I am admittedly an open book; or, as Pat likes to say, I have no poker face. But beneath my public statements about how NYC drives me crazy on most days, how I have little to no sense of a “budget,” and how I’m scared about what Romney means for the future of America, lay a few deep, dark secrets. We all have them, don’t we? For years, this secret - my biggest fear, really - was the thought of losing my mom. It made me lie awake some nights, that thought. And when I got the call from my sister on February 14th, Valentine’s Day nonetheless, that my mom was suddenly non-responsive after spending the day in the emergency room with kidney stones, this fear bubbled over.
So, it’s safe to say that even before I was faced with the reality of losing my mom, I thought about the possibility. I played games with myself, with God even, about how much longer I might have with her. As the youngest of three, and with parents who started having children later in life, I’ve felt cheated in this regard, knowing that I would most likely lose my parents before most of my friends. I just never imagined it would be now.
I remember distinctly a story that my mom’s friend Mary Jo told during those long days in the hospital. She said that just a few months earlier, around Christmas time, she and my mom were talking about the holidays. My mom must have been telling her what we had planned - the family gatherings, the gifts for Hudson - and even in the midst of all the fun and festivities, she told Mary Jo it just wasn’t the same since her mom died. I remember feeling the weight of that story - of my mom’s admission - and the realization that it doesn’t matter how old you are, it’s never a good time to lose your mom.
I had this sense, for the first month or so after my mom died, of reaching. Reaching out to family and friends to fill the gaping hole that my mom had left. I felt in limbo, not sure who to share the various minutia of my day with. Who really cared what I had made for dinner? Who wanted to know where I decided to store my wedding china? My minute-by-minute plans for a Saturday afternoon?
My nephew, the light of our eyes for the past two years, and especially the last six months, turned two a few weeks ago. There was a party, and cake, and gifts, of course. But there was a moment at his party that stuck with me, beyond the Thomas & Friends cupcakes or the basketball hoop that the adults had more fun with than the intended 2-year-old recipient. Hudson, smiling and laughing all day, surrounded with the people he knows and loves best, took a tumble, as toddlers do. My brother-in-law, one of the best fathers I know, reached him first, picking him up for a big hug and the reassurance that he was ok. Still crying, Hudson’s first instinct was to reach for my sister. For mom. I teared up, understanding how he felt.
I spent the majority of this past weekend on the couch, fighting a summer cold, and watching the Olympics, as Pat played poker with the guys. As I moved aimlessly through the day, the urge to call my mom felt stronger than it had in months. My subconscious failed me repeatedly, allowing me to reach that dangerous area where for a split-second, you’re not entirely sure of reality. How quickly I rebounded each time – and how crushed I was as I remembered.
I always wonder what my mom might say to me in these darker moments. Would she utter her most pragmatic – and quite hilarious, really – advice, “Life’s a bitch and then you die”? Or would she sit down next to me on the couch, rubbing my leg like she did, and tell me to take it one day at a time?
I suppose I might never stop reaching for her. In hindsight, perhaps she never stopped reaching for her own mom. But, when I read this, I think maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be.
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
- Ann Lamott