It’s funny. This is how my father started many of his stories. The thing is; most, if not all, were not, in fact, humorous. “It’s funny. I didn’t see the gas pump until I hit it,” or “It’s funny. I didn’t make the funeral; I’ll just go the shiva.” His opening line ignited quite a few eye-rolls over the years, yet, I miss them and find myself using his line on occasion; even when the forthcoming story will hardly bring on laughter.
It’s funny is exactly how I began to write this piece on what it means to have lost my mother as a kid. You see, nothing amusing about it, nor, like my father’s infamous preambles, is it new. I suppose the past forty years without a mother as part of my daily life and the feelings that go along with it come about like the slow, steady turning of a corkscrew, minus the rousing pop at the end.
Most people who know me, know that I lost my mother while still in high school. Perhaps it comes up in conversation or is somewhat apparent in the way I have parented my children over the years; with a lingering fear that if I don’t do everything for them, they will feel the same sort of loss that I have felt for more than those forty years without her. There is, however, no logic that can dissuade a mother from trying to do the impossible, although therapy helps. There is also no making up for the lack of a grandmother in my children’s lives. I certainly can’t be both, but I still mourn for my children’s loss in that department. I know that my mother would have been the perfect grandmother. Sometimes I like to imagine her reaction to tales about my children; her smile that exposed her slightly overlapping two front teeth glowing on the other end of the phone. I like to pretend that at some point my parents bought a house near mine and my kids got to have proper sleepovers with their grandparents while they were growing up.
Of course, there are many things one misses out on when they lose a mother at such a young age. I could list them starting from shopping for a prom dress, which in the end I chose not to go to, my high school, college, grad school graduations, my wedding, or the birth of my children. By the way, I am convinced I felt my mother’s presence at the birth of my oldest, nonetheless, that is a funny story for another day. Those are the big things. I have missed out on so many of the small ones too, but this is not news or something a person can’t imagine. The little things are part of my everyday life that will forever be my unfilled cavity. Some days its void feels larger than others and soothing it feels as natural as hugging my children. Other days, it yearns to be screamed from the rooftops, but there is that caveat that somehow asserts that after ten – twenty – thirty, and now forty years, I should have learned to cope; therefore, not talking about it. Losing a mother as a kid means that as an adult you have to learn to self-soothe.
Sadly, I have had friends that have lost children, and there is no doubt that there is nothing worse, but the best advice they have all given is to never stop saying their child’s name. I remember the first time I heard that suggestion I thought it was nothing short of beautiful and brilliant. If we never stop saying their name; the people sort of live on. The mourner is forever permitted to imagine aloud how their child would have loved their trip to Disney, been the best man at his brother’s wedding, or probably have attended Harvard. When someone loses a parent; albeit the natural progression in life, we are sort of trained to let that person verbally go after a while. The illusory rules change for a parent’s death, although seemingly it should be more uncomfortable talking about a deceased child, I suppose because it just shouldn’t happen in that order.
Then there are the caveats, like mine, having been a teenager when my mother died, that is equally unnerving. Any fantasy uttered about the deceased instantly shifts the listener into a state of heartache and doubt over how to respond. I don’t think anyone, no matter how many articles one reads on the subject, ever knows the perfect thing to say in reaction to sorrow. Bereavement may forever signify tongue-tying, regardless of whether it is two days or forty years later. Yet, it is something we all have to learn to endure. Perhaps, I need to stop feeling culpable for putting my friends into that awkward spot by mentioning how even after forty years I still miss my mother.
Perhaps I should measure the level of intimacy between friends before sharing. I am not referring to the kind of words that comes with sobbing; those should probably be regarded for more close-knit family and friends. Besides, fear not, those times happen rarely after so many years. I have learned to cope. This is my life, and it is a good one. Today, on the forty-year anniversary of my mother’s death, I am taking a stand for all of the adult motherless daughters, or fatherless sons, or whichever loss is yours. Go ahead; romanticize about what it would be like if your mom was still here. This is your official hall pass. There is no guidebook for grief; nor is there one for consoling.
I warned you this didn’t fit into an, “It’s funny,” blog, but just the way I twirl my thumbs when I am thinking, the same way my father did, it felt natural to start that way – as natural as telling you how I still miss my mom. Come to think of it, I wonder what she would think of this blog. For starters, blogging originated in the ‘90s and my mother passed in 1980. When my mom died, we were still writing on typewriters. It’s funny…. when you think about it.