My mom died. I haven't written in a while because she is gone, and I just don't know how to make things seem normal when they are not. How can I possibly write articles and musings as if nothing has changed when everything has changed forever? I recognize that everyone's mother dies. I think they call it the Cycle of Life, and I used to offer that phrase to others as a consolation. But now it seems superficial and irritating.
For me, the fact that the sun came out the very next day, that my cell phone continued to ring with business calls from people seeking answers to questions they had asked the day before, is unthinkable. The fact that I laughed not forty-eight hours after my mom stopped breathing seems criminal. You see, I was not finished with her. I have not asked her all I need to know. I was just learning things about her that seemed to make sense of other things. I didn't get to take her on that last trip she wanted to make to Provincetown. I forgot to ask her where she wanted all those needlepoint pillows to go. I wasn't finished, and neither was she.
I didn't want to write about her here. Way too public. But the thing is, if I don't write about her here, I can't write about anything else. For if my mom deserved nothing more, she deserved to have something stop for awhile to mark the moment when she left us all. And so that marker will be my writing. Writing is the only thing I have that I can stop for a time to lay her to rest properly. Nothing else has a stop button.
Let me introduce the best of my mother to you here. The rest of her will go somewhere on the cobwebbed shelves of my mind, where it will haunt me now and then, but will never again see the light of day. I get to do that now. I get to rewrite the future of our relationship as what I always wanted it to be, so I can bring her with me for a moment during an evening and not have to worry about getting her home. I can bring her to that part of the movie that she would have liked. I can ask her to send me a sign, and I can see that sign if I want to. Everything about the two of us will now be exactly as I want it, and that should be something, right?
My mom was quieter than me in every way. We had very different political views. I realized as I was struggling to write her eulogy that she never once tried to change my political leanings, while I tried relentlessly to change hers. She accepted things that I would never have accepted. She accepted other people—including me—the way they were, without trying to make them into something they were not meant to be, or didn't want to be. I like that about her now.
I like that she would give you anything you wanted; she had no real investment in her things. My late mother-in-law, who was my beloved mentor, once told me that within a few days of her death all that she had acquired over the course of nearly 100 years would be dispersed as if no one had ever gathered it. She was right. My mother, on the other hand, gave away much of what she had, so that scattering of belongings will not be so dramatic in her case. Her things live in homes all over the place. Her friends, family, my friends, and strangers have had her things with them since long before she left us.
My mom was the mother who waited for you to call her, just in case a call from her would bother you. She didn't brag about her own achievements, only those of others. Her sense of humor sometimes involved sleight of hand, and was occasionally for her benefit alone. This summer I gave her an Obama mug, just to drive her crazy. I told her there were only 1,000 of them that he was giving away. She asked me if I could get ten more of them. I was pleasantly shocked and got them—which was not easy, I might add. The next day I went into her kitchen and saw that she had put them in the garbage. When I indignantly asked her why, she replied, "You said they were a limited edition. I figured that would be ten more that no one would get to see." It was her joke to herself. She would never have told me she did that. I would have needed to tell people. She never did. In her honor I have vowed to play one joke, once a year, that is for me alone. Just her and me.
That's it. Nothing more. The sun is still shining into my office. Nothing has changed since I started writing this, and tomorrow I will be back to my blog as you have known it. But for the last three weeks it stopped to mark the passing of my mom, Mary Ann Ilse, who lived for eighty-two years the very best she could.