Thursday, September 7, 2017

Missing a Birthday

My mother would have been 92.
This was the first year I hadn’t bought her a birthday card since I can’t remember when. I’d always find one that had some forgetfulness joke to it. A woman in jogging clothes: “I run to stay in shape. I just don’t know where I end up.” Things like that.

I’d come across the card on some other errand, decide it was just right, and I’d save it up for her birthday.

I didn’t get a card this year.

I didn’t remind Sophie to phone Granny.

I didn’t phone either.

Many years ago, I learned a lot about loss and grief. I kept trying to get past a hole, to remedy it somehow. And then I realized that holes never go away; we just learn to live around them. Sometimes, I look around and I wonder how many holes are behind all the people I see.

The last two years, thoughts of my mother came in the form of emergency phone calls and emails, crises to handle and worries to calm. “Mom” meant doctors, going back into hospitals, rehab, walkers, physical therapy. It meant fighting battles, getting pissed off, evaluating care, strategizing. That “Mom” crowded out everything else. Finding a birthday card was just another tedious “to do.”

Nevertheless, when she died, it was like a shock wave passed over my world. But when you’ve lived 4,000 miles and two visits a year away for so long, after a while, the waves fade. They don’t reach to Alaska. I don’t brace myself when the phone rings anymore. Those crises are over. They were a distraction – a complication – from the real hole to come.

Something in me couldn’t let September 2nd pass unnoticed. Something in me thought of birthday cards. And on a sunny moment on our brand new back deck, I thought back to the back deck I grew up on, and I wish I could show my mother. I wish she could lie on my deck and soak in the warm sun, and I wouldn’t even yell at her that it was too much sun already.

I would tell my theater-loving mother that I managed to get non-scalped, affordable tickets to Hamilton, and the whole family was going, and I’d see her in New York in March. And she – the woman who knew and saw every Broadway play for the last 60 years – would ask, “What’s Hamilton?”

And now I will actually visit New York and not see my mother. My sisters tried it and didn’t know where to go when they first arrived. They stared at each other in the car, rootless. My mother’s hole is as big as Long Island, and we haven’t yet figured out how to negotiate it.

But when I think of a birthday and a card, it’s … a warm thought. It’s sad and it still comes with an impossible “I wish” attached to it, but it’s a warm thought. Pleasant even. Comforting. Lying on my back deck, buying a theater ticket, using her pot for soup, peeling a cucumber with her vegetable peeler – who would know they’d trigger so many good memories?

The road around a hole is paved with good memories. Only the good ones seem to linger. I let them in quietly, and they comfort me.


  1. Remembering only the good stuff will become even truer as the years pass.

    My mother - now gone for 16 years - was exceptionally difficult. One of the many ways my sister and I bonded in childhood and beyond was complaining about her in that "You agree - she's the problem, not me right?? kind of way.

    And that even persisted for a couple of years after Mom died. Then we both found we'd let go of the bad stuff and remembered the many ways she was terrific.

    1. Ah, so it's true, things do get better over time. One way or another. Thank you.

  2. Barbara this is wonderful. She has been gone six years, but not a day goes by that I don't miss my mother. She would have been 90 on September 3rd. As a daughter, and a mother, I know a mother is never fully appreciated until they are gone. Taking for granted the constancy of a loving mother is part of their gift to us. A gift we, hopefully, pass on to our own children. At times, when I wish I had been a better daughter I know she felt the same way about her own mother, because you can't truly grasp how much was given except in it's absence.

    1. So early September does the same thing for the two of us: memories of our mothers. Thank you.

  3. Dear Barbara,
    I wish we could have helped you hang onto her even longer. And that the end could have been kinder for her. We did get to know her as she once was and truly whenever someone mentions her name, and there are those that still do, it always brings a smile. I love that you are filling the hole with your own memories. One day you'll find a beautiful tree there.
    Susan Glassgold

    1. Thank you so much, Susan. I like the image of the tree. It's growing all the time.


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