My mother, myself

Last weekend, I attended my mother’s memorial service. She died of cancer at the young age of 68, and was followed to the other side by her husband and dog, within 6 months after her death.

We held a simple, informal, non-religious service at the site where she and her husband’s ashes were buried, in the family cemetery out side of Memphis. The day was unseasonably warm and sunny and we were joined by family members from three different countries.

As we each shared our memories and thoughts of mom, a few themes became prominent. Mom was a woman unto herself – a cheerful recluse, who doted on her dog, and made long honey-do lists for her husband, who in turn, doted on her. Everyone agreed that mom was a great conversationalist, both on the phone, and through highly detailed correspondence. Mom had a great laugh and most of all, mom lived a simple life, and truly appreciated the small things in life. She loved herbs and spices, natural beauty products, a good fabric softener, caring for her schnauzer, and keeping a tidy home. Although she and my step-dad traveled throughout Europe for several years, she was happiest at home, studying new recipes, listening to NPR and reading esoteric books and magazines.

I found it striking how little her siblings are like her, how they all had careers and pursued material success and lived more extravagantly than the average person. Mom was surely the black sheep of her family.

As much as I admire mom’s contentment with her life, I also recognize that she was pretty obsessive compulsive, to the point where we would miss ferry boats and airplanes as children, due to the house having to be perfectly clean before we could leave. Mom had a form of agoraphobia, which made it difficult for her to leave the house without her husband. She hadn’t driven in years, and although she could be quite sociable, visits frequently were shortened by migraines induced by the stress of hosting people at her house, or being outside of her very controlled environment. Most of us had great phone relationships with her, but few of us ever saw her!

I admire many aspects of my mother’s lifestyle. I value her appreciation of everything from a pretty rhododendron to pictures and letters I sent her over the years, all of which she valued and kept. She was unconditionally supportive and encouraging of me. She accepted me as a lesbian. She was a curious and positive person, despite her self-imposed limitations. She loved sharing recipes and health tips.

As an Aries, I have a much greater need for social interaction, new challenges, and physical stimulation than my Aquarian mother ever did. We couldn’t be more different on the surface. But I seek to live with the kind of appreciation and gratitude she felt for all she had in her life.

Days before her death in hospice, she was having the nurses Google “laughter therapy” as a way to beat cancer. She entertained them with all kinds of stories, and there were many laughs coming out of her room right up until the end. I’ll miss our phone conversations, mom, and our giggles and laughter shared, despite 2,000 miles and the Canadian border between us.

Last photo of mom and I together in hospice, just before she passed:

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “My mother, myself

  1. Paula Gerstenblatt

    Lovely, and touching. A fitting tribute from a wonderful daughter. All us moms (and daughters) should be so fortunate.

  2. Thank you, Alisa, for this tender, reflective post. It inspires my own reflections on my relationship with my Mom. Though I fought her tooth and nail while she was alive in order to preserve some small sense of my Self inviolate, in retrospect I experience the grief of her own life, growing up insecure during an era when there were no support groups, AA, psychotherapy, encouragement for gifted women to become something more…a tough transitional time those first 60 years or so of the 20th century when awareness of women’s rights was new. Our lives are such complex, interconnected stories and I’m often aware that my being a voice in the world is my way of bringing my mother’s destiny forward. thanks for risking.

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