When my mother died five years ago, I was 59 years old. There is nothing that can I can write that can accurately describe that loss, and even after five years, the pain is almost as poignant as it was then.
There is not a week that goes by when I don’t dream about her, and even when the dream is set in the past (when she was alive) I know that she is gone.
I’m not a maudlin person by nature, nor do I live in the past. I know that as the years go by, I’ll experience the loss of friends and relatives.
But death of a mother is different. A part of me went with her, and it took some time to ‘reclaim’ my ‘self’ and get back to my life without ‘mother’.
One day I was shopping, and I heard a woman about my age call the woman she was with, “Mother.”
Hearing the word ‘mother’ struck me like a thunderbolt. I knew that never again would I be able to say that word in that context. I was an orphan.
Mom didn’t pass away, she died.
Even now I cannot use the term “passed away” when some one has died.’
(I loathe the term ‘passed away’ because those two words reminded me of something that happened when my grandpa died.
I was just a kid when I was told that grandpa “passed away.”
I had never been to a funeral before; neither my mom nor dad prepared me for what to expect at the service.
I was not told that it was going to be an open casket, and so at the end of the service when everyone got up and began to move I was ‘forced’ (being sandwiched in between adults) to go along with them. .
As I walked toward the front, I saw a coffin, and there was a dead man in it! When I got closer I could see that the dead man was Grandpa.
When I saw him underneath some kind of gauze covering and Grandma clawing it and crying, “Oh God, Oh God”, over and over and looking like she was trying to crawl in with him, I went into a bit of a shock.
It was not unlike the trauma suffered by Eve White in the 1957 movie, The Three Faces of Eve” when Eve was forced by her mother to kiss her dead grandmother goodbye.
There was nothing malicious intended with the mother in the movie; she just thought that having her little girl kiss a dead person would make the parting easier.
Nor, was there anything ‘malicious’ about being ‘moved’ by relatives toward the front to view the coffin, but it had a life-changing effect. (Although unlike Eve, I did not develop three different personalities, but it was a childhood trauma nonetheless, and one that I would never completely get over.
At the time I was told that grandpa passed away, and it wasn’t until I saw him in his coffin, all white and waxy that I knew he didn’t “pass away’ anywhere but was right in front of me.
I was a great deal older when my mom died. I didn’t have to see her after she was dead (I wanted to remember how she looked when she was alive) and have the life-image forever in my mind.
When dad was dying, she said after she was gone she wanted to be cremated just like her husband, and we honored her request.
But I was not ‘ready’ for her death —no matter how much I thought I was, and when the dreaded day finally arrived, and I learned that she’d died in her sleep, I was devastated. (It was just three years to the day after dad died.)
I stopped writing, gained weight, and had trouble sleeping.
Nothing seemed ‘important’ after mom was gone. Why continue to writing the definitive American play, if she could not be there when I picked up my Tony Award.
Why publish that short story or poem if she would not be there to read it?
But as the weeks and months passed, I ‘grew up’ and stopped feeling sorry for myself. I counted my blessing rather than counting my loses and found that I was indeed fortunate.
I counted my blessing and not my losses
I have a loving and supportive spouse; a wonderful son and daughter-in-law, three sisters (one of whom is a twin) and two surviving aunts with whom I share a close relationship.
Another thing that helped me cope emotionally was Jane Brooks’s wonderful book “Midlife Orphan.”
Jane talks about how self-efficient adults feel the pain of being an ‘orphan’ and how the emotional impact of losing a parent can be underestimated.
I had underestimated the impact that it would have on me when she died. I thought that I was adult enough to handle it, but found out that the ‘adult’ part of me felt abandoned and alone. I would never be able to call someone “mother” again.”
When I started to write again, I came across this poem by W.H. Auden, Stop all the Clocks, Cut off the telephone” and when I read the first, third and forth stanza he could have been writing about my mother.
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
After she died I too wanted to put out the stars, and dismantle the sun for I thought nothing would ever be the same.
For she was truly “my North, my South, my East and West.
But I could not bring her back and I had no compass to point me in the right direction.
But the passing of time does lessen the pain, and good poetry and books offers solace as well. I will find my way without my mother to guide me.
I will want the stars.