Nostalgist. Memoirist. The Same?

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I never figured myself a nostalgist. Mom was always looking back, reminiscing and talking about when things were always rosy and comfortable.

Her tendency to glaze over the rough peaks and low valleys, filling them in with downy fluff always made my head hurt.

“Why think of only the bad times?” I remember her saying to me on numerous occasions when I simply wanted to connect about things that were real, unhealed and unsolved.

I suppose that’s when I became a “fixer.” I recall many moments when I just wanted a connection about something real, and all Mom wanted was a connection about a memory she held dear. Which is not to say that the memories she tended were not real; they were just distilled through her filters. Mom’s filters were soft, pink, tender, sweet and miraculous, which of course meant my filters had to be sterile, harsh, coarse, acidic and flawed.

So memories have been loaded for me, especially when they came from her, or from other people. Accepting other peoples’ versions of events meant, for a long time to me, that my own versions were wholly incorrect, so as a result, some of my memories have been hazy. Was I 8, 16 or 12? Did that happen in NY or VA? Was that even me?

“Don’t look back in anger, Maaally,” Mom would say often constantly. But it was the only way I could look back; because so much of my moments with Mom were so challenging and confused so I learned to suppress or re-dress what I experienced into more of an “interpretation.”

Since her death, the memories have come back, some fiercely as though propelled like a massive gas bubble, shiny, translucent round and wide at the top, narrowing to a point at the tail as it races through murky depths only to burst at the surface. My body feels like a picture frame at times, doing all it can to contain the kaleidoscopic blasts and sensations when those bubbles erupt.

For a few days last week, a year and change after her death and burial, I was conscious of the anniversary seemed to just exist and go with the flow, yet I was keenly present in my own family’s affairs. All three boys have lessons or practices several times a week and I got them there on time. Last year, I forgot to take people to lessons or pick them up. Murphy had a cyst erupt and that had to be dealt with. I managed to go for a row and make a new friend. I even made dinner –in advance– three nights in a row with no stress. The house was ready for the cleaning ladies (a feat in itself). I even cycled out the battery on my Kindle reading halfway through “The Prince of Tides.”

Late last week, I spoke with a friend by extension about writing and what to do with this trove of content I’ve created. She’s an SVP at a major publisher. Her idea, delivered in that gloriously fast and exacting New York City style I love so much is daunting yet totally appealing: “In your copious free time, define what you wish to offer and create. You’ve got a lot of vantage points here, but for it to work, you need to narrow down. Get a proposal together, nothing too huge, but something that tells someone what you want to do. I’ll try to share it with people, they’ll look at your work and we’ll see what sticks.”

She was also very comforting about self-publishing. “Those days of launching an e-book on your own and then feeling as though you’ve ruined any chance of a big house publishing you are over; the industry has changed so much, so if you decided to go that route, the doors are still quite open.”

So now what? I’m on it.

. . . . . . .

While I’d managed to be present, on Friday I was pulled back to the 1970s. My father made plans to take a train to see my brother and his family for the weekend and I drove him to the station. For me, it was a perfect visit: we weren’t going to a doctor or running an errand. We had a destination and he got to look forward to resting on a train with his laptop and watch the cities fly by.

On my way, my cell phone rang when I had about 45 seconds to go before I was supposed to be at his house, 70 minutes before his train left.

“Hi Dad! I’m on Wiseass Road … I’ll be there in 60 seconds….”

“Where are you, hon-nee?” He asked.

I repeated myself. We hung up cheerfully.

When I pulled into his driveway, he was already out and about, locking up his car and padding his tweed jacket’s pockets for his keys and cell phone and other trinkets.

I took his wheelie and heaved it into my middle row.

I could hear his keys rattle and medicine pills bounce around in their vials as he poured into my car.

We exchanged niceties, he thanked me for helping him out and all that.

“I have something for you, but I’ll give it to you at the station, when you drop me off…” he said a few moments after he settled into place and the car was riding along.

I followed his instructions to get to the interstate near his home. That sounds terrible, doesn’t it — that I needed directions from my dad, who lives very close to me, on how to get to the interstate. It’s not like that. The highways are constantly in a state of flux around here and sometimes traffic is such that Dad wants me to go a different way. Better to not rouse an octogenarian who’s got a train to catch by taking the wrong way to the highway… I’ve learned.

His cell phone rang. It was my other brother, just checking in to say hello and see how things were going on the way to the train.

“Molly’s driving me, she’s taking me now, we’re on our way to the highway. Take this road, here on the right, hon.”

I took that road on the right.

“Are you working? Preaching this weekend? Oh yeah? What’re you working on … Get in the center lane, honey, this is an exit only …”

I drifted to the center lane, which I was on my way to doing anyway, I can READ A SIGN, Dad.

“That sounds interesting. When I get on the train, I’ll call you … I’ll make it my official first call … we’re rounding a bend here to see how it’s going on the highway, OH NO…. JEEEEZUS… Go into the left lane, and we’ll run along the road on a parallel local road … Yeah, I’ll call you later.” His red Sprint handset slaps closed.

“I just haven’t adjusted to the time I guess; I thought people were still on vacation … ” he said, sounding frustrated and aged, lending to me a feeling as though because he was older that the roads were more unpredictable. “There’s always some construction going on … I hope we get there on time…”

So I went to the light, and I turned left and we hummed along the highway, which was eventually humming along as well. “We will absolutely get there on time. It won’t be an issue.” I said.

As we approached the train station, I told him he didn’t need to tell me how to get there, “It’s off Callahan Street,” I said.

“YES! What a good memory!” he said to me. I notice now as I type that exchange, that I do have a good memory, that what I recall might not always be super-duper fantastic Betty Crocker Brady Bunch Cosby Show moments, but that what I recall is likely very accurate, mine, and that it’s ok if it doesn’t synch up or please everyone else.

“Yes, I used to work down here, remember?”

“Yes, for that publisher; your boss, Jim McGovern? Joe McGavern? McGuiness?”

“Close, it’s not a common Irish name in America anyway; but you’re close …” and I told him what it was. “He taught me some amazing lessons about business and publishing and editing. I remember one instance when I …”

“Turn left here. And then we’ll swoop around down to the right and you can stop to drop me off in front.”

That story I was going to tell didn’t matter, I guess. He was excited. We were on time. He was going to see family on a beautiful weekend, for the first time ever unencumbered by Mom and her anxieties and -isms.

I turned, swooped and stopped. Put the car in park and prepared to open my door to get his wheelie out and help him to the doors.

“Hey, wait. I found this and I want you to have it.” He said as he was starting to lean out the passenger door of my SUV. He was reaching into his pocket and handed it to me. “Here. You know what this is…” he said in a gentle, singsongy and sincere voice. “I know she’d want you to have it. I want you to have it.”

Mom's.

Mom’s. It just occurred to me that I don’t have anything like this, other than my rings which I wear all the time, for my children to identify with. I have a locket, it’s got Thing 1 and our first dog in it. But I don’t wear it because doing so was “too much like Mom” even though I wanted to have one.

It was a locket. A gold, 2″ oval etched locket that Mom wore all the days of her life that I can remember. There is no mistake in this memory. I can see and smell and hear that locket swish along the ropey gold chain she wore and see it nestled on her chest, or in the crease between her breasts, or rest on a cashmere sweater that smelled of her, wool and Chanel No. 5. For as long as I can remember, that locket has housed two photos. One of me, when I was in kindergarten, and one of my older brother (whom my father was about to visit) when he was likely in second grade.

‘Shee Chrishhee. Shee Chrishhee…’ ” Dad said as he handed it to me.

I opened it up and the tears bounded out like that bubble from the murk. They poured out of me, and are again. That locket was not amongst her things when she died. It wasn’t in that plastic bag the nurse gave me the night I left her body at the hospital. I wondered where it was. I wasn’t ever going to ask Dad, but I’d wondered for 375 days. I was reluctant to ask.

“Shee Chrishhee.” I whimpered back, vaulted to my toddler self, recalling the phrase I used to utter to Mom to glimpse the picture of my brother.

When I saw the pictures of myself and my brother, they were as I’ve always remembered. The photo of  my brother is patchy and worn slightly, likely from my fingers and thumb rubbing it upon my numerous requests to see the pictures, on demand.

Here is the image of me, still under its little plastic cover which Mom likely added to protect it from destruction as the image of my brother had been worn.

I took this picture in the car, at a red light about three miles from the train station. I was five in this image; about the time in my life when I can remember mostly sadnesses and feeling alone.  I cut my own bangs.

I took this picture in the car, at a red light about three miles from the train station. I was five in this image; about the time in my life when I can remember mostly sadnesses and feeling alone.
I cut my own bangs.

Do you have an image or photo of yourself that you love so much? That when you see it, it all comes flooding back? God, I was so little. I have always cherished this image of myself.

I remember that top. I loved it. It was a blue “Health-Tex” turtleneck with tortoise-y false buttons running down the red-fringed ruffle. I had blue and red gingham pants and a skirt that went with it.

I won’t share the picture of my brother because he’d likely disown me if I did. He is a terrifically handsome man and was a great looking kid too, but per the mode of the time, he is wearing a David Cassidy-inspired vest over a massive-collared pale paisley print man-blouse. His hair is also David Cassidy, in the fashion of the day and his smile is gentle and kind. His teeth are … his teeth have been addressed orthodontically so they are completely different now, but I sense he’d kill me if I shared it so I won’t.

So I see how this goes, at least for the moment. Nostalgia is imminent. Ha. It is though. The following evening I went to a mini-high school reunion and caught up with friends. It was so lovely to be with them all. We’ve all aged beautifully, I might add.

The phrase of the night was “AOOOMAIIIGAAAD! You haven’t changed a bit!!!” and I had to brace a little at that; I spoke with a dear friend about that utterance that night and she said, “Yikes. I hope I have. I hope I’ve evolved! I’ve done so much growing and work…” we laughed.

I decided that I wanted to hear and say this, “You look great! You’ve taken such good care of yourself…” and that that would be enough.

I’ll be around. I’ll be poking at the proposal from my friend in publishing. I’m trying to figure it all out. Maybe this is enough; maybe the blogging is enough. I doubt it though; I need to let myself have bigger plans. I need to let myself chase a dream. Chasing that dream requires I go backwards too, especially if I want to call it a memoir; just don’t ask me to call it ‘nostalgia.’

Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charlie Needs a Job, Murphy Interviews, Gandalf Walks Out

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For a rescue dog that didn’t cost us any money to acquire, not even a fee at the local animal shelter, Charlie has proven to be a monetary sinkhole in his pursuits of destruction. He is a southern boy, he speaks with deliberation, as Matthew McConoughy? McConnoughay? McConaughey? … Googling… McConaughey. Got it. 

Murphy is a breeder-born, thoroughbred Golden Retriever from the Blue Ridge raised by a Tidewater Virginian. Murphy cost us $1,200 initially, but he’s proven himself to be an absolute gentleman, save for his zealous crotch torpedoing. Apparently that’s de rigeur for goldens. Murphy is mature, efficient and speaks sparingly, preferring to let what he doesn’t say say what he actually means.  

Seeing as how Charlie is in the red now, he needs to get a job. Murphy with our cat Gandalf (the one with the other family across the street) take on the arduous task of interviewing Charlie. Below is a portion of the experience.

The meeting takes place on our deck. Murphy is lying on his side, sunning himself and Gandalf is on a railing, looking down on Charlie as he always does, and also keeping a safe distance because Charlie can’t control himself around Gandalf. He simply sees him as something to eat or maim or destroy; but in a fun, lighthearted way. I believe the Geneva Convention would define Charlie’s tactics as torture.

C: I brought my resume:

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This was an instrument of repression. I renovated it to suit my needs of never having to wear it again.

M: What is the type of job you feel is best suited toward your … natural talents and gifts? 

C: Yes.

M: What?

C: I did that. All by myself. From inside my crate. Well, that’s not exactly true. It was outside my crate, but I pulled it through to inside the crate and then I did that.

M: How?

C: I just said. Through the crate. Look, pretty boy, I have many skills. I prefer to think of myself as a diet counselor / deconstructionist / renovator / incidental gardener / toy acquirer / media specialist / innovative package opener / threat prognosticator / vermin exciter and conjurer of magic.

M: Come again? Conjurer of magic?

C: I see things that others can not. I bark at things that are not there. I can’t tell if that’s more ‘threat prognosticator’ or magic conjurer …

M: In the dog world, we consider this, asinine. The lady and the man don’t like it either. Do you know what ‘shut the hell up!’ means?

C: To shut up hell. That’s also what I do. In the back yard, I can smell sulfur, so I dig to hell and cover it up with other dirt or tree parts or tennis balls. See where it says, ‘incidental gardener’? Got that covered. Ha. No pun intended. Proceed.

M: This is truly dazzling. Gandalf, you’re quiet today. Anything to add?

G: Yes. Stop. Now. All of this. Charlie, you are

C: Amazing, I know. It is dazzling; that a puppy like me, who’s from the sticks and has who knows what –other than awesome!– running through his bloodlines can accomplish so much in so little time.

G: Yes. Let’s talk about how much you’ve accomplished. That incident with the carpet in the playroom… what’s going on here?

sulfur! right here!

sulfur! right here! in front of my chest.

C: This? I smelled sulfur. I eradicated it. The family is safe. Next? 

G: Diet counselor?

C: You like that crap they give you? I think it’s terrible, so I spare you from it. Plus, uh, you’re looking a little wonky on the chassis, G. What’s with the loose belly swing when you walk? It’s like you’ve got a chest of pirate’s booty in your gut.

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G: I don’t have to take this. That photo is undignified.

C: Get over yourself. You weigh 17 pounds. That’s twice the size of that rodent dog next door. The neighbors have a nice warm spot for you if you need. I can chase you there if you want. Help you work up an appetite for all that sitting around you do…

M: This is no way to treat a co-worker. If you’re looking for a job, Charlie, you can’t be disrespectful like that.

C: I’m sorry. He’s gone. ‘Co-worker!?’ GO ON! TRAITOR! TURNCOAT! CAAAAAT!

GO COMPLAIN ABOUT US ALL IN THAT HOUSE WITH ALL ITS SHADE, AIR FRESHENERS and NO DOGS or KIDS … He comes back smelling like a Glade Plug-In after he’s been over there. Uch. He has no dignity. Plug him in, plug him in…

His sister… ay chihuahua. Now she’s feisty. She’s all hissy and growly and then jumps from a tube sock. She’s a klutz though.

M: It’s just that you’re spirited.

C: You mean, enthusiastic.

M: We’re off track. Tell me about your other skills.

C: I can alert the family to a vacuum in the room from my crate behind a closed door.

M: What do you mean? Vacuum in the room?

C: When there’s a vacuum in the room, and I’m alone and in my crate, I tell the family they forgot it. Or, when it’s running, and I’m having an imposed nap in my crate, behind a closed door and I hear the vacuum, then they clearly need to know about it. One time I decided to decommission a vacuum.

M: You mean when you chewed through the cord? That repair cost

C: I mean when I SAVED THE FAMILY. Vacuums are dangerous. So are lawnmowers, brooms and large garbage bins. And toddlers. Toddlers are always getting into trouble which means they are very dangerous. They are drunk, unstable walkers. That’s why I take away their chips — they could choke on them — and then I knock them down. They need to stay on their bottoms at all times where I can keep an eye on them. Chips are very sharp. And tasty. They don’t need that kind of food. They need apples and carrots and strawberries, which are also very tasty. Toddlers don’t need anything actually. They should just stay away.

M: Yes. I remember that. When that little boy was over this summer. You were very nice to him the first time.

C: I didn’t know what he was the first time. Of course I’m going to be all, “Hey, little … thing…? What’s in your pants? That smells like dinner…” Then he was all over the place. Chucking tennis balls into trees, and flinging frisbees into the dirt, and swinging around tree branches. I saved him. Those things can kill a kid. I had to put a stop to it. So now he cries whenever he sees me. I certainly don’t recall you not enjoying that bag of pretzels he knocked off the table.

M: Very good. Do you feel you’re misunderstood?

C: Why is this starting to sound like a therapy session?

M: I’m sorry. You’re right. What else would you like to highlight?

C: I can be very patient.

M: How?

C: Well, like right now. You’re chewing on my nylabone and I am lying here by your elbow gently biting it.

M: The lady just found that nylabone this morning. Along with this:

 

those were artfully placed under the sofa. i'm an interior decorator too.

those were artfully placed under the sofa. i’m an interior decorator too.

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this is the dog bed i prefer. the lady didn’t just clean up for this photo. she cleaned up last night at 10pm because she was angry about something. so she cleaned instead of slept. that’s when i told her to beware the vacuum.

 

this is the dog bed they gave me. i use this to encourage the humans, as well as a giant stuffed toy.

this is the dog bed they gave me. i use this to encourage the humans, as well as a giant stuffed toy.

M: Yes, here in this picture above, you’re chewing on a newfound old nylabone. Not the one I have now.

C: Yes. But I want the one you have now. Not the one in this picture, even though it’s right in front of me. I want what you have.

M: This is not cooperative.

C: I’m an independent contributor.

M: Let’s see… you also have listed: “I have an uncanny ability to come out of nowhere at top speeds and careen with a size 3 soccer ball between my teeth and leap small ottomans in a single bound.”

C: Size 3. That’s the best. Yeah.

M: Media specialist?

C: I like books, the classics and some new age…

I'm no snob.

I’m no snob.

M: This is a bummer, you know. LotF is a literary master –

C: Don’t talk to me about master anything. Listen, when it storms, this is what you do:

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C: Really classy. For a so-called “gun dog,” this is an embarrassment to your lineage. On the Fourth of July this year, I was out with the sparklers, bored to TEARS while you were inside shivering in a corner.

M: I never said I was a hero. You can’t swim.

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C: I suppose you’re right about that. I … didn’t list it on my résumé. I see you’re quite relaxed there. I am a dog of action.

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C: Oops. Wrong pic.

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C: Much better. This was taken right after they cut off my balls. I needed something, a bigger ball, to feel somewhat normal again.

M: I remember that leash.

C: Yeah. Tasted good too.

C & M: Ahhhaahahaaaa!

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M: I hate leashes.

C: Not as much as you hate baths.

IMG_2795

M: True. I do hate baths. Well, this ends our interview for today. Next time we will talk about grooming and not vomiting in the car. Do you think you can handle that?  … Charlie…?

C: Later! Lady’s doing yoga. I need to help her.

Heels down...

Heels down…

This post is dedicated to my dear friends whose favorite things I write are the posts about the dogs. We love you! Go Notre Dame!

Thank you.

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 understandably granitic and 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 her would’ve added 15 minutes to the visit and she’dve never let any of it out of her sight. 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

Standard

“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.