There are so many things you learn when you join the select, shitty club of “my mother just died.”
The first is that very little matters. The minutiae we all busy ourselves with seems so far away, and what is up close and personal is not wasting time on the little things. It seems cliché, but it hits you so much harder… Time cannot be wasted.
The second is that so few people matter. You cannot possibly cultivate strong relationships with everyone you’ve ever met in your life, and you need to stick with the people who are willing to get down in the shit with you, and those people are few and far between. It brings new clarity to the way I’ve treated Dana and Argo. They were never expendable to me, they were my lifeblood, and I covered it up with a lot of defense mechanisms that were designed to push them away, and they worked. Nothing matters more to me than being the kind of friend/girlfriend that can give as much as I receive. Pushing away the people that loved me through an enormous amount of mental instability is not the type of person I want to be… and not the way I want to be remembered.
The way you want to be remembered becomes more important. What is the legacy I want to leave? Do I want to be the type person that is alone by choice? Do I want people to remember me fondly and would actually come to a service celebrating my life? Or isolate people so much that they’re just glad they don’t have to worry about me anymore? And I don’t mean this because I feel depressed. I mean it as reality. The way you treat people in life will exponentially multiply in their thoughts when you die, and if you treat them poorly, it comes back to you…. like the scene in Six Feet Under when the husband of one of the deceased says, “if there’s any justice in the world she’s shoveling shit in hell.” My mother was remembered so incredibly fondly that I realized it was important to me to be more open, more loving, just……. more. I want to reach out to the world in a more concrete way than sitting at my desk and writing about my thoughts. I want to have a life.
Another thing I have learned is that the business of death is slow bureaucracy and there must be a way to streamline it somehow. Grieving people do not want to make a metric fuck tonne of calls to people they don’t know… especially in a society where everyone is more comfortable typing and texting, anyway. It’s not just me. Lots of people would rather have a root canal than make a phone call, especially to people they don’t know.
Alternatively, the phone has become more important to me with the people I do love. I need to hear their voices, at least sometimes. There are a couple of phone calls that I will return today because I feel stronger than I did yesterday. Getting a good night’s sleep helped immensely in my ability to be able to reach out, but it does not help the feeling that I wish I’d known this before my mother died.
I’ve lost the one person in my life who constantly treated me as if I was perfectly perfect in every way. My mother got over her fear and concern at my being gay, and no one could make a homophobic comment in her presence… even when she wouldn’t tell people she had a gay daughter outright. I learned this from her friends after she died, that she was relentless in shutting people up because she was proud of me… even though they didn’t know I was gay until they met me.
The way my mother overcame her fear and concern brings new clarity into the fight I had with Dana’s parents about choosing their church over their child, and the way Dana’s mother said to me that she couldn’t give Dana what she needed and maybe Dana should find someone else…. why I was so vicious because the part of me that worried for Dana boiled over into extreme rage. I regret the way I behaved, because the message was helpful and the rage was not. My own mother lion went off at their treatment of her, but it wasn’t my job. Only Dana could stand up for Dana. I was just meddling in her affairs, but to be fair, Dana’s mother didn’t say the part about finding someone else to her. She said it to me, and I could not hear a mother say that about her child without emotionally going for her jugular. I hope that in the time we’ve been broken up, Dana and her mother have truly reconciled in a concrete way, because I don’t want Dana to have to remember her mother as the person who wouldn’t accept her for who she was when she dies. I thank God that when Dana and I were together, she had two mothers who accepted her for exactly who she was, which was my wife. Two mothers who clearly accepted the fact that long after they were just whispers in the wind, Dana and I would still be a family unto our own.
I find myself listing losses over and over. That my mother didn’t live to see my next relationship, possibly my children or stepchildren, even down to her not being there at my 40th birthday party. I still haven’t cried, haven’t broken down in any way, and the weight is enormous. I want to cry, but I can’t. Still too much shock to accept that my lot in life was to lose my mother so much earlier than anyone would have wanted for my sisters and me. Lisa is particularly affected, because her youngest, Grace, doesn’t remember a time when my mother wasn’t her grandmother.
For those just joining us, Lindsay and I are the only children my mother had biologically, and had four stepdaughters, though she never got to meet Maggie because she is estranged from the family. She was much closer to my other stepsisters, Susan, Lisa, and Linda. They all have children and she still got to be a grandmother even though Lindsay and I are childless. I wanted that for her- to be a grandmother, and I am so glad she got the chance. Grandchildren that were biologically hers wouldn’t have mattered in the slightest, because she would have loved them all equally. The only difference between their children and mine is that they would have looked like her- that familiar widow’s peak, those hands, those eyes.
I had to take a break to deal with more retirement/insurance stuff and I’ve had to say over and over that my mother died to people who deal with death for a living. Not one of them has said “I’m sorry for your loss” or “I’m sorry for the reason you’re calling.” I have learned that I never want to be anesthetized in that way. I’ve also learned that I don’t care about the money, because it could be fifty million dollars and I’d just rather have my mother back.
I feel the same way about my stats shooting up astronomically since my mother died. No amount of recognition as a writer will ever ease the pain of loss… it makes me a little sick to my stomach, that I might gain “fame” from writing about grief. That I would be successful because my mother died and not despite it.
Alternatively, it helps to know someone is listening, because FUCK. My mother just died. I am so angry and conflicted and hurt and all the things. I cannot even, and I cannot cry. I just feel like there’s a Buick on my chest. I am so raw and agitated, strong but not unbreakable.
Just like her, really. It’s what I’ve learned.