Monday, July 18, 2011

Mama Beautiful Mama of Mine

Mom and Me
Venice, 1966

My broken leg and my cracked ribs have changed lots of stuff for me this summer.The good part is that I have allowed myself to receive from others again. As I have aged, I have become increasingly uncomfortable about receiving from others. And I believe that losing my mother played a huge part in this manner of being.

Somehow or other I had receiving and needing and independence all screwed up in my head. I knew that the men in my life did not want me needing too much. I felt that no one wanted an adult woman who was too vulnerable, so I became fiercely independent, proud and aloof, for to need too much was something I found to be both terrifying and repugnant.

No matter how difficult my relationship with Mom could be, I always knew one thing for truly sure - Mom loved me. She was in the background of my life. Sort of like a comfy old sweater. She was there if I needed her. On call. Waiting.

During my first adult heartbreak when I was twenty-two, I visited her. I lay in her bed frozen with pain sobbing. She lay down beside me, and she cried too. She said she would trade places with me if she could. She told me that things would get better. And they did.

She never missed an opportunity to champion my cause, to express her pride in me or to listen to me at length when asked to do so.

But my mother's need of me was too big for me to satisfy, for I needed to become my own woman, and I could not do it with Mama in my life too much. Her life had been focused on her two daughters. She called us her proudest achievements.And she did not want to let us go.

Years of a push/pull dynamic ensued between us. Guilt trips. Pathetic and desperate phone calls in the middle of the night. Threats of suicide. Mean letters. I distanced myself more from her with each bout.

Then one day Mom was dying. A phone call on the evening of November 12,1990 confirmed that. Lung cancer. Small cell. Bone and Liver involvement.
Mom -always dramatic- described herself to us as "eaten-up".

Thus began a period in which I fell in love with Mom all over again. I allowed myself to feel my great need for her- a need that was so huge that it frightened me, for I feared losing myself in it. I cuddled with her. I allowed her to brush my hair. We sat in her bed with our arms around one another to have our picture taken.

Over the weeks as the cancer took her body, we lay in her bed holding hands while laughing and crying over old photographs.

For her sixty-first birthday I placed a dozen yellow roses on the dresser that was opposite her bed. Three days later she asked me to remove them. She said she could not take them where she was going.

A few days later, she told me to go home to my husband and not come back. She said she had the nurses, and that I belonged in my own home where my life was. I remember crying and telling her that I wanted to stay by her. I did not want to leave her alone. I told her I wanted to be strong for her.

What I did not understand then was that she needed to be alone, so that she could get on with the business of dying. She could not perform the largest act of letting go that any of us will get to do, with her blue-eyed daughters and a vase of yellow roses too near.

She had to withdraw into a new place in order to die.

I last saw my mother on Monday, February 18, 1991. She died the following Monday.

6:40 in the evening Monday, February 25, my sister and I are talking about the hell that is being played out in my mother's blue bedroom . Her suffering has gone beyond what anyone should have to endure. And we want it to end.

A click over the phone line. My sister asks me to hold while she takes another call. Within seconds, she returns , "Mom died a few minutes ago" she said.

Death makes you feel like you have to get up and do something, as if in the act of doing you can make it go away. I looked out my living room window. My husband was coming down the sidewalk with a bag of Mexican take-out.
Minutes later, we are driving the seventy-some miles to Mom's condo.

Once there, I rush to see Mom. She is lying at a diagonal in the ugly hospital bed. She is dressed in her powder blue Vanity Fair nightie. Her blue eyes are open and staring far beyond me.

She looks like a fallen seabird.

I stopped letting myself feel any real need after Mom was gone. I guess I thought that needing hurt too much.

The accident has put me in touch with my need to need again. And I think I am turning a new corner as I approach my sixtieth birthday.

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