I always somewhat dread today, November 24, because I know I will be sad and missing my Mom on her birthday. I was wondering this morning – what if it weren’t for breast cancer? How long would she have lived? How many memories did we all miss out on with her? And how is it at all fair that my children barely remember her when she loved them so much?
This morning we figured out my Mom would have been 78 years old today. I all of a sudden realized that had it not been for breast cancer taking her life in 1996, she might not have still been alive today anyway. My family just doesn’t have such great genes and I am sure she would have been partying her buns off in heaven already. I am not sure I really ever realized how old she was getting once she was gone because I still picture her at 61 – happy and healthy….but wow, 78 years old today?
I don’t have very many pictures of my Mom and I. This is something I really do regret and wish I could go back and change. This is also one reason why I have broken my picture phobia and have allowed myself to be photographed a lot more since my diagnosis…even through my cancer treatments. I knew I would be better off to have the photos if I needed them, or wanted them, than to want or need them and not have them. So, as hard as it was, I got rid of the bad attitude of not wanting to be photographed. Photographs are terrific ways to relive certain memories, some memories you didn’t even know you had until seeing a photo. So, for my children, I am being better about this.
My Mom had somewhat of a hard life. It makes me sad to remember back to some of the things she told me when she was still alive. She had an abusive father so my Grandma and my Mom had tough times when she was a young girl. Then my Grandma went off the deep end of the mental bridge and became quite the hoochie-mama for quite a few years. The hardest story my Mom ever told was during her cancer battle and homebound but she was not yet scary sick. I remember her sitting in the recliner in their family room looking out the large triple set of sliding glass doors that over looked their wooded backyard. They had big windows above the sliding glass doors and a soaring ceiling so the room always seemed as if you were halfway outside. She was not comfortable sharing this story and I am not sure if it’s just one of those things that shames you during your entire life, or if it was because my Grandma was still alive and my Mom was afraid I was going to say something to my crazy mean old Grandma. As my Mom looked out the window with a lost look on her face she talked about wanting to find her sister. “Your sister?” I asked. “What sister?” My Mom began her story.
When she was about 8 years old my Grandma was in love with a man and he was going to marry her, or so he said, so my Grandma packed up my Mom and they traveled from NY to California. Now back 70 years ago that was a big deal and I am guessing they took a train, or several, but I cannot remember if she told me how they got there. They stayed in a hotel room when they got to California and my Mom spoke in a quiet voice and told me that her mother, my Grandmother, used to have sex with this man while my Mom was in the room, and she made my Mom put her face in the corner. She said she wasn’t sure how long this went on since she was only a little girl, but she said it seemed like hours. Day after day. What my Mom didn’t know is that my Grandmother was pregnant with this man’s baby and when she told him she was pregnant he didn’t marry my Grandma. In fact, my Mom later found out that the man never intended to marry my Grandmother because he was already married. So my Grandma and Mom trekked back across the US, back to NY, and moved in with family. I am not sure if they stayed with my Great Grandma or my Aunt, but I know my Grandma left my Mom there on and off for many years and they basically raised her without much input from my Grandmother. My Mom vaguely remembers riding in the car with my Aunt and my Grandmother and a baby. They parked in front of a house and my Grandmother got out of the car with the baby and went to the front door. She left the baby there (I am not sure if someone opened the door or not), got back in the car and then they drove away. Later my Mom was told that the baby in that car was her half-sister. My Mom spent many years yearning to find out more about that sister but my family was tight-lipped and protective of my Grandmother. I am not sure why – but they were. So, I am sitting in the family room thinking “WHAT??” My Grandmother was really nice and very loving for many years and then she got mean-spirited and hateful, so my guess is that was her true nature and she had some good years and was nice to people but truly, deep down, she was not nice. What kind of woman has sex in a hotel room and makes their young daughter stay in the room with her face to wall? Ugh. My poor Mom. It is also interesting to look back and realize my Mom had a whole life that didn’t involve my brothers and me, or even my Dad. I find it odd that as a grown adult; we never realize this about our parents, not while they are here anyway. The scope of how we know our parents is just that – the parental scope. Who knew they had such interesting lives before we came along? My Mom worked in some type of cool job in DC for a while and was exposed to all kinds of cancer causing crap (my brothers know the details of this, I still do not) – but could this be some of the cause of her cancer and mine? I want to say my brother told me she was exposed to high levels of radiation in a job with the government that she was not very willing to talk about. Hmmm…interesting, eh? Funny cause she never mentioned this to me – ever. But if she did, would I have been a willing listener? I know I would listen now. I know if I could have my Mom back for an hour, a day, or a week, I would be the greatest listener ever. I would want to know everything. Every past detail, what she was like as a teenager, as a newlywed, as a new Mom, what is was like to grow up with an abusive Dad and since she did have one, why did she put my brothers and me in the same situation as she grew up in? What she really thought of losing her breasts – both times, what it was like to truly look death in the face; watching it as it slowly descended upon her, how she handled having multiple miscarriages, and losing a baby at 5 months of pregnancy, what is what like to have a gun held to her head by her husband (my father) during her cancer battle, what kind of little girl she was; was she a good girl or a little spit-fire, what dreams did she have that she never experienced, did she have a bucket list, what it was like to be rich, or what it was like to be poor. I would listen listen listen and boy, given the chance to talk to my Mom again; I would want to know everything about her. As a daughter. As a wife. As a Mom. As a friend. As a lover. As a Grandma. As an Aunt. As a woman.
So, when my Mom was in her mid teens my Grandmother met a nice man and got remarried and straightened her act out. She then got close to my Mom and became a decent Mother and Grandmother. My Mom married young (to a fella named Buddy) and lived in an apartment in the upstairs of my Grandmother’s new house. My Mom and Buddy were married for a few years while he was in the service. (He was my Mom’s step-brother’s best friend and they all hung around together in high school.) He came back from the service (not sure if he was done with his duty or on a break) and he and my Mom got into an argument. He went out with his buddies drinking and they were involved in a car accident and Buddy was killed. My Mom was devastated. Totally and completely devastated. I cannot imagine the guilt she carried from that tragedy in her life. Then years later she married my Dad and the rest of that story is our family history….but before she met my Dad, I can honestly say she had her share of hard times and heartache. And then after she married my Dad, her hard times and heartaches continued, but that is for another blog post.
So, I ask you guys, do you know your parents? Do you just know them as your parent or at this point in your life are you close to them and you know them as well as a close friend or maybe just as well as you know an acquaintance? Think about the questions I mentioned above, do you know the answers to those about your own parents? I sure wish I knew the answers to those questions, about my Mom anyway.
Happy Birthday Mom! Please know you are dearly missed and I still yearn to talk to you, to hug you, to know you on a much deeper level then I knew you 17 years ago. I wish my kids were blessed enough to know you now that they are grown, and I wish you had met Kevin. But, we are living out our story and this is how things are meant to be. Regardless of what I never knew about you – what I do know about you is that you were cherished and loved and you loved us like crazy.