Monday, February 11, 2013

Each mourning is different

Me & my parents, 1962

Second time around and I'm realizing... each mourning is different. A mother is not a father, and the missing manifests in different places in my body, in my life.

And then there's the fact that it's both of them gone now, and as an only child I am thusly the sole surviving member of my nuclear family. The only one who knows, who remembers our own particular family's micro-culture... what we ate; what we sang; what we said to each other to greet the day, to bid goodnight; what we liked to do on long summer days, on starry winter nights.

The people that brought me into this world are gone. Elvis has left the building. And while it's ridiculous to think of myself as an orphan at 52, with all the attendant images of storm-tossed waifs and wide eyed boys in desperate need of mothering, there it is - that term - popping into my brain at odd intervals.

"You're a member of the orphans club now... so sorry." says my friend, softly. My dear friend, Rachel, who I do not think I could have gotten through these three weeks without, is herself a long-time member, the edges of her pain blunted, but never quite extinguished.

And I don't know how this would feel if I'd had a conflicted, difficult relationship with my parents. My guess is both easier and harder. More relief, more longing, less simple loss and keen missing. But it's all conjecture.

I had these parents: a pair of interesting people who loved me much and well. They were kind and generous and never withholding in their love. It was unconditional and freely given. I always knew I was both loved and accepted.

And now, of course, that spigot is shut off. Gone.

As much as my children and husband may love me - and they do, as much comfort as that brings me - and it does, it is not the same as the way my mother's eyes lit up as I entered the room, thrilled by my mere existence, my simple proximity to her.

And I know how lucky I am to have had that. I know far too many who have never known this kind of love. And I know that at times in my younger life I have felt burdened, smothered by this love, for yes there was some neediness on her part in there, too. But that has all washed out, years ago now, water long passed under all the bridges.

And what I am left with is a wistful aching, memories that are both fond and painful because the wound of losing her is still so fresh and new. Everywhere I go, everything I light upon, I find traces of her.  And I find so much evidence that so much of who I am has come down from her.

I am in the dentist's chair and the radio is tuned to the classical music station.  Beethoven's 6th symphony comes on (the "Pastorale") and I find myself conducting with my idle hands. "Oh, you know this one?" he asks, surprised, explaining that he usually has the radio tuned to classic rock but his previous patient expressed a strong preference for WQXR.

"Yes," I tell him, after I have spat blood and grit into the tiny sink, "it was my mother's favorite symphony, she played it often in my childhood."

"Sorry," he says, knowing my news, "that must be painful." But somehow it isn't. It instead fills my heart to the brim with gratefulness that my mother passed on her love of music, that she shared with me, her child, the things that brought her joy, and that their beauty lives on in me now.

My mother always liked the springtime best. Whenever I spot the first yellowing blooms bursting from the branches of the forsythia bushes that line Central Park's transverse passages, I am possessed by the urge to share this vision with my mother. Golden harbinger of spring, forsythia made my mother deliriously, unreasonably happy.

I am prepared for the mix of heartbreak and bittersweet pleasure this spring will bring, as each fresh round of blossoming unfolds.

And now Mom has managed to derail her winter's memorial service, which had been due to be held this past Sunday. She has somehow summoned an icy February Frankenstorm to come upon us, necessitating the postponement of her ceremony; kicking it down the calendar into late winter or early spring.

Forsythia season for sure.


  1. This is achingly beautiful, Varda. I didn't have a nuclear family in the sense that you did and I found myself reading and longing to have had that blessing in my life, but I imagine to have all that you had would make it all the more painful. I don't envy that pain. I wish you many, MANY more dentist office moments.

  2. I have followed your story sporadically...this post had me feeling something akin to envy, the love you spoke of, the things she passed on, then it all came crashing over me, the things I will remember.. .I see echoes of what my mom went through as she lost her brother and then her parents. We don't talk enough about this. I am so grateful that you have shared these years and these hurts and joys with us. Wishing you smiles as the new blooms come.

  3. Tears, Varda. Tears and hugs and affection for the way you weave your words.

  4. The statement about everywhere you go and everything you happen upon reminding you of her...that is so true. Even 2 and a half years later that still rings true for me. What a beautiful, touching post, Varda. Wishing you more sunshine and peace.

  5. Oh my, this is so beautifully terrible. Wishing you warmer days and happier times.

  6. Such a beautiful tribute to her memory. I was so sorry to hear of your loss.

  7. So beautiful and so full of heartache. I can feel the love of your family through your words.

  8. Beautiful painful post, Varda. I'm so sorry :(

  9. As a long time " member of the orphan club" but first time reader, I thank you for the way I which you write your experience. I could relate completely to your situation. I sense you have already found the way in which you will live their legacy without fear and for those who can you are never an orphan. My parents are stronger for me now than they have ever been. The memories have faded for me but they are a force within that has helped me have an amazing life. I keep my eyes wide open because their gifts are given to me daily. Wishing you a lifetime of support from yourself and others. All the best, Lisa

  10. I love you Varda.

    Thank you for this gift. I will share it, much too soon, I think, with my own mother.

    Thank you, V.


  11. Oh wow, Varda. This was so wonderful. I have my parents still, but I have lost my brother. I think often about my mom with my aunts and uncles, telling the family stories, laughing so hard. And I know when my parents go, I won't have my brother to share our stories with. I hope you will share some of those stories with us here.

  12. I have been a member of the Orphan Club for nearly 9 years.
    Nothing will bring my parents back, but with time, you have memories to share with your family.
    Things will change - you may celebrate special days in a different way. But i hope your parents will always be with you

  13. Much wisdom and beauty in this post.

  14. Varda, this is a truly beautiful and awesome piece of writing. It comes from the heart and reached my heart, too. The way you look at life is inspirational. I love you and think of you so often. Thanks for the mention. Rachel

  15. Oh, Varda, your beautiful writing makes me weep for you and for everything you've lost. I send love to you.

  16. So beautiful and touching. I feel your ache and sorrow but the way you write it is so lovely, honest and cleansing. You are a good daughter... a beautiful good daughter who I have no doubt made your mama and dad real proud. I do not look forward to the day when I have to deal with such depth of loss. I suppose in the end, unless we go first, it is unavoidable.

  17. I wish you knew how often you creep into my mind lately, how often I hug you in my heart almost daily. your words have been vivid and raw and so beautiful they bring tears to my eyes every single time.
    I am not an orphan, because only my father is gone, and so I fear it. I know my mom is getting older and it scares me, it makes me realize that I am getting older, that my children, god willing, will miss me someday.

    I am just so sorry for your loss, for your ache. I truly wish there was something I could do to make it easier.

  18. Yes, like others have said, this is painfully beautiful. Thank you for sharing. I remember my mom telling me that I need to have two kids so one will not be alone in the world when I'm gone. They both have autism so, I am not so sure that was the best reasoning for having two but i don't regret it one bit and I do hope they do have each other. it seems though, that you have a sister in your friend and I truly believe that we are never alone in the world, despite feeling like an orphan. Thank you for sharing. i am now following ur blog!

  19. The way you're able to capture your emotions so perfectly in your words is astounding. It's painfully, achingly, hauntingly beautiful. I am so sorry for your loss and sending love your way daily.


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