Monthly Archives: September 2013

Grief: Birthdays, “Dear Mom,” and a Play


So today is my birthday and I will miss the phone call that my mother had made in recent years when she would sing like Marilyn Monroe did for President Kennedy (“Jack” to those of us in the know) or she would loudly and dramatically recite a random line from Molière’s “Tartuffe”: “What air for you the test?” (Or was that Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” (which has little to do with honesty) or was it … Good God, Mom… which play and why did you say it so often out of context? I’m going with Tartuffe and I’m QUITE sure I’m effed up the line. Now I’ll have to Google it. I know, good luck with that. I hope my cousins tell me what it was.)

Mom had a wonderful sense of humor when she was on. I think know she’d enjoy this letter and ask me to read it again and again.

. . .

Dear Mom,

Forgive me some schmaltz early in this missive and allow me to thank you for birthing me 46 years ago today. I know you took a huge risk after Baby John was born, continuing to have children and I am grateful that you did.

You and I didn’t have the smoothest relationship, until just before God took you, as fate would have it. It’s just like us to figure things out and leave the restaurant with the staff yawning and the lights up, as our family and our cousins’ families often did.

I have to say though, that you and God lined things up for me exquisitely before you died, and after your death, I know you lined things up to make it as painless as possible; which wasn’t always very possible.

The details of those months are for another letter, maybe a book, and I’d be foolish to suggest that it was just the months that prepared me.

I know it was the decades of good times and bad times, sadnesses and happinesses, healed feelings and hurt feelings that forged my steel and honed my blade to be sharp, keen and precise when separating the wheat from the chaff.

In some circles, it is suggested that my soul chose you to bear me and be my mother; that there was a karmic exchange for past lives to learn lessons and that your passing, well, all of our passings, means that our souls have done all they can to teach or learn the intended lessons. I believe that stuff, I believe there had to be a greater purpose to our discord and to our mirth, right? Otherwise, it all seems such a waste.

I was talking to your only son-in-law this morning and he is so good, Mom. He’s charged the boys with making me a dark chocolate raspberry cake for dessert tonight. We talked about death, he and I. He is concerned naturally about his own parents and he mentioned death and my grieving as sort of an isolated case.

I couldn’t help but remind him, and anyone who dares chat with me about it, that this is part of life; our universal experience. It’s what we all go through. Every single one of us. I am not afraid of death; I hope that brings you comfort and I’m sure you already suspected that. I would be lying however if I didn’t say I get mad when people talk about their still-living mothers.

I love that your final words were “Yes, please” and that you were looking forward to ice cream as your next big move. You were so frail, Mom. But your heart, the one that bears your soul, was soft and kind in the end.

Your funeral. Mom. I think some people were totally taken by surprise by how much I resemble you. There were a couple friends of yours who literally stared into my eyes looking for you. You’ll get a kick out of this: one was getting all weepy and sad and telling me how awesome you were and staring into me, in a weird Star Trek sort of way and I got this feeling with a couple of them, “Oh no; I’m NOT taking care of you… it’s My Mom who went to God and is no longer around, you’re gonna have to deal…” and I would be whisked away by an observant family member.

Your death has brought me closer to estranged relations. Even in death, Mom, you manage to mend fences and bring us all together for a play of sorts. The nice thing about this play was though, that there was no acting. We were all very sincere. I guess that’s the best acting of all.

So the other day, Mom, I went for a walk/run/jog/walk thing. It was my first since you died. It was hard, but I thought of your heart, the physical one, and how if it were stronger that maybe you’d still be here; but then I thought again and said, “No. When God wants you home, when you’ve learned or taught your lesson, it doesn’t matter. Your number is up.” But when I was finished, I was in the cool-down mode and I decided to do some stretches and some yoga down dogs, etc., and a neighbor saw me. She was on a walk with her friend.

Here… we’ll do this the way you liked it:

The scene: Modern-day suburbia. The weather is beautiful; a crisp late fall morning. Molly, a middle-aged (gasp!) female returning from exercising outdoors without her dog, her buffer, for the first time after her mother died. She is in her quiet zone, feeling a little sacred and grateful that her legs, lungs and heart could sustain the effort. She is wearing her headphones. Music is on and she’s stretching, doing some yoga poses that she hasn’t done in a while.

Up comes a neighbor, a lively southern sort, who was walking with her friend. She sees Molly and she spazzes completely.

Neighbor: WAhahaha aha aha aahaaa ha MOLLLLAAAAY…  ARE YOU SHOWING OFF YOUR ABS?? ARE YOU DOING YOGA TO SHOW OFF FOR ALL THE WORLD??? she gesticulates and speaks in a humorous friendly way … sorta show-offy for her friend who is likely dying inside.

Molly is still in her headphones and is literally making the “cut throat” sign and the “time out” sign and the “hands up, please stop” sign …


Molly sighs and just stops. She removes her headphones, puts up her hands: PLEASE. PLEASE STOP. TALKING.

Neighbor, taken aback a bit: What’s the matter?

Molly thinking “I barely know you so shut the eff up”:  I’m just in a different place, I’m sort of low these days, not depressed, just grieving a bit…

Neighbor, throws her hands up to her mouth and gasps like Frances McDormand in “Raising Arizona” upon her first sight of the abducted quintuplet… : HUH??!… OMIGAAAD. GRIEVING!? ! WHAT’S WRONG??

Molly explains what she’s dealing with and it being her first day out; no running since and out and about, no dog to buffer her, just going for it… and the neighbor’s friend sighs and touches Molly’s shoulder but the neighbor is now upset.


Neighbor starts tearing up and Molly is clearly vexed: “No. not another one… please don’t make me take care of  YOU now… ” but she managed to recover the situation and talked rationally a bit about it all… when in her heart, Molly just wanted to say, “I can’t really do this right now,” and then turn her music back on and go running away. AWAY. Super fast. 

. . .

It’s that kind of shit, Mom, that makes me nuts. And it’s not her fault, I mean, how was she to know? As I said to a friend in an email today about it all,

there is no way to know what i’m going through; there’s no mantilla to wear or sackcloth. for modern American living, those days are over, but grieving is not antiquated, it just feels that way because of the pace of this world, but i find solace that i’m not alone, ever in this sensation and that people the world over are doing EXACTLY what i’m doing right now — be it fresh news or ancient news. there is always someone dying  and someone else doing what they can to process and not get lost in it all. at least that’s what i’m trying to do.

But really, I’m not here to take care of her.

Me? I’m largely OK these days. I go up and down. I became really anxious for a few days last week; jumping and jittery. I got very sad last night because I knew you wouldn’t be calling me. I dreamed about the Buffalo house again. Really, Mom?!

I asked Dad if he wanted to go to lunch today, but he emailed me and told me he couldn’t because he had plans. So I’m good with that. But then he called because he realized it was my birthday so he switches plans around and invited me to go to lunch with him and a colleague I’ve never met at the Occidental Grill downtown and I’m imMEDIATely saying “No” to that. I can’t do that. I gently declined. He pressed. He said my going would help him with parking and driving in and I just can’t so then my gentle decline became a firm decline. I want to stay in my jeans or yoga pants and no contacts and not drive to the city and so… sorry Dad.

But then the wheels start turning and I begin to think that in the total space of harsh reality when dealing with life and grief and the brutality of death, that no matter HOW much we think we’re going to transform into self-actualized, stellar people who all of a sudden have achieved a new sense of authenticity, vulnerability, empathy, altruism and kindness, that at the end of the day: we don’t. It’s not that we’re evil or complacent or afraid — it’s just that we’re being real with ourselves, I think.

Maybe our souls aren’t ready or done. I think we’re allowing ourselves to evolve as much as is comfortable or planned. I’m no Buddha or Jesus. I’m just me: flawed, insecure, a little panicky these days truth be told, but I’m alive and taking notes and adjusting.

I’ve been reading a book, In the Midst of Winter, which is an anthology on grief and it’s been terribly helpful. I laughed a little when I saw that one of my favorite excerpts is by James Agee, one of your favorite modern (20th century) writers and playwrights. The excerpt is from A Death in the Family which published posthumously. In it, the widow of her recently deceased spouse is getting dressed for her late husband’s funeral. I piqued at reading it because it reminded me of how I felt when I was doing the same for you almost three weeks ago. How that I was putting on a new dress on my body for your body’s “last day” above ground. I still have the tags from that dress. I couldn’t throw them away that day.

Agee writes how that through this experience this widow had somehow felt more a part of the human race, more evolved and that having children was just some sort of apprenticeship. And I think about that; how true it was and then I reflected on you: that you had literally almost done it all, but that God spared you from the final one. You buried your son, your parents, your grandparents, your favorite aunts and uncles, a nephew, and friends but not your husband; he will be the one who has now buried all the levels that life has blessed him with.

You had guts, Mom. I think about your woes, the God-awful stuff you experienced as a child with your unique parents, being a young woman in the 1950s, being a young mother in the 1960s and putting up with all that sexism and bullshit and yours and Dad’s weird friends in the 1970s. And how even in your own way, you were able to keep going. So then I think about your heart. Your heart was fine. It was just your time.

You have prepared me for this. I know it. Despite our biggest arguments and our worst moments you did the most amazing job: you mothered me. You got me here.

I wanted to tell you about the faceless chicken and how we selected your gravesite and the truly odd undertaker and his wife, but this letter is long.

Today is my birthday. The day you said I reminded you of a wrestler, a limbed tongue because I was so mighty and strong. The day you said “yes, please” to me.

Thanks, Mom. I’ll miss your phone call.

Grief: Out of the Mouths of Babes


My wee son, Thing 3 who is nine, finally collapsed in my arms last night heaving tender loving sobs for his grandmother.

“I will miss the way she spoke so softly to me.”

“I will miss the way she liked what I did for her.”

My heart expanded and contracted. His love and grief for her, in his own little kid way, is finally being expressed. We cried together for about three minutes and comforted each other.

“Does your body get sick if you don’t let it cry?” He asked, his voice weak from sadness and thick with pain.

“Well, I know mine does. I know my body feels pain if I don’t let myself cry,” I said as I stroked his back.

“Like my throat,” he said. “It hurts really bad when I try not to cry. Like a throat ache, it hurts. Can that happen to our bodies, our legs or our hearts too?”

“I think it can. Crying is a natural function. When we hold that stuff in, it can burst when we least expect it. Sometimes the ‘time’ doesn’t feel right, like when you’re talking to your teacher about something completely different. A tear will pool in your eyes and all of a sudden, poof: the crying can begin.”

“Is that what happened to Mimi’s heart? She didn’t cry enough?” he asked quite seriously.


He had me there. This is a tough one. He’s bright, but he’s also a child, so I needed to be careful with the analogies here.

“I think that Mimi had lived a long time with lots of sadnesses but also lots of joys too. I think that she did her best, as she knew how, to say how she felt and to share her feelings, but maybe she felt afraid to do it too,” I said.

“Afraid that people might judge her?” he asked.

“Sure. She had worries like that. She didn’t like change much, you know, like how you don’t like change. She liked her things the way they were. She liked her life the way she wanted it and when it changed, she had sadnesses and fears about it.”

He thought.

“Do you know what ‘constant’ means?” I asked him.


“It means never-changing, always the same. Like how a clock ticks constantly, you can depend on it. Or how the sun rises, you can depend on it. It’s constantly there.”

“Ok. Like waves, they are constant,” he said, clearly wondering where this was going as his periwinkle irises slowly wandered to the left corners and his lips pursed.

“Yes, they are, but are they always the same waves?” I asked.

“No, they’re little or big or sometimes lots of little waves become one big wave,” he said, his hands making wave motions and his sniffles slowing. I could see the dots connecting now.

“Here’s something that’s going to be like a riddle. Are you ready?” I asked.

“Yes,” he sighed.

“The only constant — the only thing you can know will happen all the time — is change. ‘Change,’ which is the opposite of ‘constant’ is forever, it’s always happening.”

He was in. He loves riddles and deep chats like this. I think that’s why he loved talking to Mimi when he did. She was deep like that.

“Here,” I said. “Think of a tree. It changes constantly in ways you can see, especially right now. The angle of the sun makes the earth cooler here. The rains stop falling as much as they did this summer and the leaves begin to … what…?”

“Fall,” he said.

“Right. So when the leaves fall they do what…?”

“They de- …. de-… something that happens to a dead cat… and mushrooms … they de-….” he said, searching for the word, his hand now planted on his forehead.

“De-com-pose… ” I helped.

“Right. They decompose. And they turn into dirt.”

“And what grows in dirt?”

“Plants? Mushrooms?” he asked.

“Well, yes, they do too, but I’m talking about something big. What is big that grows in the dirt?”

“Tree. A tree grows in the dirt,” he said proudly.

And then we went through the cycles of the tree and the seasons a few times. I kindly drilled it into him. Despite his tendencies for abstract concepts, he also likes that kind of linear thinking. We talked about how when trees die, people can use them to build houses, boats, tables, keep warm, all sorts of things. Like The Giving Tree book.

So he gets quiet and he gives me a kiss and tells me, “I love you, mama. Thank you for helping me.”

And then he came back 10 minutes later with this:

"True Fact about Life:" What life is like most of all is a tree. Because a tree has its own seasons. One season is full of death and sadness. When leaves fall, the tree it came from is crying because leaves are tree's tears. The other season is filled with [sic] happyness, which is when the leaves grow back.

“True Fact about Life:”
“What life is like most of all is a tree. Because a tree has its own seasons. One season is full of death and sadness. When leaves fall, the tree it came from is crying because leaves are tree’s tears. The other season is filled with happyness [sic], which is when the leaves grow back.

EPSON scanner image

We are trees but don’t look like them.
Trees have emotions. Just like we do. Let your leaves fall.”

I am humbled. I am grateful. My wee son is helping me heal.

Thank you.

Grief: Boom and Bangles


I had all these intentions on Monday to sort of dial back on the grief stuff; I was feeling settled. My emotions were showing me that it was ready to regroup and that we could start to be more uplifting here on the blog.

Then about ten minutes ago, Boom: I started to bawl my fool head off.

Music. I blame the music. It had words. English words. And it was probably performed in a minor key, which hits all of us emotionally, but it wasn’t Adele. I can’t do Adele generally and right now: no effing way.

Since Mom died, I’ve not listened to any music with words, or with words that I can understand anyway. In fact, other than the music at her Mass, I’d not listened to any music at all. Monday, I decided to play some intentionally, to reintegrate myself back into my world so I was playing a lot of classical or instrumental or some of my yoga music that brought me great peace on the retreat.

The language in the retreat yoga music is mostly Gurmuhki so “sa” and “ra ma da sa” have no utility other than meditative nor do they remind me of my relationships (failed or thriving) with persons living or dead.

Dead. My mother has died.

This shit just pours out of me, guys, so trust me: I’m trying to keep things moving along here. But sometimes the best way to move is to sit still.

I mean no disrespect to my father, but I have to process this.

When we returned that night from the hospital, without Mom (woah), I was driving. He was sitting shotgun and my younger brother was in the rear row.

We all process this stuff differently so I give anyone their zone when we amble about this crazy freaking world.

We were humming along, weary, together, but totally blown away.

Dad said this: “Wow. Jesus. What a blow. This is tough. I mean, I know you all lost your mother, and that’s horrible and tragic, but I lost my life partner, my wife. What am I going to do now? What the hell am I going to do now?”

I continued driving, but clearly, I heard every word.

The upcoming light turned from green, to yellow to red. I slowed my land yacht well before reaching the light. We were all alone on the road: not a soul (other than my mother’s perhaps) was around. We sat in silence. Or I did anyway. If I said anything, I said, “This isn’t a competition.”

I honestly don’t think I replied. I think I’ve told people I did reply because I desperately wanted to, but I don’t believe I did because we needed to get off the road and I wanted to not go to jail that night. I wanted to say all of this:

“I get it. This is hard for you, Dad. I hear you. But here’s my reality: my relationship with Mom totally trumps yours, and this isn’t a competition.  You might’ve had her for 59 years and I only had her for 45 and you might’ve shared secrets with her that I’ll never touch and that’s great. I get it. You were mates, you have a relationship I can’t and don’t ever want to touch. I however am the product of your union. And unlike my relationship with you where it’s all external, my relationship with her was totally internal for nine months and then another 10 as she breastfed me. And then she raised me to the best of her ability, no matter how excellent or flawed, I am a product of her and you. You might’ve exchanged DNA with her to create me and my brothers, but we share DNA with her and that creates a bond that that you will never be able to touch.”

But I didn’t say it. I wanted to, maaaaaaaan oh maaaan… but I didn’t. This is how my father deals with stuff, or at least with how it went down that moment. I will say no more.

Every day, I am reminded of her. I wear her bangles and her rings and the rings of her mother and grandmother. Sometimes I smell her. (I’m sure I’ve said that before online, my apologies… it’s gonna be a part of the process.)

The shiny silver cuff is hers; we share the same initials and so I asked for it. The bangle with the heraldic stars on it has long fascinated me, ever since I was a child and the far right is a gift she gave me on my 10-year anniversary, a cuff fashioned after our shared silver pattern, "Repousse" which I believe has been retired. These are all unique pieces and the sound of them jangling into one another is a sound I grew up with; it is her sound and whenever I hear it, even when she was alive, I thought of her. The first two are also gifts, the front one from her when I had my first son, and the second one my father gave me when I turned 18. Wearing these pieces helps me stay connected to her...

The shiny silver cuff is hers; we share the same initials and so I asked for it. The bangle with the heraldic stars on it has long fascinated me, ever since I was a child; and the far right is a gift she gave me on my 10-year wedding anniversary, a cuff fashioned after our shared silver pattern, “Repoussé.” These are all unique pieces and the sound of them jangling into one another is a sound I grew up with; it is her sound and whenever I’ve heard it, even when she was alive, I thought of her. The first two are also gifts, the front one from her when I had my first son, and the second one my father gave me when I turned 18. Wearing these pieces helps me stay connected to her…

When I was in my own recovery from chaos because of the world I grew up in, I used to consider the bangles as chains, weights that held me down and kept me back. Now since I’m in a better place and have established myself more independently from my parents, I see them as graceful reminders of my mother’s spirit.

I am the only daughter of the only daughter. It’s the end of the line… I want so much to have a daughter right now (but that’s not happening) because of the bangles I wear of hers and the rings I’ve inherited. I want them to stay in the line, and I suspect that even if my sons have fantastic wives, they will never meet my mom, so I have a strong interested in keeping them in the lines, prospective daughters-in-law notwithstanding.

I want my brothers around me so much right now, all I can do is express the words to convey that need. My heart aches for their voices and their embraces and their energy. I didn’t think I’d feel much different when my brothers arrived the day after she died, but I did. We have an electrical plasma thing going on, like everyone does with people they’re immediately related to. (re that last sentence: all complicated grammar rules are out the window right now.)

My mother was incredibly flawed and gorgeous and compelling and interesting and brilliant and she created three of the coolest people I know. The fruit of her brothers’ loins share a shorthand with us that no one can touch. All I have to do is drop a line and they are there calling, texting, emailing, tweeting, responding.

My mother’s big personality means she leaves a big hole. This is not to suggest that persons with modest personalities will leave smaller holes; I am a big believer that everyone leaves a hole, so I’m not going to bother defending what I’m rambling about. The point is: even in her declining months (which brings me to another point which I won’t belabor here: the kindnesses of people who suggest that my mom didn’t have a chronic condition to deal with or a terminal illness and that the cardiac arrest while violent, was yes: merciful … no. It’s a long story, it’s her story and so I will do my best to honor her truth: she battled long time with plenty of chronic conditions which took a sweeping toll on her body), she was rather softly present, and required a good amount of attention, so when I’m looking at that leather chair she used to love to sit in, or a photo, or the bangles, or my cheekbones, I can’t help but feel her giant absence.

So more posts about her and my processing are sure to come. I have a writer friend who is avoiding these posts due to her own aging parents and even though she’s not reading this one, I want her to know I love and support her. I also have another blog friend who is awash in her losses and the losses of her friends and so I want her to know I hear her too. I also know no one expects anything of me, least of all me, in terms of what I should write about next… I want to write about other things, like dental floss and the seasons turning, but none of it resonates at the moment; nothing compares to Mom.

Thank you.

Grief: Reality, Health & Fairness


My heart goes out to those affected by the Navy Yard shooting today. Living in Washington, D.C., is not without its risks. I am tired of all the violence. I am tired of people hating.

I just wanted to get that off my chest.

So it’s been two weeks since Mom died and I’m feeling OK. I owe a lot of how I’m feeling right now to Gatorade. I have written about an unquenchable thirst, about how I felt every fluid in my body evaporate the moment the police officer told me and my husband and my father in the modest front hall of his home that my mother had not survived.

I sit here again, a fortnight later, and I still have trouble accessing the algebra, the numbers, the algorithm and the formula that makes that statement make sense. “Your mother did not survive.” I see the words, I know what they mean separately; I even know what they mean in a stream like that and I still think it’s about someone else.

It’s not so much that I have a hard time accepting the news. That day, I absolutely had a hard time accepting the news, but I’m better with it now; it’s that there’s this part of me that’s sorta like, “Oh.” Like the kind of detached “Oh” you’d say in reply to witnessing a car drive into a garage door, or the kind of detached “Oh” you’d say after watching crystal chandelier crashing on a marble floor. It’s a numb “Oh.” It’s the worst kind of “Oh.” It’s the powerless “Oh.” It’s the detached “Oh” — different from the non-attached “Oh.”


I really didn’t plan to write what I wrote above about “Oh.” So I added the word, “Reality” to the headline.

I planned to write about the Gatorade and how it helped me immensely and how even after all these years of athleticism and health awareness and nutrition and fitness that I’d forget the one thing to do that sustains us all: properly hydrate.

I don’t mean to confuse things: I have drunk a sea of water, juice, herbal teas, smoothies, the rest. None of it did anything. I still felt like I had powder in my mouth. My bodily functions were telling me all systems were go; clear pee, frequent flushing, all that (I’m done now). Someone asked me about coconut water. I drink it fairly often and I tried it and it didn’t work for me. It left my mouth unhappy. Everyone’s different, so if you dig coconut water, go for it.

After the first week, I was sleeping remarkably well, considering the situation. I was glad to be back in my own digs. I love my cousins like the sun loves the moon, but I was ready for my own couch. I miss them tremendously now; I think our ancestors had it right with the communal living and the tents and all that. It’s simply better and nicer being with your own kind in a situation like this.

So to any of you grieving a death or the loss (divorce, break-up) of a loved one, or a job layoff, foreclosure … get yourself some Gatorade (with real sugar in it) and try it out cut with half water first and then give it about an hour and see what happens. I was starting to feel human by the end of my third glass. I still think red and yellow make six, but my thirst is manageable now.

It’s also important to eat well and take your vitamins. I am a religious vitamin taker and my schedule was derailed a few days right after Mom, and I got a cold. The physical toll the grieving takes is the invisible part; we all know we will cry and be distracted, but the body needs rest and proper hydration.

. . . . .


People are dimensional, textured and unpredictable.

Relationships are dynamic and dimensional.

Jung said it best, “Often what irritates us about another person will lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” (I wrote about I think on June 18, 2013; if you want to see it check out the calendar to the right of this post.)

My relationship with Mom was dynamic, dimensional, unpredictable, passionate and complicated. I’ve written again and again about it. The nice thing about a blog is that people can just do a little backtracking; the utter pain in the ass about a blog is that it’s often not linear. I am a linear thinker; all the posts with “Grief” in the title will be about my mom, her death, our relationship and my coping with it all.

I am pleased to say that despite all our bickering and arguing we did manage to have a few really good conversations in her final weeks and I know she processed them as such because she told my dad about them. I know I said “I love you” to her a number of times. I know I kissed her on her cheek that night in July, the last time I ever saw her alive, when I helped her walk to her car, strapped her in and clicked her seatbelt and told her “be bad” which is code for “I love you” around my family. She looked at me that night, crinkled up her nose and said, “You too, birdie.” (I don’t know why she called me “birdie” … honestly.)

I planned that night several days before. I wanted to celebrate my parents’ 51st anniversary. My younger brother and his team came over and we all planned to call my older brother and his team to sing happy birthday to him. We made hamburgers and my youngest, Thing 3 (T3), set her up with a tray table and chips in our leather club chair, her favorite chair, in our home. She was right beside the TV and T3 asked her if she’d like to watch his favorite show, “How the Universe Works.” She saw the big red Netflix screen and her face brightened.

“Do you have ‘Columbo’?” she asked him, leaning in and smiling like a little girl.

“We can find it,” he said, with a little smirk and an eager flick of the remote control.

So there she was, in her throne, watching “Columbo.” I was happy with that because she was happy with it.

When dinner time came around, I nudged her, “Mom. It’s time for dinner. Let’s go eat on the deck; we have a seat and pillows all set up for you. It’s your wedding anniversary dinner…”

“No.” She said. “I want to watch ‘Columbo.'”

I tried to change her mind, guilt her into eating with us.


There was no changing her mind… ever. Even without “Columbo” there would be no changing of my mother’s mind.

So I was a little sad about it and I asked my dad.

“Leave her be. If she wants to sit and watch ‘Columbo’ while we are all out here enjoying one another’s company, so be it…” he said, loudly so she could hear him (which she could, she had ears like a bat and my parents would often talk to each other like George Costanza’s parents on “Seinfeld”).

I imagined my mother doing this, “pfft.”

So I set her up and let her stay there and watch “Columbo” while we all sat on the deck.

And it was odd. It was fair and real and odd.

“The pretending was over,” I remember my therapist saying the following Tuesday after the dinner.

“What do you mean?” I asked, my head tilting like a Labrador retriever’s waiting on a treat. I wanted to bitch about it.

“It was probably one of the first real nights your mother had where she didn’t have to pretend that she didn’t want to be alone and that you all were some Hallmark Card family. It was a gift you gave her; no fighting, no begging, no drama. She wanted to watch ‘Columbo’ and you let her. You showed her you accepted her when you let that happen. You showed her love. Believe it or not: you heard her,” she said.

My jaw dropped. Then my face fell on the floor. If my eyes weren’t still in their sockets, I’d’ve been unable to piece myself back together.


She was right. The gift was right there: Mom was heard and that was cool. My parents’ relationship is their own; they had their own folds and layers to work through, but how was I to know that the last time I’d ever see my mom alive would be the night that I’d finally heard and accepted her? I mean, I didn’t feel bad that she was watching “Columbo.” I was rather glad for her (and a little jealous of her solitude, truth be told). Plus we all joined her later when the next episode cued up.

Mom got to “live” that night. She was heard and fed and celebrated in her own way, as “unmarried” as it seemed, it was totally married. It was real.

So I say this to both of you: be real. Be fair to yourself and to your memories. Allow the good and the “bad” memories. Another alternative: just stop with the labeling altogether. None of the labels matter; it’s just ego and coping. These moments are what they are; it’s up to us to be fair by accepting and allowing them. If we fight them or force them, we will break them.

“We are all imperfect beings,” I hear one of my brother’s best friends say to me.

I miss my mom, I miss the idea of growing with her this fall. I had so many plans for conversations with her. I learned so much about Senior Yoga while on the retreat; I was looking forward to sharing what I learned with her. I wanted to ask her about my life ideas and plans and what she thought I should do; I was planning to consult with her; treat her as a mom, y’know?

That moment with my therapist crystallized for me my acceptance of my mother. I was able to grow from that moment and so the last couple chats I had with Mom reflected that growth. If I didn’t have my therapist, I’d’ve not realized that the “pretending” was over. It would’ve taken some time, I know this. That acceptance softened it all for me. I could meet Mom on her terms.

The other night, my dad came over for a spell and I walked him to his car. It was the first time in a very long time that I didn’t help buckle in Mom. Seeing her seat empty beside his and not being able to strap her in and say goodnight after we all had a meal together sliced right through me. But this is life. We must experience it for all its richness.

Thank you.