What Losing My Mother Taught Me About Mothers Day

Every Mothers Day


MY MOTHER’S RETREAT FROM EVERYTHING and everybody was so effectual that when the paramedics came for her, they had to break down her door. She survived the day, but not many thereafter.

That scenario alone could have been enough of a wake-up call for me: the message being, should I continue in the same escapist M.O. I had inherited from her, the day might come when no one would be able to reach me as well.

Of course, the more indelible impression came days later when we laid her to rest. I wrote about it in a previous post, that scene straight out of a Telemundo soap opera: a bare handful of us standing on a snowy hilltop in mid-January, huddled against the chilling winds. One came off Lake Erie. The other was a sucking void, the absence of friends and family, all those she’d alienated over the last few years of her life.

But in the photo above, to the right of my mother and father, is one who would have been there, if she could: my Aunt Kate, the sister closest to my mom in age. They shared such an extraordinary bond that in the days leading up to my mother’s death, it looked as though they might go out together.

It could seem mere coincidence that Kate’s health had begun a dramatic decline when, miles away, Joanie took a precipitous fall in her own home. But then why, without being told what had happened, did Kate cry out that her sister was having a heart attack?

The next thing we knew, the two were lying unconscious in the same hospice facility. For days we wondered which of them would go first. When it was my mother who finally succumbed, we couldn’t reveal it to Kate for fear the news would take her down as well.

Now, more than three years later, Kate is still alive, though unable to answer all the questions I wish I could ask her. I cling to a fantasy that she’s holding out, biding her time until she can regain her strength, come out of suspended animation, and tell me everything.

Until then, I’ll continue this process of deducing–and sometimes fabricating–my family history in a search to understand how I came to be who I am. But either way I know I’ll feel a sizable chunk of my personal Rosetta Stone has been lost forever when I finally say goodbye to my Aunt Kate.

She is one of the few who survive with any first-hand knowledge of what happened.

But it’s all relative. It’s all optional. It’s all conditional. We have that expression, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I’ll restate it in a less dramatic way you may identify with more personally: Whatever doesn’t put you in an intellectually vegetative state–after thumbing you in the eye, kicking you in the groin, and breaking a vase over your head–that thing has the potential to bring you to a clearer understanding of who you are individually–and of how you connect to those around you.

In other words, I may never know all the facts, but I’ve learned enough to make some changes. For instance, I think of the impact on my children–and the ripples that might touch their own–and I make choices to allow them inside, to let them know their father in the deepest way possible, and by doing so, to come a little closer to knowing themselves.

That’s what I think of now, every Mothers Day.

You’ve just read part 12, the final installment in this personal account. 





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