She’s gone. I got the phone call today. My eyes are puffy, teary. I’ve been sobbing. No, really sobbing. I didn’t think I would do that. I guess I didn’t really think about it. She was ready. She told me she would go sometime. I knew she would. She’s just gone. She died Wednesday. It’s Friday night. I just got the phone call.
I asked if there is a memorial service planned.
“No, no memorial, nothing like that. She donated herself to science.”
She would do that. She never did anything the expected way. She didn’t follow the rules. She would do that. She would just leave. She was done, so why wouldn’t she just leave? I want to call her and ask her why.
She would say, “Honey, its not so fun getting old. Its uncomfortable, and you end up spending a lot of time with old people.”
She always told me that old people talk too much about their aches and pains. She would tell me about hers, if I asked. Mostly she wanted to see the kids. She wanted to touch their hands and read to them. She wanted to see them smile. It made her smile too.
She told me once that there was no way she could be a mother today. It was just too hard. She saw what I did and she just couldn’t do it. She told me that when she was a young mom, kids just went out and played. There weren’t so many expectations. She told me not to worry about cleaning my house. She told me I was doing the right thing spending my time with my kids. She told me not to worry. She told me I am young.
She liked to write. I wish I had her writings. She gave me one of her stories once. It was one of her favorite stories, I think. In her early 20’s, right out of college (probably 1946) she and her girlfriend drove across country. They didn’t pack much. They washed their panties in the sink. In Wyoming, they almost ran out of gas. They rolled into a gas station. The gas station attendant said,
“Ladies, you were flirtin’ with walkin’.”
She loved that line. She liked breaking the rules, just enough to keep people thinking. She liked flirting with trouble, almost getting there, but never quite. She was an unusual woman to be born in 1925. I think she was a lot like my grandmother, except younger.
One time, she was telling me about college. Being born in 1925, she had the unfortunate luck to go to college during WWII: no men. She said the dating was just awful. She was proud that I went to MIT, even though she didn’t know me then. I told her the dating was just fine, and she was pleased to hear that too.
I asked her once why she hadn’t remarried, why she didn’t have a boyfriend now. She had had a boyfriend for a little while, but that was over. She told me she didn’t want the trouble of dating someone her age. They all have aches and pains: too much trouble. I hadn’t really thought about that so much. It was as if she was still in high school when all of her friends went to college. She wanted to play. She wanted her friends back. Those times were gone. She was ready to graduate too. Why am I not ready for this?
I’m crying again. Does she know I’m crying?
She was with me on the phone when my water broke with Andrew. I sat there and continued talking to her, denying that my water broke. She was a part of that story. She shared hers with me too. After my daughter was born, she was cradling her in her arms and we were talking about my daughter’s name. The name I knew her by was not her real name; it was a nickname. Her last name was her married name. My daughter and she had the same initials at birth. I had no way of knowing. We pretended that I named my daughter after her. We both knew that I didn’t. I couldn’t have done it.
There is something about motherhood that transcends generations. We are all mothers. We are all part of a chain, bits of wisdom, buckets of love, hints and hopes. There is an understanding. We are all trying. We all love our children. To blame our mothers is to blame ourselves. There is no perfect mother. We just try. You can’t even write it down, you can’t make a handbook. For every generation motherhood is a little different; our children are as different as we are. We learn from each other, but it is never a perfect lesson. What is success? How can you improve upon love? What could she say to me to help me through? (I know she wanted so dearly to help me, to tell me a few things that would make it easy where her path was rough.)
She told me about some of her rough spots. Not to win my sympathy. Not to shock me. Think of the stories as parables. She had rough spots. There is no memorial for her. She leaves two children and two grandchildren behind. She loved to write. She wouldn’t want a stone in the ground. Stones are heavy and cold. They have no use. They sit there and follow the rules. She didn’t like rules like that. She questioned everything. She left a trail of breadcrumbs on a windy day. I can’t follow her path; she wouldn’t want me to follow. Her path is not a path to follow. I see her breadcrumbs rise up like a tornado: strong.
She gave me the greatest compliment a mother can give. To everyone we saw, she introduced me as her daughter. Well, not her real daughter, her pretend daughter. She explained that part too. She liked explaining it, how we were pretend mother and daughter.
I wore black today. I am wearing a short, black dress. Today was the first day I wore it. I don’t often wear black. I wore it to the park today. I didn’t know that I would find out that she died. She would be glad that I wore a short, black dress to the park today. I’ll pretend that she helped me pick it out, somehow. Its okay, even if I’m pretending, it’s still okay. Isn’t that what faith looks like from the outside?
This week was probably the best week of the summer for me, well, the best week that my husband didn’t take vacation. That was a gift from her. She would never call me because she didn’t want me to be sad when she wasn’t feeling well. She didn’t want to distract me from my kids. She wouldn’t have wanted me mourning this week. She was sad that she didn’t have the energy she used to have. She always reminded me how young I was. If she was my fairy godmother, she would have waved her magic wand and granted me her wish: energy.
I had asked her many times after she couldn’t drive any more if I could take her out with me. I would ask her if I could pick her up and take her somewhere. I would get a wheelchair. Could I just bring you to my house, just to be in a house and not the nursing home?
“No, honey, I can’t really travel anywhere. It just isn’t a good idea. You are so sweet for suggesting it, but I really can’t.”
It wasn’t like her to follow the rules. She would break convention. She wasn’t willing to make me responsible for her, but at least she knew I wanted her to visit. I wish she could have visited me to say goodbye.
Oh my Lord and my God. She rang my doorbell.
Casey said ‘goodbye.’
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