This is the second birthday my mother is gone. She passed away in January of 2013 and her birthday is August 15. It’s clear now that I was in shock and just “functioning” last year, when I made the mad dash to Texas, last August 7th, to throw my maternal grandmother her 90th surprise birthday party. It’s what my mother would have wanted. It was also supposed the year my brother and I would have thrown my mother her 70th surprise birthday party.
To share, my grandmother has late onset schizophrenia and dementia, we made the family decision not to tell her of my mother’s passing fearing that it would be a pain she would forget, and re-experience every time we have to retell her. She became schizophrenic at the age of 50 after her second husband died from a heart attack; I feel that the knowledge of the passing of her first-born child would kill her. My mother and grandmother were very close. My mother was her caretaker, I always feared that my mother would pass before my grandmother and she did—diabetes took its toll. At the end, I believe my mother, tired from her disease, finally welcomed death.
My grandmother is a loving soul. Kind, generous, the good cop to my mother’s bad cop when I was a little girl. My grandmother was the epitome of unconditional love and my mother the consummate disciplinarian—but I was loved. I think we would have been better off had my mother never remarried, but she felt marriage was her one escape. This is an important detail to keep in mind considering we lived with my grandmother, along with my uncle from the time I was born until I turned five. My uncle was a violent schizophrenic (early onset) and I vaguely remember fleeing the house with my mother and grandmother to hotels on certain nights he would have violent rages and claims that we were conspiring to kill him.
My mother was a strong woman. The oldest of five children, who came from the most humble beginnings, she was also very lucky to be deprived the pain of losing her own mother who is still alive at ninety-one, her body would have betrayed her instantly with either a stroke or a heart attack if this had transpired. I am also pleased that my grandmother will never know the pain of losing her daughter, although deep down I think she knows my mother is gone. Now, the other siblings have to play caretaker, a privilege they were selfishly happy to extend to my mother— they are horrible at it, they barely see my grandmother who is in a nursing home— my mother saw her everyday. My grandmother lived with us until she couldn’t any longer; we found it was safer for her and saner on my mother to put her in an old folks home; this was only five years ago.
My mother was a strong woman— too strong for her own good. Her world revolved around my brother, my grandmother and me, she was our sun. Now we must all figure out a way to live without her, including my stepfather. This birthday I realize I will never have the chance to sing “Happy Birthday” to her; I will never have the chance to hug her tightly and tell her she has been my world. I will never have the chance to grow old with her like so many people do with their parents. If only I could be sixty and she ninety when she passed. If only I could have had twenty more years. If only.
When I went through her things, after she passed, I found that she kept every single card my brother and I gave her. Every single flower shop card. Every little shred of paper that carried any sentiment related to us. I never knew she was this sentimental. I never knew she cared about the cards I gave her. I never knew. But I am so glad I did. I took back the leopard pattern gloves I gave her one winter. I was so surprised she never lost them, or the mauve cashmere shawl I gave her. Things I knew she would love. She was so famous for losing things, but she never lost the things that touched her. I miss her so much.
I think back to all the trips we took to Europe as mother and daughter. We would fight like cats and dogs, what she would call black, I would call white, but as we grew older we would simply laugh at our clashes. She would constantly tell me when I was home for extended periods, that even if all we did was fight, she was happy I was home. I felt the same way. She loved me. She would kill for me. She was the type of mother who would bury the body, or take the blame. Nothing replaces that.
I’ve been in bed all week. Finding no energy to move. The drive to Texas to be with my family on her birthday was a fanciful thought, and I can’t help but admit that I feel sad that, my brother, father or sister-in-law did not call to check in on me. Maybe, I should call them, but all I do is chase, call, text, hoping to talk, to connect, but everything has changed, my mother was the glue that held us all together, now it is up to us, and I think we are failing miserably. It is still too hard for me to go home to spend time with the stepfather who has been so cruel to her, to me, to my brother; it is also difficult to go home knowing Michael and Renée have their own lives— I don’t know how to fit into their lives anymore. I still feel that my brother avoids talking to me, because I remind him of my mom. So, I seclude myself, hoping, waiting for my mind to reboot, for my body to recalibrate the pain and channel it into something meaningful and productive, but for now, I feel everything can fuck all.