On December 2nd, I am flying out to Denver to spend two weeks with my parents. I am saying casually to friends that since I'm not working and they're not getting any younger, I might as well go see them, and maybe my brother who lives nearby.
The real reason I am going is to tell my mother how much I love her, and that she was a good enough mother (to me, at least) and she has no need to hold onto all the regrets she has about our past. It is a gift I want to give her now, not at some eventual deathbed scene.
On August 8,2003, the day after I fell at work and changed my life forever, my mother, then 78, was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. I was so out of it that I didn't know until the next week, when Meg appeared at my hospital bedside saying she was going to the Poconos for a family get together. I knew, immediately, something was wrong with my mother. She and Rene looked guilty, like they were hoping I wouldn't pick up on something, and I kew she'd had a recent colonoscopy
"Mom has cancer, doesn't she?" I asked, and the two looked at each other and at me and at each other, and started to stammer, no,no, nothing was wrong, but I knew. Meg would not leave unless something worse was going on elsewhere. I told them not to lie to me, that I KNEW, and they told me. Turns out my doctor had been so worried about me, he did not want me told. I was so exhausted, in so much pain, that I could not react at all. I told myself-and them-I could only take care of myself right then, but I have never wanted to be with my mother more in my whole life.
Two weeks later, after surgery, when I got home and stopped throwing up the pain meds, and the visiting nurses were coming in and out, and I could spare a bit of energy, I started to cry. And worry. I spoke to her briefly-she is quite deaf and hates the phone-and we agreed we each wanted to be there for the other, but instead would work hard at taking care of ourselves, I hung up and cried, and cried and cried. And worried a lot.
Over the next three months it became clear to me that I had a lot of things I wanted to tell her before she died, and I very nearly missed the opportunity, because she came very close to dying.
We have never been a demonstrative family, nor a very happy one. My parents' marriage was filled with quiet animosity. My father was a intellectual man who lived mostly in his own head, and my mother ruled with unconscious passive aggressiveness. But it was impolite-and therefore forbidden- to express any strong emotion. I struggled with (undiagnosed) depression as early as 7 or 8. My brother, two years younger, struggled in school and at home, probably with undiagnosed ADHD. My sister, born ten years after me, was an overachiever who loved to trade witty barbs with my father-and had a childhood completely separate from my own.
I know it was a difficult life for my mother, an introvert married to a Philadelphia attorney, having to keep up with the demanding set of rules handed her by her perfectionist mother and very middle class society, and always feeling less than whole because she had only one arm (long story). And I was not an easy child-unhappy at the same private girls school she went to (and hated), and when hormones hit, I made it clear how unhappy I was with outburst of anger they alternately punished harshly or laughed at. Finally, they sent me off to boarding school at 14.
Boarding school was a very mixed blessing. I was very angry at being sent away, although I had agreed to go, but it was a co-ed Quaker boarding school, liberal for the mid-60's, and I brought all sorts of radical ideas and attitudes home to drop on the family dinner table, much to the horror of my (then) conservative father. (He has mellowed in his old age, because of all the things his assorted children have put him through-but that's another entry).
And yet, below and aside from all of this, my mother and I had a very close relationship. We were connected somehow from root of our beings, both introverts, sharing the same name, a quirky, sardonic sense of humor, and a huge fear of what everybody might be thinking of us, of looking or sounding silly or stupid. Like wearing shoes that didn't fit, it was a stunted way to live, but it was the only way we knew.
To be continued...