|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.