Six Years Ago

My mom died.

I do not like euphemisms, much. ‘passed away’ is too passive. ‘lost her’ indicates negligence on my family’s part. ‘left us’ suggests that she wanted to. ‘lost her battle with cancer’? Please. It was a battle like Germany invading France through Belgium was a battle. There wasn’t a lot of time for resistance in Belgium. And then it was over.

Then came grief.

First I should explain that my mother and I had an adversarial relationship. She wanted to know every little working of my mind and soul and I did not want her to, so I became a very private person. So, too, with my brother. My father? He’s always been an introvert.

But because I didn’t let my mom in, she invented a lot of things about me that she thought were true. She believed I would come home from a day of teaching, don evening wear, and go out to a gala or maybe the symphony. That I wrote Regency romances because of Jane Austen.  That I had a use for The Oxford Companion to English Literature. In her mind, I was perfect.

Now, grief.  When she died, I kept on being private, as did my dad and my brother. We could not comfort each other because there was a Mom-sized hole between us. We still can’t communicate effectively, six years later. We can’t breach that hole. We have done our grieving and healing as individuals tied together by love, but not understanding. I try a lot to understand them, but I can’t. Nor do they understand me, particularly.  A lot of that is because I am not the person my mother imagined. And they see me through that Mom-shaped hole, even if the evidence of my life indicates I am not the person she thought I was.

I wish I had a chance to set the record straight with her. I wish I could have a chance to offer her the truth.  Teaching in a classroom exhausted me to the point where I’d sit on the couch and fall asleep before dinner. I haven’t worn taffeta or attended any kind of gala since I graduated hugh school. I like rock and roll. I wrote (write? I am thinking of trying another) Regency because they lacked inconvenient undergarments. I read pulp fiction and YA Lit. Generally, The Canon bores me.

I think I miss her most when I have to ask her a question.  Because I was too private and independent, I didn’t ask as much as I might have: How much mustard in the mac and cheese? How do I get ink stains out? Where to buy a good coffee table? Was that really David Bowie at Halfmoon Bay? Little things, but things that are important to communication, to really hearing and really being heard.

I used to think she’d be dissappointed if she really knew who I was. Now, I think she’d be surprised, but I don’t think she’d be disappointed.

8 Comments to “Six Years Ago”

  1. By elswhere, January 24, 2009 @ 2:56 pm

    I bet she’d be surprised and proud.

  2. By rachel, January 24, 2009 @ 3:48 pm

    Hey, thanks for writing this. I’ve always wanted to ask you about your mother, but wasn’t sure whether I was allowed there or not. She sounds a bit like mine, frankly – my mother’s gravity was so strong she bent the whole family, and possibly large chunks of the universe, around herself – and I sort of suspected that.

    It may be too late to offer her the truth, but it’s never too late to offer it to other people you love. I had the habit of secrecy too, and still have to remind myself to do that, pretty often.

  3. By cheesefairy, January 24, 2009 @ 10:24 pm

    Aw damn. I wish she had known you.

    Thank you for the reminder to let my kids be who they are.

  4. By Beth, January 25, 2009 @ 9:09 am

    I think that there is an invisible tie that unites women who have lost their mothers. Our stories are all unique but the emotional impact we all understand.
    My Mom died when I was 11. She never knew me as an adult. I believed for years that she would have been so ashamed of me because of choices I made. Now I think she would have been very impressed.
    But I relate so much to your comment about not being able to ask the questions. I didn’t ask them because they didn’t occur to a kid of 10.
    How did she deal with the frustrations of motherhood or what did she think marriage meant or how did she feel about sex?
    I was 40 before I found out that my mother was a pianist. We never had a piano at home so I never saw her play, it was never mentioned. That one piece of information blew apart my picture of my mother. What else don’t I know?
    Missed opportunities. That’s what death creates.

  5. By jo(e), January 25, 2009 @ 7:59 pm

    (o)

  6. By Liz, January 25, 2009 @ 8:28 pm

    Thank you all.

    Els, I hope she’d be proud.
    Rachel, they do sound similar. Having met yours, I kind of sensed it as well.
    Thank you and you’re welcome, Cheesefairy.
    Beth, I think of us as a kind of club, one I wish I didn’t belong to: Women Without Mothers. I find it sometimes sticky and weird navigating in a world where so many of my friends don’t have this huge and awful experience.
    Thank you, Joe.

  7. By Stephanie, January 25, 2009 @ 10:25 pm

    You betcha she’d be proud.

  8. By Erin, January 26, 2009 @ 4:54 pm

    Of course she’d be proud! You’re an amazing woman, Liz.

    Both my parents have almost died – my Dad 10 years ago from Cancer (and then again just recently with heart problems), and my Mum last summer when she had her stroke. It kind of scared us all into getting over some of our differences and relating better. My Mum was overbearing – up until her stroke last summer, and although her verbal skills fell apart she can still be tough to handle sometimes. But I’m learning to accept that and work with it.

    Lots of love to you. Thanks for sharing about your Mum.

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