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For My Mother

Posted on Tuesday, June 9, 2009 in lamentations, Memoirs, prayers, unfinished

Now that I am an old man, I cannot look back upon my old works without losing my way in the past. Sometimes, lying in bed at night, a phrase or a paragraph or a character from an early work will mesmerize me, and in a half dream, I will entwine it in phrases and draw from it a kind of melodious memory… of an old bedroom in Colorado, or my mother, or my father or my brothers and sister. I cannot imagine that what I wrote so long ago will soothe me as does this half dream, and yet I cannot bring myself to look back … I am fearful; I cannot bear being exposed by my own work. I am sure I shall never read these books again. But of this I am sure: All of the people of my writing life, all of my characters are to be found in the early work. Nothing of myself is there any more, only the memory of my old bedroom … and the sound of my mother’s slippers walking to the kitchen.

—John Fante

People get real uncomfortable when they’re confronted with a grown man crying. I know. I’ve been crying a lot lately. I have no idea when it’s going to come on me. I see something, hear something and boom! — I’m gone. At first when it started happening, like if I were in my car, I’d try to hide it … then I’d drive home as fast as I could go so I could get inside the front door, and then I’d let go.

But then I figured, wait a minute! This is stupid. Why do I have to hide it? Am I embarrassed, or am I making somebody else uncomfortable? In any case, who cares? So now I just let go. I mean, I don’t make any huge scenes in public places. If I’m really going to howl—to pound the walls—I do that inside the confines of my house.

Oh, before I forget … the reason I’m doing all this crying lately is that my mother died a month ago. According to the experts, I’m in the “shock” phase of bereavement — which is probably accurate. I mean, half the time I walk around totally numb; then all of a sudden, I’ll just totally lose it. Ultimately, what struck me as a result of not being able to control my emotions is how much energy we all put into putting on a proper “face” for the world. And for what?

You know, you get some guy talking to himself in a public place…people look at him like he’s nuts. I wonder…if I really started crying and howling like I do when I’m within the confines of my house, if somebody’d call the cops on me? Yes, I’m sure they would.

I’m getting off the subject here, which is my mom. I’ve had a lot of loss in my life … many good friends, almost all of my family … but I’ve got to tell you that there is absolutely nothing that equals the pain of losing a parent. And if both your parents are gone, well—that’s a whole different ballgame.

You know what? I really don’t understand people — I’m talking about people my age — who talk about how they have gotten “relegated” to losing their parents. You know—they say stuff like, “Well, this is the age when that happens…so sure it hurts — but it’s OK.”

Those people make me want to puke. What the hell do they mean, “it’s OK?” I feel like beating them senseless when they start up with that crap. Losing a parent is the most horrible—the worst thing ever—in your whole life. It is a wound that will never heal. It’s like getting all your limbs sawed off, and you know that they’re never going to grow back. Period. End of story. So those people who blabber about “going through the grieving process” or give you advice about how to “cope” with your loss—well, I think that those people are insane. There’s no “coping” with this one, Jack.

Of everyone in your life — your spouse, your children, your family — there is nobody who loves you like your parents, and, I think, especially the person out of whose womb you sprang—your mother. I can’t speak for anyone else, but in my case, it’s true. You are not bonded to your father in the same way you are to your mother. And there’s nobody who loves you as absolutely, as finally, as unconditionally as your mother. No matter what you do…no matter how much pain you may cause her…no matter how many terrible, heinous acts you commit…your mother continues to love you. Always, and forever.

When your mother dies, all that is gone. Nobody will ever be there for you like that again.

By the same token — and this is something I realized only during the last months of my mother’s life—I loved her in the same way. Absolutely… unconditionally. No matter how angry with her I might be (and I was angry at my mother much of my life) I loved her so deeply that I simply cannot find words to describe this.

My mother and I really didn’t “get along” during much of my (adult) life. She was the ultimate nudge. Every single cliché about Jewish mothers— my mother had all those qualities in spades. I can say with a good degree of accuracy that my mother helped to destroy both of my marriages. She was so positive that neither of my spouses were “right” for me (she was absolutely correct, by the way) that she put her curse on those two relationships. And though I can’t blame her for my marriages ending (I did that all by myself) I can say that she most certainly helped drive the knife in. For that—and for countless other times she inserted herself in my life and made herself the center of things she shouldn’t have been the center of—I was furious at her. My rage was deep-seated, and soon metastasized throughout my psyche. I spent countless hours and tens of thousands of dollars in therapy trying to deal with it.

But you know what? Once I realized my mother was dying, all of that anger vanished without a trace. God revealed to me that none of it was of any consequence. And then—just like that— He removed it. And so, during the last year or so of her life, I was able to love my mother as unconditionally as she had loved me during her entire life.

I thank the Lord for this most miraculous change of heart … for this great gift. Only He could have bestowed it upon me.

I think my mom was a bit taken aback when I “changed.” She seemed almost embarrassed by my show of emotions. Where before I had been cold and distant, now I held her hand, I brushed her hair, put cream on her face, or chapstick on her parched lips. I told her often how much I loved her.

It was hard for her to express herself. She rarely spoke directly of her love for me. Rather, she just “showed” it.  She would not drown me in “words of love”…yet daily, she would express it in a thousand ways.

Toward the end, when the dementia had rendered meaningful conversations almost nonexistent, she would continue to “tell me,” of her love.  Just a look…a touch of the hand…

It was unbearably painful for me to hear this bright, articulate former schoolteacher unable to speak her mind, and I know it was equally painful for her. One time as we sat there, she looked up at me, and— knowing I was ashamed of having gained weight—she simply said, “You’re still a very handsome man.” Dementia or no dementia, she spoke right to my heart. No—a mother’s love overcomes even the most heinous…the most demonic of brain diseases; it cuts to the bone. Dementia be damned!

My love for my mother grew like a wild bush during those last months. It was so powerful, it hurt. My heart was rent asunder. I would have traded places with her — given my life for her — in the blink of an eye. I asked God many times to allow us switch places, but He didn’t see fit to grant me my desire. I wish I could say that I’m not angry at God—not so much for taking her—but for allowing her to suffer the humiliation that comes with this kind of illness. But I can’t honestly say that. I AM angry. There are no words to describe my fury…my madness.

I miss my mom so bad. No—I’m going to say it properly. I’m going to say it like I feel it. I miss my mommy. I’m five years old again. My mommy is gone, and I’m frightened, and I’m scared, and she’s not here, and she’s not going to come back. I walk through the day in a fog; I wake up in the middle of the night covered in sweat, and grab my pillow and hang onto it for dear life. I leave her bedroom light on, and sometimes, if I can muster the courage, I go in and fluff up her pillow. I guess this “phase” will trail off sooner or later … I have no idea when. But I know that the wound will never scar over. I don’t want it to. I don’t ever want to learn to “cope” like that.

I think I’ve said enough  here. All I really want to say to each of you is: If your parents are still alive, do me a favor. Just go talk to them. You don’t have to get all mushy or tell them how much you love them (though that’s a good start). I know how hard that is to do. But go and talk to them….and yes—listen to them. They have stories to tell you. And you need to hear those stories — trust me, you do.

If your parents are already gone, I suggest you talk to them anyhow. You have things to tell them.  Things that have remained hidden in your hearts. Do it!  And just because they aren’t here physically doesn’t mean they can’t talk to you as well. No, I’m not intimating any kind of psychic baloney. You know me better than that. I’m just saying—you can speak to them. And, if you listen, they will speak to you as well. Try it. See if I’m not right. Once you begin to engage in these conversations you will find, I think, that it is truly the most important “work” you have to do during this lifetime.

Stop wasting time. Your days are dwindling, and your time will soon be at hand. So do it now. If you don’t … your soul will never rest at peace.

And with that admonition, my friends…I leave you until next time—

©Stuart Goldman

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