I thought I knew her well. Yet, now that my mother is gone (she passed away six months ago), I am surprised to discover how much I really never knew about her. I guess I took her for granted. It’s a bit like the 100-year-old house we lived in when I was a teenager. The sounds and substance became familiar...the squeak of the stairs, the clinking sound of the radiators turning on and off, the whine of the wind rattling the old windows, the Westminster chimes of the grandfather clock on the staircase landing. My mother was just there, and my three siblings and I were used to her sounds, sayings, moods, and presence. She was Mother. We never questioned to her face who she was or what she was thinking, feeling, or doing, and why she always seemed so sad and unfulfilled.
As a reporter who asks questions in a rat ta tat tat manner, I never took the time to use these skills on my mother. I don’t know why but think it was because going to a certain place with her was crossing a boundary she wouldn't have liked. She kept so many secrets; was a very private person. She had so much angst and so many demons that were never discussed, revealed, or exorcised: How her 21-year-old brother really died; details about the accident that left my younger sister’s body almost completely covered in burns and how she coped; her capricious outbursts that struck when least expected, and the suppression of all her dreams of going to New York City to become an actress and choosing instead to become a wife and mother, though she became a highly successful real-estate saleswoman. Why? Was that the source of her depression? I never asked but just assumed it was.
When my mother died, I was bereft not just because I lost my last parent, but there were so many things I wish I had known from her. And as she became weaker, more fragile, and her dementia worsened, I was always telling and not asking or listening. While she was struggling to be comfortable and maintain a modicum of control over her life, our conversations became dry and predictable:
“How do you feel today?” Answer: “OK" or "Fine.”
“What do you think about what the doctor said?” “Fine.”
“Is there anything special you’d like to do or see?” “No.”
“But mother you need to get up and do something. Move around.”
I was always pushing her to get out of bed, to do something to occupy her mind and her body to keep her muscles from atrophying. She just wanted to be left alone.
Today as I walk by the flower section of my grocery store or the Papyrus card shop at the mall and think, oh, Mother’s Day is coming soon, I need to…Stop! She’s no longer here. Then these five unanswered questions pop into my head, again and again:
- If you hadn’t married and had children, how would you life have been different?
- Did you really love our father, deeply and passionate or just make do with a guy who was a good person and great provider?
- Why didn’t we talk about certain subjects in our home like sex or how to date or fall in love?
- What did you like about me and did you see yourself in me at all--and what about my siblings?
- Why did you never get help for your depression?
And when there are no answers in my head, I am sad that the deadly silence won't ever provide answers. One thing I do know, however, is that I’ve learned the importance of having an open, honest relationship with my three children in an effort not to repeat the mistakes of the past. And Mother, wherever you are, Happy Mother’s Day. This will be my first without you. I hope you are finally at peace. We all deeply miss and love you. Forever.