Today has been a hard day. Although not as hard as it was one year ago this evening, when my mom took her last breath. I was blessed with my mom for over 56 years of my life. While not every moment was hugs and kisses, that long span defined our relationship, mother and daughter, and friends.
For the first time this morning, I sat and read all the comments friends had left on my facebook page one year ago today, about 600 of them. I knew I didn’t have the strength prior. Crocodile tears were in abundance. With some, telling the honest to goodness truth about this “passage of life”, “Donna, you will never get over this, you will think of her everyday and you will miss her everyday, but I am here to help you”… They are right. Never in my life will I stop missing her, and everyday of my life, just like I have with both my sisters, and Jim’s death, I will think of her, and I am very grateful for that.
My mother was quite a character. People, friends would tell me how strong I was, and then they’d meet my mom and smile “Omg, I can see why, now!” I am smiling. My mother’s strength and love had carried me through a lot in my life, and throughout HER life. You never know what a person is going through, unless they tell you. My mother kept a lot to herself, as do I. She never liked that I blogged, because she felt I put too much out for people to read or see. But writing, sharing for me, is how I get through. “Mom I wouldn’t blog about my sex life, even if I had one!” She would roll her eyes and shrug her shoulders, head out the door to the gardens that she so lovingly cared for for decades. How grateful I am, today, that I had my mom as long as I did.
“A strong woman looks a challenge dead in the eye, and gives it a wink.” – Gina Carey
My relationship with my mother was strong, complicated, ever changing. We argued, we made up, we argued some more, we laughed. We were always “doing something”, because my mom could not sit long. Unless she wasn’t feeling good, and then you’d find her cozied up with glasses on, nose in a book. She helped me with my studios past and present, renovating my home, and it didn’t matter the dozen or less times we weren’t speaking, if I needed her, all I had to do was call. She was amazingly resourceful, I have never known anyone (but my father) who had the talent to fix, repair, replace ANYTHING! Except of course, addiction and alcoholism.
“The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.” – Honore de Balzac
Like many of us, moments from my childhood reared pain in maturity, but I had long since forgiven my mother for the manner in which she treated me, because maturity showed me my own imperfections, and I not only loved my mom, I liked her. I wanted her in my life. So in my late 20’s after years of “therapy”, I forgave, and freed myself of the disappointment, harm that I believe only happened because of the hell she had lived through. I still struggle daily with self defeating behavior, but it’s all mine. I am the only one who can change that, and someday’s I succeed, other days, not so much.
My relationship with my mom in my 40’s and 50’s were the best. Both single, we looked out for each other in a world that wasn’t always easy to exist in. A therapist once described my relationship with my mom as “spousal”. I laughed. Um, no, CLEARLY she was always the mother! And I smile. We spent a lot of time together, enough that I know I will for the rest of my life have memories of her, us. I could go on and on pages long, of the countless things my mother did that helped me, but I’d rather save them for the days ahead when I need to remember them. In my 40’s and 50’s she was my greatest support, particularly when she gave back the care giving I did for her through her cancers, and she, through my own.
A friend said to me after she passed “Donna, I knew your mother had been through some shit in life, I knew it just by her stance alone “Don’t mess with me!” I laughed and nodded. Like mother, like daughter there. Our lives ran parallel in many ways, both affected by another’s alcoholism, both betrayed in marriage, both creative souls, financial duress, heartache and disappointment. There were times we laughed so hard I had to go take a shower, because the tears ran down my legs. One way we did differ was when I would do something REALLY stupid (and that happens a lot) the first thing I would do is call my mom and tell her. She would say “And don’t go sharing this with everyone either!”. But of course, I did. As soon as I hung up the phone I called one of my girlfriends and share my stupidity, because I learned long ago how to laugh at myself, and my many true friends love to laugh as much as I did. Laughter is healing, and my favorite emotion is laughter through tears. I had a lot of these with my mom.
There were horrific times in my life, one being when I found out Jim (love) died. I drove from Watertown, NY, stopped for a 2 hour visit to see his parents outside Albany, and my mom begged me to get a room for the night, I lied to her and said I would. A few hours later when I arrived home (was bad driving conditions) she was up, waiting for me. “I knew you wouldn’t do as I asked!” We sat up that night and talked for hours, and hours, and hours. We both cried that night. I was sharing the agony of knowing he had self destructed, Jim was a good person, we had a nice life together, but his alcoholism was a deal breaker. That night, as I shared about my conversation with his parents, I knew then, my mothers tears weren’t just for me or Jim. I believe she grieved for her brother, and his children, to whom they lost to alcohol, too. It was an area of her life that she rarely spoke of. It was then the first time I realized, all the times that she watched me walk through the talons of alcoholism, she didn’t offer any advice, only offer to help where she could, and of course, prayers, except the last event when I told her “I need to tell him to leave.” She then encouraged me to remove myself from the now alcohol ridden relationship, and did all she could and more, to help me through this difficult time. How many times did my words or my actions hurt or recall pain from her own life? But my mom just silently dealt with it on her own. We spoke usually daily, and it was a rarity when she wasn’t at my house at least once during the week. She co-owned all 5 of my animals, as she took great care of them (and my home, when I travel taught).
Over a span of 17 years, there were numerous trips, later on to Boston for her surgeries, and trips to chemo, and doctors. It was very hard to be my moms primary care giver. Our last trip to Boston was straight out of hell, and I told her on the way home after complete emotional breakdown pulled over on the side of a road at 1am in Boston, “I can’t continue doing this mom”. For a while I felt guilty about it, because I knew, when I could no longer do the long trips to Boston with her, that the disease would take over, and that is exactly what happened. That’s a very hard reality for me at times, but I know, I was a good daughter to her, and I did everything I could and then some. My own health issues needed tending to. But through it all, today I am nothing but grateful that I was there for her, and I did all that I did for her. I will carry this with me throughout my life’s time.
I recall being admitted to MGH (Mass General Hospital) for cellulitis. This happened after an exchange surgery (reconstruction for breast cancer). I had left the house that morning telling her not to worry, they were going to give me a shot in the ass and send me home with a bottle of bigger pills! I called her, crying, could barely catch my breath “I’m being admitted”. You are what? “I’m being admitted”. “Omg, okay, are you okay?” “No, mom, I’m scared”. “It will be alright, Donna, we will get our prayer warriors right on this”. Also recalling seeing my doctors face color and expression change as he lanced open my right breast right then and there. “Am I going to be alright?” “I don’t know, Donna, but we are going to do our best and you will be in patient for awhile”. “Mom, I am going to be on Bigelow 9” (Ever seen MGH, HUGE! I was on the 9th floor of Bigelow building). “Gigolo what, Donna?” BIGELOW MOM, BIGELOW!
It’s been a challenging year. When she died the next day, the world felt different. I no longer felt brave or safe. How could I? My greatest protector was no longer here? A friend asked me if it (grief) was harder than I thought it would be. “Yes, yes it is”. Having the sad experience of losing my oldest and youngest sisters to cancer, and Jim to alcoholism, I knew it would be hard. I just didn’t know exactly how hard it would be.
A few years ago my Uncle, her youngest and only living brother of 3 passed. We needed to clean out his apartment, and notify next of kin. We had four cousins we only saw when very small. We needed to send them paperwork, so I found one cousin on facebook, I will never forget the day we, she learned, that her nephew, Brady had died of cancer. Her face turned white. She took a deep breath and sat down at the table in my studio. Clearly distraught. We have a couple gene mutations in our family, and are a gene pool you wouldn’t want to swim in. I knew what was going through her mind was hard for her, like maybe SHE DID give us the mutations. She uttered some words softly, one being her brother’s name, and her nieces name, and then headed out to the gardens that brought kept her busy and brought her peace. I will never know what she was thinking, but I knew it was quite painful for her. This was a really hard night for both of us. Nor I or my siblings ever asked either parent to be tested, and we certainly didn’t look to them with blame. They too, were victims. But I sometimes would find my mom quiet in reflection, and I know she struggled with the idea that she may have passed down her cancers to us.
I know she is with me. She will always be with me. I talk to her daily, and while I have received “signs” confirming so. Today’s sent me to tears yet again. I am trying to finish the last project we collaborated on, a victorian desk, and somewhere between A – Z, I had lost the front plate for the keyhole. I looked in my pocketbook 3 times. Nothing. I called my girlfriend, it wasn’t in her car. I was ready to head back out to Home Depot where we had gone and I realized I hadn’t grabbed my phone. I prayed to St Anthony, and asked my mom to please, please let me find this plate. Two seconds later I slid my hand into my pocketbook to get my house keys (which were my moms set), and out with them in my hand was the keyhole plate. For me, that was a sign that she is with me. I find comfort in that.
“Her damaged petals are what made her more beautiful than all the other flowers”- a.j. lawless
I was not easy to parent, so I’ve been told. And she wasn’t an easy mother to parent in later years. She was stubborn, impatient, hmmmm sounds familiar?
“My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it”. – Mark Twain