My mother has been dead for almost 10 years now. I never thought I would miss her this much.
I know that sounds strange. She was my mother, after all. But while she was alive and going through her chemo and operations, I never really thought about the imminence of her death. I never expected to miss her. You could call it hope, I guess. I wouldn’t. I had an expectation that she would get through it. I saw no need for hope.
For her part, Mom approached each day of her battle with dignity and resolve, and not a little humor.
“I thought people who had cancer were supposed to get skinny,” my Mom said to me one day. “Why am I still fat?”
I looked at her, nonplussed, but only for a second. She was laughing, and I joined her. What else could I do? If she wasn’t crying about it, I sure as hell wasn’t either–at least not in front of her.
Mom made her share of mistakes. She grew up in a nest of pedophiles and alcoholics. Her mother was a domineering woman who made it her life’s work to belittle her at every turn. So it was no wonder that when my father died, she lost her mind. We kids grew up with a succession of alcoholics. It’s happened before to a million other kids, and it will surely happen again. That doesn’t mean we gave her a free pass. Not by a long shot. I don’t know that the word forgiveness was ever uttered, but there came a time when Mom began to be the mother we always wanted and needed. It’s hard to distinguish at what point acknowledgment and absolution coalesced to bandage the wounds of our collective childhoods. Was it the arrival of her grandchildren? Was it her final marriage to a good man who didn’t need to be saved? The how or the why didn’t matter. We finally had our Mom.
And then, because life is far from fair, Mom developed breast cancer. She never asked, “Why me?” She never wished her disease on anybody else. She fought it, tooth and nail, for as long she could. Through it all, she continued to make cookies and birthday cakes; she never stopped bouncing the grandkids on her knee; and she always had a smile and a hug ready when we walked through her door. My Mom was no June Cleaver, but in the end she taught me two of life’s most important lessons: how to live, and how to die.