Twenty-six years ago this week my mother passed away after a long, harrowing illness. I was in college, it was the week of mid-term exams, and I was just arriving back to my dormitory when I was greeted at the double doors by two older ladies from my neighborhood. I knew their presence couldn’t mean good news. I lit up a cigarette, my latest act of new freedom, and sat cautiously on one of the barrel chairs in the dorm’s lobby. They told me my mom had been taken to the hospital, and I needed to gather my things because they were taking me home. I’m quite intuitive. I knew she was already dead.
The next week passed in a blur. It was my first funeral; the first one I’d ever helped plan, and the first I’d ever attended. I smoked a lot, and didn’t care if my father saw me. His alcoholism, his abusiveness, and his affair during my mother’s illness had pretty much made me finished with him. I picked out my mom’s burial clothes, and taught my dad how to write checks. Mom had always been the money manager of the family. I found space in the fridge for the endless casseroles that neighbors brought over. I wrote thank you notes for the food and flowers, only because my mom would have been horrified if I hadn’t. There was no time to cry or mourn, in fact, the whole process of publicly breaking down seemed more than embarrassing to me. It wasn’t embarrassing to my brother, and the few relatives that we had clamored to comfort him, while exclaiming how strong I was. This made me even more terrified to show my real feelings.
The next week, I went back to school in my mom’s Buick Skylark. It was only two years old and fully loaded. I hadn’t planned on having a car so nice until well after graduation and a few years of steady work as a teacher. I loved college. After growing up in a strict home with rules about everything, living on my own and making my own choices was heavenly. Of course, college wasn’t really “on my own.” It was my safe transition into the real world. By the time I arrived at my dormitory, I realize that my safe transition was over. I was now IN the real world. My mothered friends and dorm mates who greeted me with uncomfortable messages of sympathy were the ones still in safety. They were the ones who would go home to meals cooked by mother’s hands. They were the ones who would leave their laundry bag by the washer on Friday night, and magically find their clothes freshly washed and folded by the time they left for school on Sunday afternoon. They were the ones who had someone older and wiser to talk to about boys, and classes, and future plans. I just had me, and although I never showed it, I resented the innocent lives that most of them still had. It wasn’t their fault. It was just the way life worked out for them, and for me.
By the eyes of most, I went on with my life, with only the few usual glitches. I graduated with a teaching degree, and had a successful career. I had two children, one divorce, and am now in my second, very successful, marriage. My daughters are at the same college I attended, and one is headed to medical school next fall. I’ve long quit smoking, a secret I will forever keep from my health conscious daughters. I moved on. Within me though will always be the 20 year old “girl” who wants to feel her mother’s touch, who wants taste her mother’s Christmas dinner, and sit on the bed and talk about husbands, and children, and future plans. Twenty-five years later I yearn for the way her skin smelled when she hugged me goodnight. I ache for the grandmother my children never knew. I pine for the advice she couldn’t give me, and in the wee small hours of the night, when no one hears me, I cry.