October 10th 2011 is the two-year anniversary of my mothers passing, which feels like a terribly personal thing to post on the Internet. I wonder why that is, or why I feel such a strong aversion to posting personal things in general. I mean, we are all going to die, right? I’ll say it to your face. “YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.” So what? My mom died, big deal. But it is a big deal. There was a This American Life episode about break-ups. One of the first segments talked about how everyone deals with heartbreak, but it has this amazing ability to feel like the most isolating thing that has ever happened, EVER. And there is NO WAY that anyone could possibly relate to that, or come close to understanding, EVER. Well, losing someone close to you is a little like that too. And by a little, I mean it’s like that x10. The feeling of loss surrounds you in a dream-like cloud. People avoid talking to you because they don’t know what to say, and it would make you feel like a leper if you had the presence to actually notice. And the word “sorry” just starts to sound mechanical and theatrical, acted out, scripted, and you stand numbly at the church/funeral home and shake hands and hug and cry and pat backs and touch everyone who is still alive and you wonder why you still are too. And then, you tell everyone “thank you for coming to this/ your concern/the pie/ the casserole/the booze”, and eventually everyone goes home and leaves you alone in your own special grief. And there is really no way to express what all of this means, and you just muddle through it. It gets easier, but the birthdays of the deceased are important and noticeable, as well as the death-iversary, which is today.
To commemorate this occasion, this post is for her. This is about the mother as I knew her as a recent event. The Adult Mother who is the Friend and the Family and the Matron and the Glue.
- My mom had a thing for churches. She isn’t necessarily religious or denominational, but she was spiritual in a lot of ways. And by saying she was spiritual, there’s some complex layering. She
definitely liked the iconography and the architecture, and she liked the reverence. She was raised a Catholic, but I wasn’t. She died a Catholic, but I will not. I actually know very little about Catholicism, which feels strange considering I’ve been around it so much. But that is the nice thing about it, is that I am no more familiar with Catholicism than I am with being Episcopalian, or Southern Baptist, or a Hare Krishna. She loved the feeling of a church, the history of a church, the space given to worship. She liked candles and Saints and her house was filled with prints and paintings and little statues. You know what she didn’t like? Mormons. But the only ill words I heard her say about them was in conflict with her job as a middle-school teacher, where to be the only non-Mormon was exceptionally difficult and branding. She was hurt for being ostracized. But, imperfectly and perfectly, she embodied what it meant to be accepting and open, and emulated what could be considered “Christ-like” love and acceptance. When she found out her daughter was gay, she was upset at first, but then attacked the concept with a vengeance. She joined P-FLAG and marched in parades. She researched. She put a rainbow flag key chain on her keys. She told me that the key chain was a signal, it marked her as safe to approach to any of her students who may be questioning their sexuality. This approach worked. She not only was my mother, but she became a mother and mentor to those who weren’t accepted in their homes or families, kids around the house with nowhere else to go. It’s easy to canonize her with all of her enlightenment and unconditional love, but she was also human, and had bouts of condition and sometimes pushed too hard. Oh, and then there’s the part where people often thought she was nuts.
- She liked to shop. And buy. Speaking as a non-shopper, it drove me crazy, but I also kind of got over it. We had a deal for Christmas time where she would buy something that she could “see me in” or that she wanted me to like, but knew I would not. So she would buy it, wrap it, give it to me with all the tags on it. I would unwrap it, and put it on so as to give her the satisfaction of seeing me dress the way she wanted me to, and at the end of the day I would take the garment off and give it back, whereas she would return it and give me the money/store credit.
I don't know what year this was. I want to say 1998 or so.
But sometimes we’d go to thrift stores together and she would give me good critiques, whether or not something fit well, or if the old-timey camp shirt over/under-accentuated my shoulders/boobs/butt/hips/belly. She loved wearing blazers and had more coats than any one person should. She wore them well. In the middle of winter I would walk to Kathrine and Jacobs house two blocks away and borrow a large wool coat with a native american print. It was like wearing a blanket. When I lived with Julie in Seattle, she sent us three Snuggies in the mail. Two for Julie and I, and then a third for “when we had a friend over so they wouldn’t feel left out” (as an aside, that friend was usually Nic. He was a great sport about it.).
- She was a great cook and loved food. She never really got into the idea of “healthy” food options, feeling fine about using Kroger-brand canned something as a base for something else, or not buying “organic”, but then the way she could combine things would make me feel like I was eating the healthiest meal imaginable and following it up with Keebler Elf cookies that were always on the shelf. She kept Chris and I well fed. We went out to eat once at Long Life Vegi House in Salt Lake, and by the end of her meal, she was touching everyone else’s plate and licking the sauces off the ends of her fingers in such succession that she seemed to have more than two arms, one hand in the wheat-meat “beef” sauce and the other licking the Kung Pao “chicken” off of her wrist chattering the whole time. In the hospital she was obsessed with the cooking shows, from Paula Deen to Iron Chef.
- She was a weird/hard communicator, but always had a gift with people. I mean, most mothers can be difficult, and can get under one’s skin in the worst ways that only a mother can do, but she also taught me the patience and forbearance and listening skills based on her weird way of communicating. She would engage with strangers all of the time, which I grew to appreciate, though often the topics were often socially inappropriate. Once I introduced her to someone I was dating and she immediately gave them raisins and compared the size and shape of the raisins to rat tumors, which understandably scared the shit out of my date. When she was in the early stages of her illness, she would lament to the cashier working the graveyard shift (when we would do the shopping) and she would tell the poor cashier about all of her cancer drugs and side effects and how much gas she has.
I actually really, really love this picture of her, as she was in the best mood this day. 2009.
Her and Chris came to see me in Seattle, and she immediately took over the traffic circle in front of my house, and spent her vacation weeding and cleaning up, which made her a huge hit in the neighborhood. I mean, people I only knew by sight were knocking on the door and asking her and Chris to dinner. Even in the hospital, she was the favorite of all of her doctors and nurses. She exuded light even in her weakened physical state. She was positive and witty, even at the very end.
The Red Tent was one of our "Book Club" books. I love that she used it in that years' class picture. 2004.
- I miss the hours we spent in front of the tv together, which is such a gluttonous idea to me in my adult life, but had always been used in the household, sometimes for education, sometimes for entertainment. Sunday dinners consisted of dinner and the Sunday night episode of Felicity on the WB. She loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, but she really, really LOVED Xena the Warrior Princess(she once told me that the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle helped her understand me better). We stayed up countless nights watching historical dramas and all of the Audrey Hepburn movies that she ever made. We loved Wallace & Gromit and Cate Blanchett and Saturday Night Live and So You Think You Can Dance? and most things directed by Tom Tykwer. We didn’t always agree, and if she were still alive I would give her such shit for making me watch Yentl, which I really hated. Even with all of the tv watching, we both also devoured books. When I moved away, we would pick books to read and talk about them on the phone, like sort of a long-distance book club. I miss that a lot.
And I miss her for more than 5 reasons. It’s crazy how she’s always around, and by her just being in my memory it continues to shape me. I want to say it makes me a better person, but who knows? I just do the best I can. Don’t we all?
Five of the simple things I miss about her are: 1. Her laugh and the sound of her voice 2. The way she moved through the world in her physical body. The way she walked and moved and touched things as she walked by them. 3. The way she was good at plants and loved roses. 4. The way she had roundabout conversations, the ability to pick up a conversation back up a week later (this took years of practice). 5. The twinkle in her eyes, surrounded by the crows feet wrinkles of someone who smiled a lot.
To make a heavy topic seem a little lighter here is a Garfield comic from Finland(I think?) It was hanging on the wall of Mississippi Records and it made me feel awesome inside. Garfield really speaks to me these days.
(WHAT ARE THEY SAYING?)