in Buffalo. She was tough and real and she would allow my anger. Not enable it, but “see” it and she understood it. She was a loving, consistent and firm hand to Mom. Mom thrived with her. I think she was sober for a couple years with her. Then we moved. Even if Ellianet lived here, there was no way she’d hang with some of the cheap-shoe, big-haired, Cadillac-driving poseurs my mother ensnared in her web. I honestly think Mom went to those meetings to recruit actors for her plays and Tennessee Williams readings in our moody, suburban, book-lined living room…

But there were good years for her. Mom worked the program for a bit, she made real changes and I was proud of her. Still bitter as hell, but proud. I knew better than to let my guard down as I became a full-blown teenager. She would help people, staying sober for a few months at a time, maybe even a year or two. She was lovely then. But the relapses… oh, they were crushing.

Humor.

We talked about people on my Facebook page who have much fonder memories of my mother than I was ever blessed with (why they can’t imagine that a person like Judy Garland, Carol Channing or Liza Minelli would ever make a good parent is beyond me). They offer their plastic platitudes and essentially refuse to see the other side of the story — that having an angry Bette Davis for a mother is really, not cool. They would gloss over my pain and ignore the truth I’d love to skywrite on our cyan canopy. I say that says more about them, not her and certainly not me.

These people mean well, I know they do guess, but they have an appreciation of my mother that … simply didn’t exist in my world. That version of Mom was more of a visitor. Dad understood that; lots of people didn’t know my mom. She was a secret wrapped in an enigma disguised as a puzzle. I don’t think she knew herself.

Alcoholics are really difficult people. They booze up to cover their pain which they won’t tell you about because __________ and then they expect you to just rainbows and butterflies deal with it; that you’re the one with the problem if you have a problem with their problem. 

I told Dad, “They say things like “think of her fondly…” and “she was a wonderful woman …” and “she loved you so much… ” or “she was your mother, of course she loved you…” (so all those times she woke me in a rage at midnight 1) to find her things she was convinced I stole; 2) correct or defend a paper or diary entry I wrote; 3) or to clean up a mess I made hours before when she was out of commission was her way of showing love).

I rolled my eyes, laughing in contempt.

He understood it only partially. So I went further. Dad is one of the funniest people I know, and so I portrayed and parodied my response to those platitudes, “Oh! Yes, I can recall those wonderful moments … sure. Give me a second …” and I used my left forefinger to count on my right hand, finger by finger and opening my palm recounting the kindnesses, moments of fearless love, and security my mother selflessly extended to me and I mocked myself, pushed back pain, feigned enthusiasm and difficulty discerning the pleasantries and I counted to four. He laughed and we moved on.

Was it all for effect? Was I performing? Yes and no. Sometimes humor is all I can muster to deal with the reality.

Humility.

Reflecting on that with my dad revealed to me that it was yet another moment for me in my life of now 47 years that I realized that I’m no walk in the park either. I joke with friends, “It’s so nice being perfect…”

I can be super reactive like a viper; I can say some really stupid things — completely without thinking — as a result. I have a sense of “humor” honed by years of pain and hurt and rage which can either lift you up or stun you. I try to apologize when I figure it out. I try to grow.

So I listen to this song by Sia again and again to flush it out of my system and then I get it, as I’ve gotten it so many times before in my life and this won’t be the last time (thanking God)… because

There but for the Grace of God go I…

I’m a lucky person. I am so aware of what this year means to me — when my mother was 47, she was uprooted from her hometown of her entire life and essentially forced to pitch tent in a new place… oh! Hers was an emotional tsunami that no one could’ve ever predicted.

If I ever thought my mother was “weak” (and I have plenty), her defiance of that life we all tried to make in 1981, has shown me otherwise. Mom was not weak, she was a force, but it broke her, that move.

So I will be on my toes for weird stuff this year.

I believe in genetic energies — that when she was 47, I was almost 14. I was her middle child. I am 47, my middle son is almost 14, and this year has lots of messages for me and my son and I plan to do my best to watch it all and stay present and stay humble and stay grateful for the fact that I’ve survived what I did.

I also need to give myself the latitude of knowing that I am NOT her and that if we end up (randomly and unexpectedly) moving this year and start a new life, that it will be OK because I am ME, not her.

I can embrace that whatever lesson my mother had to endure to teach me by example to keep my life together –despite all the pressure and feelings of entrapment and bullshit of life that she and we all endured– that she taught me well.

Mom taught me well. She used to say she was so grateful that I’d escaped alcoholism. She used to say she was proud of me for it, but those conversations only resulted in me being mad that she wouldn’t stop. And then we would fight.

I haven’t had a hangover in 17 years. I’ve never submitted to the “hair of the dog” to convalesce after drinking. Somehow I knew that having a drink because I was sick from having too many drinks was a reeeeeeally bad idea. She would tell me often of how I am genetically marked, that I exist in the crosshairs of a fatal condition.

Will I think only fondly of Mom from now on? No. And please don’t ask me to because I’m messed up too. She didn’t always speak of her mother with 24k golden love either.

For some people, when I write about Mom in this way, they chafe, the shift in their seats, they furrow their brows, they take breaths and sigh… They get mad. That’s on them… that’s their messaging from their own bodies that they need to pay attention to.

If what I say bugs you SO much, I posit to you: why? Why can’t YOU handle me writing about my alcoholic mother in such a fierce way? Is it because to you she was so much more than that? Ok… I’ll allow it. But as much as I allow it in you, I ask you to allow it in me that she (as any alcoholic is) was a fatal, atomic combination. She, in particular, was a talented, entitled, narcissistic artist; an actor; and a drunk. You try growing up in that and let me know how you turn out. Let me know if you fart rainbows.

In her egoic, human state she would want only gorgeous remembrances — that she was more than what I paint her to have been. She would want me to throw her a bone because she refused many times to permit my recollection of the horrors of my life as her child. She never apologized, she never owned her stuff nor allowed that she shaped me. She used to say, “You have anger issues, Maally…” and I’d be thinking in my head, “YA THINK?! I WONDER WHY…”

But as much as she couldn’t allow it in her human state, in her energetic, spiritual state I feel “she” gets it and “she” knows that it’s not so simple: Mother sets the tone — I know this more than anything — as she recalled of her own mother. My mother set the tone and I fell in line, like a duckling. Maybe in some crazy way, she didn’t want me to get too close to her because she was teaching, training and honing me in order for me to stop the cycle.

This is my lemonade.

So this past weekend was the last revolving holiday “tradition” Mom attended and for me, writing about it was cleansing. I feel as though I’ve been able to close the chapter now. Moving on.

Maybe it’s time to think about forgiveness.

Thank you.

Grief: Body Memory, E-mail as Archivist

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The body knows. It knows the angle of the sun, the fullness of the trees, the scent of the air, the sharpness of the light, and the grace of the wind. Even if the events are different, if a person is missing and another is on the way, the body knows. And when the body senses these things, again, it knows what to do even if your mind and your heart fight savagely, like a feral dog, to stay in the present, to stay busy, to stay distracted, to do anything but go back into that cave of grief and face the reality of your absent loved one.

I wasn’t sure, but I suspected it; I knew it was either the first weekend or the second weekend in February last year. I knew it was coming in a sensuous way, but I had no clue, absolutely as though a fact, intellectually. I just had that sense of awareness, of knowing and the unrelenting waves of nostalgia, heaviness and “cling” (it’s the best word I can muster) that came and went at me like echoes in a canyon.

Last year, February 2 and 3, 2013, was the last time my entire family of origin and their families gathered in my house. I remember it as if it happened last night. I remember waking that morning, eager for the arrival of my brothers, their wives and their children. I remember making sure the sheets were on the beds, the towels in the rooms and that we had enough mac and cheese and strawberries for the kids.

Each year, our families do different things on actual Christmas, so we’ve made a tradition, over the last couple decades to celebrate “second Christmas” which I now recognize as my third favorite holiday ever. It’s usually in late January or February. We like to push it out a little later into the year because we all see each other for Thanksgiving.

I’d like to think it’s the big holidays that would do me in regarding my mother’s absence. Thanksgiving, Easter, Bastille Day. That was sort of a joke, Bastille Day. I threw it in there for comic relief, but then I realized after I typed it that it was actually the last time I saw her alive last year. We got together that day last year to celebrate my nephew’s and brother’s birthday at my house even though they were still in NY. It was the dinner that I planned the Wednesday before with an odd sense of urgency and deliberation. I never “had” to have my parents over for dinner like I had to that night. Then scant six weeks later, after my yoga retreat and a final summer vacation, she was gone.

We left our outdoor lights on the bushes out front because it was still Christmas to us. It snowed that night. I couldn’t believe it.

from my Facebook page last year.

from my Facebook page last year.

Second Christmas of 2013 was special to me, I didn’t know why, but I did my best at one moment to announce to the family — despite my brothers’ imminent mockery and my own self-consciousness at the sappiness of it all — that I couldn’t have imagined my heart fuller than at that moment: all my loved ones were, as John Mayer sings in “Stop this Train”, “safe and sound”:

Oh well now once in a while,

When it’s good and it feels like it should

And they’re all still around

And you’re still safe and sound

And you don’t miss a thing

And so you cry when you’re driving away in the dark,

Singing, ‘stop this train, I want to get off and go back home again…

Which is a song I hadn’t ever heard, despite my affection for John Mayer, until Second Christmas this year at my brother’s house and of course when I heard it, I pretty much fell to my knees emotionally. So naturally, to help me usher and attend to all these feelings I’m feeling these days, I listen to it, nod my head, sniffle and it soothes me.

It began last week, the nostalgia. I wrote to my son on his 13th birthday, again citing the Mayer song. I thought writing to him would soothe this beast, ease my pain, but it didn’t.

So then I wrote to an eFriend I met last fall after her mother died, telling her about how I was doing and closed that note, “Good thoughts are headed toward you from me.” That didn’t do it. Then I heard from a beloved cousin with whom I’ve grown amazingly and naturally close since summer, she’s like a combo sister auntie mom to me. I told her what I’d been up to: the new puppy, that I’m teaching yoga to the high school rowers now and working on my certification and all that and she asked me, in the most simple, clear and loving way, “how are you doing with your bereavement?” and I realized (even though I knew it all along) that she’s no dummy: I’m throwing all these things in my path to distract me from my pain.

But the thing is: this stuff comes at you, as your body knows, out of nowhere and if you’re not ready for it (and who is ready for an emotional sucker punch, you tell me) you fall to your soft places, curl up and cry unfettered sobs wishing that things weren’t the way they are. That they were somehow different — all along different in fact — but that your Now is unreconcilable; it’s as unreconcilable as the Then you wish were different, kinder, gentler.

Then you realize with a full heart, heavy lungs and wet eyes, that if your past were different then your now would be too. You can’t have it all: a functional mother and attendant father and a path of self-destruction which led you to the life you’ve attained now… that your children would not be here because your mate wouldn’t have stepped into your life when he did because you would’ve gone to a different college entirely if your life were somehow different, kinder, gentler, more orderly and rational.

Dovetailing. It’s all this fate stuff that happens to us when we allow ourselves to see it all with the glorious acumen and vision of a Monday morning quarterback.

Doesn’t matter. Would you trade it all? Would you trade it for just maybe one less crisis in your youth? Maybe one less heartache? One less battle with your parent that would’ve gotten you into the shower earlier? Are these the George Bailey (“It’s a Wonderful Life”) moments of our lives: that the one moment earlier in the shower before leaving for English 348 affected what parking spot we got at college, which determined the length of the walk to the car which had affected who’d we see in passing through the doorway at work who’d invited us to a party where we met our mate? I look back now and say, “No. I guess I wouldn’t trade it all.”

. . . . .

The amount of flotsam in my email inbox was absurd last week. I had close to 3,500 messages in it; something like 850 of them unread. Most of the missives are subscriptions and retailer content. Just before I went on the yoga retreat in July, I emptied it to somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 messages.

I culled the inbox on Friday, to a manageable level, 1100 messages. I know that’s still high, it was an all-day affair requiring numerous bathroom and stretch breaks. I have now the same emails in the box that I had a hard time reconciling in July: notes from my family about my mother’s health and the conversations we had with my father a year ago today about his goals and ideas for the next 18 months, 12 of which have slipped through our hands like flaming kerosene, and the conversations going forward about how to best attend to her and his goals. I don’t know what to do with those notes.

The Chinese use the same symbol for “crisis” as they do for “opportunity.”

That email traffic created a new crisis (on one hand) and opportunity (in the other hand) for me. It was at that point that my father stopped speaking with me because I had drawn a line: After I gave him all the same information he’d requested three years prior and did nothing with, I told him to perform just one task and then I would help. This pattern of his, looking like he was doing Task A while really doing Task K was a long-held tactic of his — who can blame him? It’s human nature to completely avoid what you don’t want to do. The short version is this: it took a while.

The opportunity was that my mother and I started speaking more, as we used to, conspiratorially about my father and how curmudgeonly and obstinate he would be. He would be almost petulant like a child at times. If he’s reading this, he can close his laptop. I have suppressed a lot of this for at least one year and it’s just going to spill out of me somewhere even though I’m tempering a lot of it, so …

Then I began EMDR therapy to deal with the jolts and aftershocks of heavy emotional baggage, torpedoing through the abyss as though finally freed from the cargo holds of the Titanic.

While feeling all the feelings last week, I said to my husband, “The last time I remember feeling any sense of peace and purpose and composure in this house was immediately after my return from the yoga retreat. I did some sadhana, and then I went into the hot tub all by myself and chanted for half an hour. That was the last time I felt stable. Since then, it’s as though my life has literally turned upside down.”

This upside-downedness is ok; it’s how life is away from the Tibetan mountain top.

This next year, all the way through until the anniversary of my mother’s death on Labor Day, is going to be extremely tender for me; I can feel it already. My body knows; it is preparing me, and I best listen, to undergo and re-experience the final six months of my mother’s life and how I managed it; to honor it as it affected me while also reinventing it for myself without her. It’s right there: a pool of real, a puddle of authenticity that I am afraid to drown in.

If one thing’s super clear to me now: it’s the necessity to write about it. I haven’t touched my grief, actively, in months.

Stop this train.

Thank you.

Grief: Boom and Bangles

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I had all these intentions on Monday to sort of dial back on the grief stuff; I was feeling settled. My emotions were showing me that it was ready to regroup and that we could start to be more uplifting here on the blog.

Then about ten minutes ago, Boom: I started to bawl my fool head off.

Music. I blame the music. It had words. English words. And it was probably performed in a minor key, which hits all of us emotionally, but it wasn’t Adele. I can’t do Adele generally and right now: no effing way.

Since Mom died, I’ve not listened to any music with words, or with words that I can understand anyway. In fact, other than the music at her Mass, I’d not listened to any music at all. Monday, I decided to play some intentionally, to reintegrate myself back into my world so I was playing a lot of classical or instrumental or some of my yoga music that brought me great peace on the retreat.

The language in the retreat yoga music is mostly Gurmuhki so “sa” and “ra ma da sa” have no utility other than meditative nor do they remind me of my relationships (failed or thriving) with persons living or dead.

Dead. My mother has died.

This shit just pours out of me, guys, so trust me: I’m trying to keep things moving along here. But sometimes the best way to move is to sit still.

I mean no disrespect to my father, but I have to process this.

When we returned that night from the hospital, without Mom (woah), I was driving. He was sitting shotgun and my younger brother was in the rear row.

We all process this stuff differently so I give anyone their zone when we amble about this crazy freaking world.

We were humming along, weary, together, but totally blown away.

Dad said this: “Wow. Jesus. What a blow. This is tough. I mean, I know you all lost your mother, and that’s horrible and tragic, but I lost my life partner, my wife. What am I going to do now? What the hell am I going to do now?”

I continued driving, but clearly, I heard every word.

The upcoming light turned from green, to yellow to red. I slowed my land yacht well before reaching the light. We were all alone on the road: not a soul (other than my mother’s perhaps) was around. We sat in silence. Or I did anyway. If I said anything, I said, “This isn’t a competition.”

I honestly don’t think I replied. I think I’ve told people I did reply because I desperately wanted to, but I don’t believe I did because we needed to get off the road and I wanted to not go to jail that night. I wanted to say all of this:

“I get it. This is hard for you, Dad. I hear you. But here’s my reality: my relationship with Mom totally trumps yours, and this isn’t a competition.  You might’ve had her for 59 years and I only had her for 45 and you might’ve shared secrets with her that I’ll never touch and that’s great. I get it. You were mates, you have a relationship I can’t and don’t ever want to touch. I however am the product of your union. And unlike my relationship with you where it’s all external, my relationship with her was totally internal for nine months and then another 10 as she breastfed me. And then she raised me to the best of her ability, no matter how excellent or flawed, I am a product of her and you. You might’ve exchanged DNA with her to create me and my brothers, but we share DNA with her and that creates a bond that that you will never be able to touch.”

But I didn’t say it. I wanted to, maaaaaaaan oh maaaan… but I didn’t. This is how my father deals with stuff, or at least with how it went down that moment. I will say no more.

Every day, I am reminded of her. I wear her bangles and her rings and the rings of her mother and grandmother. Sometimes I smell her. (I’m sure I’ve said that before online, my apologies… it’s gonna be a part of the process.)

The shiny silver cuff is hers; we share the same initials and so I asked for it. The bangle with the heraldic stars on it has long fascinated me, ever since I was a child and the far right is a gift she gave me on my 10-year anniversary, a cuff fashioned after our shared silver pattern, "Repousse" which I believe has been retired. These are all unique pieces and the sound of them jangling into one another is a sound I grew up with; it is her sound and whenever I hear it, even when she was alive, I thought of her. The first two are also gifts, the front one from her when I had my first son, and the second one my father gave me when I turned 18. Wearing these pieces helps me stay connected to her...

The shiny silver cuff is hers; we share the same initials and so I asked for it. The bangle with the heraldic stars on it has long fascinated me, ever since I was a child; and the far right is a gift she gave me on my 10-year wedding anniversary, a cuff fashioned after our shared silver pattern, “Repoussé.” These are all unique pieces and the sound of them jangling into one another is a sound I grew up with; it is her sound and whenever I’ve heard it, even when she was alive, I thought of her. The first two are also gifts, the front one from her when I had my first son, and the second one my father gave me when I turned 18. Wearing these pieces helps me stay connected to her…

When I was in my own recovery from chaos because of the world I grew up in, I used to consider the bangles as chains, weights that held me down and kept me back. Now since I’m in a better place and have established myself more independently from my parents, I see them as graceful reminders of my mother’s spirit.

I am the only daughter of the only daughter. It’s the end of the line… I want so much to have a daughter right now (but that’s not happening) because of the bangles I wear of hers and the rings I’ve inherited. I want them to stay in the line, and I suspect that even if my sons have fantastic wives, they will never meet my mom, so I have a strong interested in keeping them in the lines, prospective daughters-in-law notwithstanding.

I want my brothers around me so much right now, all I can do is express the words to convey that need. My heart aches for their voices and their embraces and their energy. I didn’t think I’d feel much different when my brothers arrived the day after she died, but I did. We have an electrical plasma thing going on, like everyone does with people they’re immediately related to. (re that last sentence: all complicated grammar rules are out the window right now.)

My mother was incredibly flawed and gorgeous and compelling and interesting and brilliant and she created three of the coolest people I know. The fruit of her brothers’ loins share a shorthand with us that no one can touch. All I have to do is drop a line and they are there calling, texting, emailing, tweeting, responding.

My mother’s big personality means she leaves a big hole. This is not to suggest that persons with modest personalities will leave smaller holes; I am a big believer that everyone leaves a hole, so I’m not going to bother defending what I’m rambling about. The point is: even in her declining months (which brings me to another point which I won’t belabor here: the kindnesses of people who suggest that my mom didn’t have a chronic condition to deal with or a terminal illness and that the cardiac arrest while violent, was yes: merciful … no. It’s a long story, it’s her story and so I will do my best to honor her truth: she battled long time with plenty of chronic conditions which took a sweeping toll on her body), she was rather softly present, and required a good amount of attention, so when I’m looking at that leather chair she used to love to sit in, or a photo, or the bangles, or my cheekbones, I can’t help but feel her giant absence.

So more posts about her and my processing are sure to come. I have a writer friend who is avoiding these posts due to her own aging parents and even though she’s not reading this one, I want her to know I love and support her. I also have another blog friend who is awash in her losses and the losses of her friends and so I want her to know I hear her too. I also know no one expects anything of me, least of all me, in terms of what I should write about next… I want to write about other things, like dental floss and the seasons turning, but none of it resonates at the moment; nothing compares to Mom.

Thank you.