Tuesday, May 1, 2007


M is for May. As in, month of.

M is for Mother. As in, my mother was born in May.

M is for Mother's Day. As in, because Mother's Day nearly always fell on or around my mother's birthday, I usually wanted to combine the two and give her one present, but she wanted two presents, and was not bashful about saying so.

M is for Memories. As in, mine of my mother: She died last year, in July, the month of my own birthday.

Grief is weird. Don't ever let anybody tell you any different. I first learned about grief in a highly organized way, when I participated in a Death and Dying workshop led by a nurse (a man who later became my Theravada tradition Buddhist meditation teacher -- this was the early 80s) who had been trained by Elizabeth Kuebler-Ross herself. Kuebler-Ross teaches the stages of grief, which range all the way from denial to acceptance. I used to be able to enumerate the stages; I can't do it anymore. There's something about being in the midst of the process myself that has erased all the formal knowledge of it from my head. All I know is, just when I think I've achieved acceptance, evidence of that being that I haven't thought about Mother for a long time, something will happen that bounces me back to an earlier stage. The only one I know for sure I'm over is the first one, denial.

It's no secret that my mother and I Did Not Get Along. I put that in caps because in my life, it sure was written in caps. The truth about my mother appears to have been that she was one of those women who should never have children, due to an inability to grasp the basic concept of mothering. This was no more her fault than the color of her eyes (blue-gray) -- she must have been born that way. My father died when I was six months old, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. My mother took me and went home to her parents; not long thereafter, she was out working and following the naval officer who became my stepfather from one port to the next, during WWII. My grandparents raised me. I grew up caling them Mama and Daddy, and although I knew the pretty woman who came to see me and who was called Mother really was my mother, I was more comfortable with Mama. Way more comfortable. But the war eventually ended, and this and that happened, and by the time I was eight I was living with my mother and my stepfather, and I was pretty much uncomfortable, pretty much of the time, from then on.

The therapist who did the most for me post-divorce once said that I should be grateful to my mother for turning me over to my grandparents for those first seven years, because if she hadn't, I would probably have grown up to be psychotic instead of merely neurotic. Heh. He said it with a smile, but later on when I asked him if he'd really meant it he said Yes, he did.

Fast-forward to late adulthood, when I returned to California after years of being stuck in the East, raising my own sons after a divorce, having two careers and starting a new one (writing novels). I was in my late 50s when I came back, and my mother was 22 years older than I am (just as I myself am 22 years older than my oldest son). But it was not "coming home," because my stepfather died himself at age 48, after divorcing my mother; and she subsequently married husband #3 and moved from the Bay Area to Socal -- alien territory to me. Nevertheless I came back to the same state at least, and one big reason was that I wanted to reconcile with my mother, to do what I had to do so that she and I could get to know each other as adults, the way I've gotten to know my own sons as adults.

Well, it never happened. She died last year at age 90 and one of the final things she said to me was "I don't want you here." (This statement shoud be accompanied by a Letterman-type drum roll: ba-dump-bump.)

My mother did not like me. She may have loved me, but she didn't like me, and the awful truth is that I didn't like her either. I always wanted her to love me, and she said she did, but I never felt it. Never. Not once in my whole life. I loved her, and I told her so more than once in her later years, all to no avail. Maybe she didn't feel it either. And now it's too late. Maybe loving without liking, the one cancels out the other? I don't know. I just know it's over and time to let it all go; I've been trying to do that for months.

This is a heavy load, a bad memory, and I don't know what kind of grief process can ever make it go away. Because of May being the month of her birthday, as well as of Mother's Day, my mother is very much on my mind.

M is also for Mourn.

No comments: