With Mom at The Society of The Four Arts in Her beloved Florida last year
At the age of 87 Mom passed away after an intense battle with renal cell carcinoma. There is nothing shocking about losing a parent at that age. It is inevitable that some disease or just age will weaken and take them. But, still, there was something in her death that surprised me.
Mom was a bridge player who held her cards close and thought about the next move beforehand. She loved theater and glamor and the element of surprise. That glint in eye her meant she had your attention and she got energized by her own good performance. She was a theater major and her calendar was her canvass organizing dinner parties, “salons” and endless events.
Appearances for Mom were well curated. As an only child with a strict mom and a dad who loved to spoil her, she learned how to get the attention she craved.
Seeing her 4 daughters well dressed and groomed for a good entrance gave her a loving lift. Although never a hugger, her approving eye was a clear transmission of her mother love. As such, smart conversation, style, well behaved children and a well decorated home were something my sisters and I learned to excel at.
My Mom was truly from another era. From the hairdresser to the seamstress, to setting the table she was always on the formal side. I’m not sure she ever owned a pair of blue jeans. Although groomed as a 50’s wife, she embraced the late 60’s liberals including Jackie O, McGovern, Jane Fonda and the independent voices of women in the media who were beginning to speak out.
Divorced in the early 70’s she honed her independent life. She led art tours around the country and even to Paris and China. She had many years alone between divorce and widowhood after her second marriage. She was fully in charge of her schedule and filled each day with stimulating activities. Her friends adored her and she cultivated them with care.
As she got sicker and more vulnerable over the last two years and especially when the curtain truly fell for her during her last 2 months, the mother daughter role finally changed. She no longer could put on a good face and cover up. Although trying desperately to be in charge, even from her bed which she could barely leave, she insisted on making and cancelling hair appointments, putting on a good face each morning and appearing “fine” when receiving a few visitors. However, she was exhausted and afraid.
Her vulnerability was an invitation to me that had emotional breadth and depth and I was relieved that I wanted to be with her. I had done the work of forgiving her over the past 2 years, bird by bird as my favorite author Annie Lemott would say, and it had paid off.
Each time I walked into her room, she lit up and would say my name so lovingly. It melted my heart. Without distraction, my Mom was able to fully see me and appreciate me. It was so satisfying. For the first time in her life, she would ask me to hold her. For the first time ever, she wanted to be touched. And as I lay with her we talked and talked and laughed and remembered. There was kindness and vulnerability and a warm comfort.
And this is the time, in this very very late transition from health to sickness that I finally began to understand the full extent of what my Mom was capable of giving to me as a Mom. Getting to the place of acceptance in a mother daughter relationship is the sweet spot and I dare say, it took a lifetime, but as her walls and guard tumbled, she was available in a way I had never thought possible.
I know in my heart there is a big story here about forgiveness and acceptance. About understanding the true limitations of what another person, a mother especially, can give and what a child needs. The inability to have those two realities come together is the source of so much misery and as such, great literature, It is the topic of the best coming of age novels and films, and a window into why relationships fall apart.
Embracing this truth at the end of my Mom’s time on earth is freeing and marks a strong beginning to a new chapter. I can now mourn her, miss her and remember her knowing I was loved as she gave me what she could in her own way.