I Still Miss My Mother
My mother has been gone for many years and I still long for her company.
Posted May 10, 2015
Over 13 years have passed since my mother died and I still miss her terribly. When our family learned that she had pancreatic cancer and that she had only a matter of months to live we embarked on a flurry of photo-taking. One of those photos — her standing at her kitchen counter, dressed in a blue sweater, poised beside a vase of dark pink tulips — is the one I chose to frame, and the one I keep on my coffee table to this day. But if you look at it closely, she looks ill; her face is tinged with grey and there are dark circles under her eyes. We weren’t much of a picture-taking family so I didn’t have a lot to choose from. Still this is the image of her I talk to when I need to, when I’m having a difficult time. When things get really bad and I feel the need to be close to her, I pick up the framed photo and kiss it, as if that will bring her back.
This Mother’s Day seems to be harder for me than the last several. I am acutely aware of the cashier at Stop & Shop brightly wishing me “Happy Mother’s Day,” and I want to answer back sharply, “I’m not a mother.” Neighbors in my elevator say the same thing and I hold back the retort, “Have you ever seen me with a child? In the 20 years I’ve lived in this building?”
Perhaps now that I am feeling so much better than I have for the last almost two years, I’m wishing that my mom had been around for the roller-coaster ride. To be next to me, to hold me, to comfort me on the way down and to share the triumph with me on the way up. To be proud of my achievements. Although I like to think she has watched me every step of the way and has shared in my emotions, I can’t be sure.
I have done a great deal of work in therapy on my relationship with my mother and the first step was learning that she was human and taking her down off the pedestal that I had placed her on. She had her strengths and her faults and they were in balance, just like everyone else's, but that was hard for me to acknowledge. Now I’m able to see her more realistically.
I have come to realize that our relationship as adults was complicated. Unfortunately it was based on me being ill, and she died before I got a chance to resolve that. She never got the opportunity to see me as a well adult and I regret that. I came to relish the attention I got from her when I was sick and I came to believe it was the only way I was capable of receiving her affection. Because I was so desperately and pervasively ill, there never as an opportunity to step out of that role and test what it would have been like to try to receive her love as a healthy woman. I would have liked to have had that chance.
Regardless, I loved her immensely and we were best friends. We enjoyed the time we spent together; we hung out just because we got along so well and liked spending time with each other. We got manicures, we went shopping, we went out for dinner, and sometimes we just hung out on her comfy red leather couch and watched bad television. We laughed, we cried, we held hands, and sometimes we didn’t have to say a word.
A couple of years ago, a group of my friends got together at another friend’s home on City Island, an enclave of the Bronx that rests off of Long Island Sound. We had taken fruit, muffins, and wine and gone out to the end of a pier which juts out into the water. We were sitting and indulging in our picnic, telling stories, talking, and laughing. After several hours the sun started to go down and it started to get chilly by the water. We cleaned up and rose to leave, still laughing. A brightly colored butterfly landed on my shoulder and sat there for what seemed like a long time for a butterfly. I stood absolutely still, not daring to move. When it finally flew off, its glorious colors contrasting against the cerulean sky, I said with certainty to the group of my friends, “That was my mother.” They agreed.
I keep waiting for another sign of that magnitude, but in the years since, I haven’t received one. I keep thinking that perhaps she is angry with me for trying to take my life last year.
I’m sorry, Mom. I won’t do it again. Happy Mother’s Day.