Monday, April 11, 2011

In Memoriam

On April 13, 2008, my mother died.

I never had one of those super-close, "best pals" relationships with my mother.  We became closer when I got older, but when I was little, I always got the feeling that I was an irritation to her. My sister, who is seven years older than me, was extremely close with my mom and I always felt like I was intruding.   My mom didn't work (it was the 50's-duh!) and before I started kindergarten it was just her and me home alone, every day.  There was a little girl my age a few doors down from us, but I wasn't allowed to play with her because she was Italian (see 50's note, above).  But my mom didn't really spend any time with me.  She was usually on the phone with her mother or her sister (before she passed) or her best friend, so I sat in front of the TV, watching endless reruns of "I Love Lucy".  I'm sure there were other programs, but that's the only show I remember watching.  The December I turned four, my mom's sister killled herself, and my mom turned mean.  I remember writing notes to God (and leaving them on my nightstand at night so an angel would come and get them), asking Him to make Aunt Mary Jayne come back to life so Mommy will be happy again.  It didn't work.  My mother used her sister's death as a Disciplinary Tool- "When I drop dead like your Aunt Mary Jayne and your father marries the young sexy blonde---SHE'LL make you clean up your room."   Using that survival mechanism kids have, I learned to ignore her diatribes and invented two make-believe friends, Mary Hallowak and Judy Oakleaf, who became my constant companions. 

I was a teenager in the 60's and a pretty rebellious one.  I smoked, protested the Viet Nam war and The Establishment in general and cussed like a sailor (can you imagine!).  Mom and I had huge fights, a couple of which Daddy had to come in and stop before they became too violent.  Luckily, by then, I had discovered theatre and the theatre community kept me sane during high school and college.

When I quit theatre, things became relatively calm for a few years.  There was that 1-year period where my sister and mother weren't talking to each other, but I moved to New York City to dodge that bullet.  I got lonely after a year of that and came home.  Then in 1978, everything fell apart.  First  I met and got engaged (in the span of 3 weeks) to a guy I didn't really care much for--everyone just thought it was time I got married.  Luckily, I came to my senses five weeks before the wedding and called it off.  But it put me in a major depression.  Then my sister's husband (who was also my boss and one of the greatest individuals I've ever known) was killed in a helicopter crash at the age of 31.  A little over a year later, my dad  (who never really got over his son-in-law's death, and also was one of the greatest individuals I've ever known) died of a heart attack.  All of a sudden our family consisted of two widows and a spinster.  We all pulled together and were there for each other, but after my mother and sister started running my dad's failing business, I felt that familiar feeling of intruding on their special relationship.  So I left again, this time for Birmingham.

After I got married and had kids, my mom and became a lilttle closer, although there were still many screaming matches when we would visit Pittsburgh.  When her health started to fail, I only went up to see her twice, because my sister's co-dependent relationship, now that she was her primary caregiver, made me feel like a stranger. 
The last time I saw her was five years before she died, soon after my divorce.  She had Parkinson's and dementia and spent her days strapped in a wheelchair, watching CNN on a 13" TV in her kitchen.  I would sit there, playing solitaire, just keeping her company.  She had a rare lucid moment one afternoon and reached across the table and took my hand.  "Whatever happens," she said, "I want you to know that you and I are okay, don't worry."  Of course, I started to cry and gave her a hug and kiss and told her I loved her.

Cause I did--she was my mom.  And she loved me.  And in the end, that's all that really matters.

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