Grief: Ha.

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I plunged a 9″ chef’s knife into a watermelon just now and cut a bunch of quarter slices. I’ve had the melon on the counter for about five days and completely forgot about it and the fresh pineapple I bought over our family birthday-Labor Day-Mimi’s death-anniversary weekend. I just tossed the remains of the birthday cake. My mind has been elsewhere. Waiting. 

this is mom holding me in 1968 after i clearly just swatted my older brother. poor guy...

this is mom holding me in 1968 after i clearly just swatted my older brother. poor guy…

I thought I could deal yesterday. What I did yesterday however, was read. I holed myself up on our deck and read all day after I wrote my post about “clarity.” I see the irony now. When Mom died last year, the day was mostly ebbing. It was just around 3pm when I got the call from Dad, so all our plans of having a home-base Labor Day cookout were toast. No pun intended. 

So I guess, you don’t experience the anniversary until you experience the anniversary. Of anything. I remember this after 9/11. Up until the one-year, I remember noticing how my body was gearing up, feeling the angle of the sun and other astral, silent and all-knowing familiarities which unrelentingly tie you to a trauma or event. I don’t remember the date when I saw Bruce Springsteen for the first time, but I remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard about the Towers. 

And this is my first go. I have no clue what to expect, other than to know (now) that expecting anything is a waste. That it happened on Labor Day is just … well … what it is. I could judge it all I want. That’s stupid too, judging.  I’m so grateful to my husband though because he called me in the middle of writing this post to check on me and to also assure me that next year, Labor Day will be on the 7th and that’s great. I’m really looking forward to next year because the anniversary day and the holiday will be far apart. 

That evening, last year, I went for a root beer float at the nearby Baskin-Robbins 31 after viewing her body. I bought two. I don’t know why. I decided yesterday morning, that yesterday was going to be a reinvention, a rebranding of Labor Day for me because last year’s was so traumatic. I was almost literally holding my breath until about 3:30pm. Once we passed that timeline, I had no choice (I suspect) because it was all I could do to not compare: “It’s 3:47 and no one has died. Keep reading.” 

I realize now, that our human invention, denial, is really one of the stupidest inventions we’ve ever … invented. Don’t pay the taxes and they’ll go away. Don’t sweat the addiction and it will get better. Don’t cut the watermelon because nothing’s going on.

So when the early evening began last year, I was in it. I had fielded calls from my older brother and his wife; I had fielded calls and texts from my concerned friends and cousins; I had taken a couple calls from my uncle and godfather, Mom’s brother. I had taken calls from my kids.  

MY KIDS. “Tomorrow,” the day after Labor Day, was their first day of school. My brother and his pregnant wife showed up. That was hard. My oldest son had told my brother about Mom. I gave the other root beer float to my sister-in-law.

As the sun set, I’d been at the hospital four hours; I stayed with my brother and SIL one more hour and then I was going to leave. My brother was there for Dad now.

The attending ER doc for that shift needed my dad to sign Mom’s papers so he could go home. I’m sure the staff would’ve waited and Dad could’ve signed them later, but … it was all a little surreal… he sort of y’know, a’hem, nudged us to y’know … sign. Release the body to the morgue. Let Mom go. I’m sure I wanted to ask him, “Has your mother died yet? Or your wife of 51 years? This shit’s not easy. … Just checking.” Of course the doctor didn’t want to nudge my father in his granitic, unreachable state. No one nudges my father. 

So I had to sort of y’know, nudge my brother. To nudge our father. To y’know … leave. It was his turn. I’d done so much already (not comparing, just acknowledging) by being with Dad when the news broke, by being with Dad to view her, by being with Dad when the doctor had to talk about doctorly things in a doctorly way. I was depleted. Mom was dead. There was no do-over.  

As I started out, a nurse gave me Mom’s things: a bag of her jewelry to take from the hospital, so I did. In a white paper envelope was her passport (WHAT?). In a white double-plastic bag with those hard plastic snap-together handles were other effects including pants and the navy blue cashmere vneck she was wearing when she was transported via ambulance; it had a few of her stray silver hairs on it. I’m still trying to figure out what she was doing with her passport. It’s so odd. Inside that white bag was another bag containing her jewelry. 

When it came to jewelry, Mom was … thorough. As she aged, her OCD really ticked up and she began to trust no one, very little of her nursing aide. So she wore a lot of her valuables. I think whenever Mom weighed-in at her doctors they must’ve just assessed her pirate’s chest of bangles and ancestral baubles and just let it stay; the hell with it. To take it off her and put it back on would’ve added 15 minutes to the visit. So the bag I was given must’ve weighed about three pounds. But seeing that bag of her favorite things, her “stuff” reduced to a hospital-issued ziplock emblazoned with “INOVA FAIRFAX HOSPITAL SYSTEM” … It was all too much. So I left. My husband and I left for our house. 

I had to switch gears, as much as possible. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to deal with the ordeal, it’s that I needed to switch gears. I needed to get out of that pumped-in, fake white light, I had to get away from the Muzak and I wanted to get away from the well-intentioned security guard who simply didn’t know how to look at me.

I had to retrieve my children from their various locations. I had to put my kids to bed. I had to hug them. Inhale deeply and smell their heads, squeeze their bodies and wipe their tears, and press my forehead into theirs as I held them by their jawlines and tell them through tears and sniffles I was sad but that it was all going to be OK and that Mimi was in a better place now and that even though it doesn’t feel like it, things were really going to be OK in a few … 

 

So later that night, around 10:00, Dad, my brother and his pregnant wife showed up at my house. I’m not sure when they left the hospital. It was a way station, I guess. I see my deflective madness: that whole plan, to have Dad not sleep here, but it was all I could deal with at the time. “We are animals in moments like these,” I remember thinking to myself, rationalizing. 

My brother and I rallied and took Dad back to his house to get some things for the overnight. Dad stayed in my car. It was then that I saw the plate of uneaten breakfast on her side of the bed. She wasn’t feeling well that morning. Dad knows this now, but the signs for heart attack or dire cardiac trouble for women are totally different than for men. We don’t feel tremendous pressure, as though we have an elephant on our chest (that’s a normal feeling for us), we feel sick, nauseated and generally weak and profoundly unwell. Sadly, these symptoms also remind us of fatigue and gastrointestinal distress, from which Mom suffered a great deal. But it was unrelenting, this discomfort, but she didn’t want to go to the ER, she wanted to get ice cream. Dad obeyed; they were going to get ice cream. Then she fell. 

I knew that logistically it was best that Dad be here with me, because I live the closest to him and Mom, but … I’d been on this task for almost eight hours by this point. I was also not rational: I was terrified, frankly, that her spirit would come to my house looking for him. I wanted to reduce that liability. I was also comPLETEly terrified that he would live here in his grief. I wasn’t ready for that. I wasn’t able to deal with that. I was and can still be a selfish person (I learned from a very early age that relying on others was a precarious endeavor, so as much as I’ve tried to stay aware of it, primal moments like these can make me unhinged, so I go with “selfish”). 

So I dug in my heels and it was just me and my team in my house that night. Of the immediate surviving family, I knew that no one would be really getting much sleep that night, but I didn’t want it all here. I also knew my home was going to be ground zero for the next day or so. I just knew it. Dad went home with my brother and his pregnant wife. 

The next morning, my other brother flew to DC and we started to rally. That afternoon, Tuesday, Dad and my younger brother came back to the house and we continued and combined our own singular efforts to have Mom celebrated in five days. Out of state. Five hundred miles from where she died. We did all this on my deck with our various laptops, iDevices and phones. We did all this amongst the buzz and presence family and great friends who couldn’t suppress their support for us and their instinct to lift us up in our loss. I see now, a year later (and I sensed then but didn’t really have time or interest in indulging in the time) how Herculean that entire effort was, but true to form, we achieved it. We were like a newsroom.  

I needed to write about this today. Fighting these urges to write and share is “crazy talk” as my brother would say (jokingly). I simply couldn’t have had a normal (ha!) day without doing it. Maybe reading this is even helpful to you. I have no clue about where this train will stop. I see now that it’s an unrealistic ambition to say ‘On this day I will end my writing about Mom and my memories of her and my life.” New stuff or old stuff in new suits occurs to me daily. I didn’t sleep well last night; I was afraid she’d visit me. When I did wake, I was sweaty and unrested. So I needed to flush some things out. I feel better now. I always do. 

Processing… It’s part of my recovery to allow myself to look back on that day and then see 1) it’s over and 2) how far I’ve come. Without that perspective and ability / allowance to reminisce we would be lost. 

Thank you. 

 

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. 

Some Great Things to Know About

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So I recently came back from two weeks away, at two different destinations. The first week I was home (the one which just ended) was really a week I could’ve used to recover from my vacation. Before I left, I ambitiously and optimistically jam-packed it with all sorts of appointments and activities I was sure I’d be ready and pleased as punch to conquer.

Foremost amongst them was an appointment for an eye exam; another was a two-hour journey at the DMV for my son’s learner’s permit; another was a well-child check up for another son; another was college tours (which was really amazing, so I’m glad I did that); and then of course: laundry.

The first Monday of my second week away I decided to order three Roz Chast books. One that I’ve seen and flipped through at my brother’s place (What I Hate), another that simply can’t ever be a bad choice (Theories on Everything) and a third, her memoir (Can’t we talk about something more PLEASANT?), which just came out this summer.

Allow me to interrupt myself: I caught some attention, a’hem, yesterday from a sage family member about the post I wrote yesterday about Mom. It wasn’t a finger-wag, or a lecture, but more of a sweep of a faery wand. This individual hopes I’ve moved on from all the pain of my childhood, and this individual feels as though I haven’t entirely. I’ll also add that my perspective and the concept of “my story” was absolutely allowed and mentioned and even supported, but so was a “will ya get over it??” sentiment. I appreciated the concern, and I want to assure this person and all both of you that I’m really OK. Here’s one tiny example why: if it weren’t for Mom, I’d likely not know about The New Yorker magazine until I was 26, instead of when I was 2. And if it weren’t for that, then I’d likely not ever know about Roz Chast, who is a renown TNY cartoonist, until last Monday. Things with Mom were hard, and I never mean to belabor the point, but a lot about Mom was so incredibly right too. I mean this with no irony at all: if Mom were just quirky and eccentric without the addictions and mental illnesses, she’d just be plain weird, like all moms are to their kids, and we’d likely have a typical relationship that was bristly at times, but infused with trust and love nonetheless. But that wasn’t the journey with Mom. And she had her crazy (really) parents too, so, she played that hand. But all of this and Mom’s brief but meaningful lapses into sobriety and presence considered, it was unlikely I’d end up with much reliability, ever, for more than a year growing up. So when those lapses occured, I put all my chips in those baskets. This is no one’s fault. This is human nature. We are more like squirrels than we realize. When we are dealing with mostly caprice in our loved ones, we will absolutely stock up and dig in and invest in the more stable moments. Those moments of stability become our deeply desired norm rather than exceptions to the rule. So when the caprice returns, we have whiplash with real pain and anxiety which breeds a reluctance to move and grow naturally, so things become staggered and rough, ungraceful. And then those cycles become our norm. I absolutely believe that if Mom had more health emotionally she’d still be here and things would be very much like Roz Chast depicts in her memoir. Mom loved me the best way she could. Things weren’t ideal, but I don’t think any parent in the 60s and 70s really knew WTF they were doing. I watch “Mad Men” and I’m Sally.

I put on about six pounds during my vacations. I ran three times, walked a few times and did yoga thrice. I ate too much each day and slept in too. I read a lot. It was good, really. I spent some much-needed girl time with some amazing women and I feel as though my estrogen-time stores are good for another four months. But I’ll always take more, absolutely.

So the Roz Chast books are absolutely one of the “some” great things I want to share with you. I fell asleep last night with her memoir and I laughed out loud last night (and roused my husband) at one of her panels (the book is 92% cartoons):

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So check out that book and prepare to laugh. A lot.

Speaking of TNY, Lena Dunham (a current actress and writer I am too old to really care or know much about, i.e., she’s half my age) wrote a piece about her time growing up in therapy. It’s hilarious and so validating as both an adult human and as a mother. If brilliance means worry, I think I’m grateful? I am obtusely including a link here:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/09/01/difficult-girl?utm_source=tny&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weeklyemail&mbid=nl_Weekly%20(47)&CUST_ID=14828826&spMailingID=6977537&spUserID=MjUyNDM5MjE5MDMS1&spJobID=502676523&spReportId=NTAyNjc2NTIzS0

Another great thing (I hate that Martha Stewart hijacked that “good thing” phrase) is an app I recently installed on my iPad. I encountered it on one of my final nights of my second week away when I decided I didn’t want to read anything and wanted to play a game of Scrabble. I had to update several apps so when I went to the AppStore to do that, up came the featured app of the week, “Hanx Writer” (don’t click on photo, I don’t care about learning how know how to link to an app):

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Why do I like it? Because it got me typing (and writing, duh) –immediately– during a low time when I thought I’d just give it up altogether. All of a sudden, I ended up writing about what was going on in the room around me. I loved the sound of the keystrokes and the >ding!zxzxzxzzzzzip!< at the end of the paragraph when I'd strike return. I loved watching the letters stamp into the "paper" on their virtual hammers. It made me feel, as I used to, as a writer using a typewriter. For someone like me, who is ancient, and who grew up with a typewriter "banging" throughout the night on our maple dining room table, the sound bouncing off the mahogany walls and walnut floors as my father would write letters, and columns and fill out forms, Hanx Writer restored some of those memories to me, viscerally. I first learned how to type on a typewriter. My first phone could withstand an angry hang-up. I am becoming a Roz Chast character when I say this: I can't really get into the groove of a smooth surface; there is no give; there is no texture, there is no life to me in that. (ha! that was unintended: groove / smooth surface … never mind.)

Another greate thing (assuming you have a smartphone or a computer nearby): Pandora's comedian channels. Go now. Go to Pandora and open a new channel. Type in "John Mulaney" on your smooth glass screen with your fat thumbs and just enjoy. Or try Jim Gaffigan, Mike Birbiglia, or if there are no kids around, Robin Williams (God rest his soul). If you've been in a serious mood, let these guys simply remind you of what it feels like to laugh your ass off again. When a smile feels strange on your face, it's a sign you're in need of irreverence. Here, I did it for you: John Mulaney Delta Air Line

So I’m good, really. I get it: don’t be sad about Mom (which is not always easy, and it’s not always difficult either). Including that one interaction with the sagacious family member, most of the comments from that post have been very supportive and sympathetic. It’s life. I just happen to share what I’m feeling. It makes people own stuff and become reflective. That can scare people sometimes… I know. It’s OK though. You survive it.

Thank you.

Grief: Anniversaries, Distraction, Deflection, Freedom

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Monday will be the one-year mark for Mom’s death.

I feel like a twerp for even going on about this, given the hurt and chaos in our actual, living world.

But I will indulge and as usual, I will be candid.

I have been on vacation the last couple weeks and I’ll own it: I’ve also been reluctant to write about anything, because I know it will lead me to writing about her. So I rationalized, during my insidious stint of writer’s block, that if I don’t write about anything, then I don’t have to see the reality: that she’s been dead a year, so that way I’m not legitimizing it. I’m denying it. But that’s not fair, because so much of my life, even before she died, was so confused in its balance; sometimes she weighed quite heavily, other times she was like the ether.

My kids each have a different appreciation of me, based on our relationship. It’s impossible to treat them all the same, but by and large, I do try to manage them all equally, unless a situation requires a different influence.

My brothers and I have readily admitted to one another and allowed of the other the basic fact that we each had a very different version of our mother: firstMom, angerMom and then sandwichMom. I had mostly angerMom.

What this past year has given me, with all the ups and downs, all the grief and all the guilt, all the confusion and clarity, all the repressions and all the disclosures is the following: freedom.

My mother, whom I loved very much, but who was a terrifically complicated and distant person, is now dead a year and I am free.

I am free of disappointing her.
I am free of reminding her.
I am free of being dismissed by her.
I am free of conflicting with her.
I am free of worrying about her.

I don’t think she ever wanted to be married. I said that to my father today. He told me he found a picture of her at her brother’s wedding. She had caught the bouquet. She was not smiling. She was grimacing, almost frowning, he said.

This is not to suggest in the least, that I was a mistake or that I was not meant to be here. I can say this with conviction because I believe these things occur, these folds in time and wrinkles of “happenstance” with absolute destiny, with intention. I am one of those people who believes that there are no mistakes in the universe, that everything is as it should be. I believe this because the alternative is folly. That believing there is somehow a better or more appropriate circumstance than what we are experiencing, ever, can be maddening.

Of course we can change our circumstances, once we come of age. And that’s the trick: once we come of age.

As a child, I had no choice. I had to do what I was told, and I had to endure the circumstances before me. When I came “of age,” however, I was not 18. I was more like 23-ish.

I remember when I bought my first car. I came home with it. Home was my parents’ house. I was commuting to college because that was the hand I was dealt. Things were tenuous in my home, regarding my mother’s grip on reality and sobriety, so naturally being the only girl in the house, I took on a maternal energy and tacitly performed the management of the house. Not when I was 23, but when I was 5. That duty stayed with me until I moved out. The day before I married my husband of now 20 years.

Back to the car. After I graduated from George Mason University, I had a well-paying editing and writing job. I was about to be engaged, (but I didn’t know it), I bought financed a used (by 2 years) 1992 Eagle Talon TSi. It was electric blue and it had huge tires; probably 10″ wide. I loved that car. It was fast, nimble, responsive. It had electric windows and a CD player. Its seats made you feel like you were in a cockpit, the dials were abundant and the dashboard lights were red-orange, like a BMW’s. I loved that car. It loved me.

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My then-boyfriend drove it home and I drove my parents’ car home so they couldn’t say I let someone else drive their car. It was a Saturday. My father was home, not working.

My mother saw me get of their car and Dan get out of my Talon. She thought he’d bought a new car. She commented to Dan on what a “smart-looking new car” that was and he said something along the lines of it not being his and her eyes went straight to me. I smiled and said, “It’s mine. Isn’t it beautiful?” and she turned on a dime, like a viper, and in minutes, my father came out in a lathering rage, yelling and telling me that I was going to wind up penniless and that I just ruined my credit and that my life would be a wreck because I had acted recklessly and bought such an impractical car.

That was not the reaction I was expecting. I was hoping for something along the lines of “Oh wow, honey. That’s a big responsibility, that’s a big step; are you sure you’re ready?” Not the gesticulating, wild-eyed, operatic invective I received.

I tried to love that car after that evisceration as much as when I first drove it, but I’ll admit that experience muted it for a couple years. Two years later, I was married and out of there and we eventually traded it in for a Ford Explorer in 1997 after we’d experienced an unusually snowy winter and simply couldn’t get to work in a low-profile sports car.

Until we bought the Explorer, I had to bum rides with my boss who drove a 4×4 and was never fired. My husband kept his sports car though. Hrmph. My credit was not ruined. My score is fine. I have not wound up penniless and destitute. Yet.

I mention this story because until my mother died, or until last week anyway, I would’ve been afraid to tell it. I would be afraid even of speaking out in a way that was seemingly against my parents. It’s not speaking out, it’s just telling a truth.

I was speaking with my father the other day about Mom. We were sharing memories and reactions to those memories. I was my usual defiant and candid self. He said, “This sentiment contradicts with what you say on Facebook, when you posted a few months ago, ‘I miss my mom.’ What was that?”

I thought, “you must not read much of what I write” (which relieved me), and I answered, “I have always missed my mom. I have always missed the idea of a mother, a true compassionate leader and balanced supporter. That’s always been missing.” He nodded, seemingly to let it process and said, “Oh.”

I just finished “A Watershed Year” by Susan Schoenberger. It’s about a woman whose best friend and unrequited love dies from cancer and how she goes on to live with his pre-death missives sent to her posthumously via an email program. Inspired by the first of those notes, she decides to adopt a four-year-old boy from Russia. (This is before Putin really went off the deep-end.)

In her anticipation of finalizing the adoption, she waxes about what motherhood meant to her. Schoenberger cites numerous examples: tissues in the purse, band-aids, school plays, under-the-table-with-teddy-bears tea parties and the like. The most poignant example to me was that a mother who’s on a strict diet will share a half gallon of ice cream with her daughter after a jerky college boyfriend dumps her.

I thought romantically about such examples and then was quickly jerked back to reality and cited my examples of the bare minimum I would have liked from my mother: getting out of bed consistently and feeding me consistently. Then they grew on each other: picking me up from camp, not competing with me for my friends, not flirting with my boyfriends, not embarrassing me on the school bus, not cruelly disclosing embarrassing personal events, not asking me about people who hurt me and then telling me she enjoyed their style, or their company, that she saw nothing wrong with them… so many simple examples; but the most simple of which: just getting up. We never had band-aids.

I see this list above I’ve required of a mother and I can say with 100% assurance that I’ve absolutely complied. That in itself is such a fantastic feeling, that I’m really NOT becoming my mother, that I can see now I’ve made it.

My oldest and I finally went to get his driver’s permit last week. This was the day after we toured Georgetown University and bailed on the George Washington University tour. He wants to go to GU. Granted, it’s only the second college he’s ever toured after my alma mater, but he’s in love. He has something to strive for now, a prize to keep his eye on. We will tour UVA and W&M and some other schools up north, and maybe Duke, but I have my sister-in-law to thank for starting this process early, when he still has a good amount of time to apply himself academically and altruistically. I am NOT telling him to stay nearby, I am NOT envious of his friendships, I NOT competing with him in the least. I am NOT telling him he must take care of me in my old age, as my mother did and father has proposed throughout my life. I am free of that comparison now.

Being balanced and normal to my sons is not hard for me. It’s a pleasure. I don’t worry about my being obsolete in their lives one day, I sort of count on it, in a measured sense. I want to play second eighth fiddle. I don’t want them living in my basement all their lives. Trust me. I am free of that specter.

So what this freedom has granted me also is a sense of balance that my feeling guilty for any of the blessings life has given me, is really stupid because I have worked hard for all of them. My presence of mind, my college degree, my jobs after college, the house I own, the kids, choices I’ve made, all of it. I did it all and I can write what I want and say what I want and be cool with the things I have. I have almost always felt gratitude, but not without the weight of Catholic Guilt which requires you enjoy what you have, but only a little, because Jesus sacrificed so much for us and the nuns and priests take these vows of chastity … (I’m a really shitty Catholic.)

My 47th birthday is coming up in a few weeks. It was on my mother’s 47th birthday that we moved into a house in the D.C. suburbs and the fragile, remaining wisps of her functional life broke away, like dandelion seeds, and never ever returned. If ever there was a chance of getting her back, her deep-seated, and languid reaction to our move to Virginia made certain that would never happen.

So yes, Labor Day is going to be hard for me. But not too hard. I will think of her, and of the day, and of the circumstances and of my final vision of her, and how I dealt with it all. I will say a prayer, for all of us whose lives she affected, and then I will move on some more. As I said in my first post after she died, “it’s complicated.”

I have many wonderful memories of my life, even with Mom. I read in Psychology Today last week that the human brain needs five positive experiences to cancel out or compensate for just one bad one; this must be why we tend to hang on to or remember sadnesses more than not. What I’m unsure of (because it wasn’t detailed) is whether the circumstances need to weigh the same. If the good:bad ratio must be with the same person or the same intensity, then Mom is hosed. There simply weren’t enough or enough intensely good times to cancel out the bad. That makes me a little wistful; but this is the deal my soul made with me, this is the life I was given.

I’ll do what I can to ensure that the balance of my life has more positive than negative. I hope five times more positive… wouldn’t that be nice? I think it’s possible. It’s up to all of us to do what we can, always, to see even a potential good outcome from any considered morass. Short of mental illness, it’s about free will. How we perceive everything is all on us.

Thank you.