It has been five years since I have been to church on Mother’s Day. I will not be going this year, either. I cannot find the courage to sit for an hour listening to a sermon directed at mothers or about mothers. For five long years I have found myself wrestling with my inner self over the guilt that somehow I failed and that my son would still be alive if I had known or paid attention to my own intuition about things that stare back at me now when I go full speed into memory mode. Mothers Day, plain and simple, brings back a host of memories, of regrets, of guilt, of sadness…..the list goes on. Why can’t I dwell on the goodness of what Mothers Day is supposed to be about? Like it used to be. I am not only the mother of a son who has passed but of two living daughters, as well. It is like any other kind of blight…the dark spots begin on one leaf of my roses and spreads to the other leaves, the virus spreads, the cancer eats everything around it, the bad apple spoils the one next to it…the dark eclipses the sunshine…the grief swallows whole my happiness. And days that commemorate something good have been tainted by that grief. There can never be anymore “used to be.” After all, we remember our own mothers…not that we are mothers. Somehow I seem to confuse the two. I became a mother three times not just once, yet, that once has a hold on me because of that one being absent in this reality. I hardly ever think that I am not only a mother but a daughter, as well. But today, I will remember….
…I still have a mother. She is elderly and lives almost a thousand miles away. She has dementia and forgets what she just said. She cannot remember that Brandon died and in our weekly phone conversations she asks me over and over again how is he doing? And I say, “better than any of us on this earth.” In her mind somewhere she knows that something has happened but she can’t remember what, so that is why I think she asks that question. Her husband (who is not my real father) guards the conversation as much as he can, knowing she is prone to ask that same one over and over, and he is good to soften the situation as best he can. She goes to the next question and then asks it a few dozen times. My mother seems protected in her forgetfulness sometimes…and sometimes, I wish it was that easy for me to forget.
As for my mother …well, I did not have a conventional childhood. Who does? And what’s conventional? Ward and June Cleaver? The Huxtables? Dan and Rosanne? And I don’t watch many television shows nowadays to know any names that would relate to my grandchildren’s generation. With each new generation comes a new definition for the “conventional family.”
Mom was the youngest of 11 children and grew up in the heart of Philadelphia when it was a melting pot of immigrants from all over the world back in the thirties. Those neighborhoods now are unsafe and have turned into virtual ghettos. She quit school in the 8th grade in order to go to work to help out with her family’s finances. She has also shared with me the pain of being overweight and made fun of by classmates so that the choice to leave school was made easy. She went to work for the Gold Leaf factory.
My mother met my father through mutual friends. He had just shipped in to the Philadelphia Naval Station from his home in Pensacola, Fl. They knew each other only three months before they married. I was born the next year followed by a brother and sister in the next four years. Needless to say, my mom was busy with raising children. It was after the birth of my sister when my mother suddenly went blind and had dizzy spells. It was determined after testing that she had Multiplesclerosis. MS. She had regained her sight after a while and had trouble with double vision for most of her younger years. She dealt with numbness in her limbs on one side but was never sentenced to a wheel chair. I can only imagine the suffering to endure an illness on top of being mother to two toddlers and an infant. It was good that she was still in her hometown so that all her sisters and family could help out. We lived in close proximity to several of them. But that would all change once the doctor suggested that a warmer climate would be best for my mother. We would move to my father’s home in Florida.
During those early years when I was only a year old, my father had a mental breakdown and lived a whole year in a mental institution in Coatsville, where he received medications and electroshock therapy. It was not because of my mother’s health that this happened but because of his prior marriage that came to an abrupt end when it was discovered that the woman he had married was a bigamist, who married sailors just to collect their alotment checks after they were sent overseas for TDY. Trouble was that my father was truly in love with the first wife. They weren’t even married a year when he shot himself in a drunken stupor one night after the humiliation of being subjected to this woman’s abuse. Although, my father survived his attempt, he would never be able to really be emotionally well the rest of his life. He was honorably discharged from the navy and went into civil service work until he medically retired right before his death at 61 yrs. old. Living with him was a nightmare of mood swings that left punched holes in the walls of our house, drunken tirades and flying fists, seeing him weep over his actions only to begin again and again on any given day, his sober sarcasm,…the the tip-toe life of being his children and his wife. The good days came only when he had an extra few dollars in his pocket, usually borrowed from my grandmother (a saintly woman whom I miss to this day.) It was a sad existence not only for us but for him. He had little self-confidence and was overly sensitive to anyone’s criticism. Of course, we were never allowed to disagree with him not if we wanted to keep our teeth. When he was at home after work, he would retire to his room/office and write. He was a professional writer at the end of his life, receiving money for the articles he wrote for the naval publication Proceedings and also, the VFW magazine and others. Still he was not satisfied with his life. Because my father liked to write, he had written of his ex-wife and his suicide attempt…a journal page left to me; his personal account of what he had to endure…the cruelties of a failed marriage to someone who never loved him at all, who made a mockery of his true love for her and how it affected him for the rest of his life made me more sympathetic to a man who I had hated and feared much of my life.
My mother relied heavily on my father all of their married life. She was the definition of a true dependent. He admitted to my mother of having an affair with another woman during much of their charade of a marriage. It was more or less a marriage of convenience for my mom, having no family close by and being ill. What would June Cleaver do? Did Father really Know Best? Mom made the best of it. She kept a good humor. In fact, she was silly acting and would almost be childlike in her behavior when we kids would have friends over. Our friends really liked Mom.
Skip through the years to after my father died….my mother did not know how to manage her finances since my parents never had much money ever….and she never had any at all. Having a huge sum of life insurance money placed in her bank account was like a kid given the keys to the candy store. She stayed in front of her television and shopped away the life insurance on QVC. She spent money on AVON because the salesperson came to the door. Because of my mother’s MS she never learned to drive. She was the Home Shopping channel’s favorite patron. My siblings and I had our own jobs and families and did what we could to help her out when it came to taking her here and there. We even moved in but that did not work because my mother was not willing to allow another person, family or not, come in and nest in her territory. She had become possessive of her world and did not want to compromise in order to make things work out with those of us willing to help. Eventually, we would convince her that moving back to Philly for a trial period to be close to her sisters would be a good idea and if it did not work out she could always move back. After all, she had been in Florida for 35 years. We did not know if moving to PA would be something she could do…but then again, she had weathered a relationship to my father so she could do anything! She sold her house and belongings and moved. Her attitude was good and I think it worked out the best it could have since it produced her second husband, who is much better to her than my father ever was. They married in June 1997. We all have been blessed that this wonderful man has been a faithful, wonderful caregiver.
My mother is 83 yrs old. now and has long term memory that goes back to where no one would want to remember. Her short term memory is fleeting and becoming worse. We don’t talk about my father. I don’t think she has forgotten him except that he has been replaced by someone who cares for and loves her. I wonder when it will be that she forgets that she is a mother, too. I wonder if she will forget my name…my face..that I am her firstborn…that I was born at all.
Here’s to you, Mom. I love you for all that you tried to be…for all that you could not be….for what could have been and what is. You were made my mother for a reason. You did the best you could in a situation that was clearly unbearable. You realized love, the reality of love, the disillusionment of love…the meaning of true love all in a lifetime. It was no different than what Dad experienced but one of you survived better than the other…who knew it was he that was the weaker. And sadly, the cycle of that unrequited love continued in my son…your grandson’s love life. I wish Brandon could have inherited your tenacity.
If we were never told how love should be would we have been so disappointed?