All of October, ever since my sister brought some of my mother’s ashes to me, I’ve been thinking about my Mom. At the end of November, she will have been dead for two years
Only one other event has marked me in the way her death has, shook me so hard that I felt like I had landed on a new planet. That change was becoming sober, and it involved dramatic loss too. I lost my very best friend who wanted me dead.
That was a positive change. Once the alcohol was removed, I was light as a feather and didn’t know what to do with all the levity but thankfully, I had a heap of new-found friends who did. Once my Mom was removed, the change is entirely difficult to explain. It’s as unreal as speaking backward or not seeing colors. There is no Mom. There is no maker of me. How can this be? Sure, my dad is sweet but he is not my Mom. After Mom died, I became untethered again, and the thinning ranks of our family roll in different directions like scattered marbles.
I am grateful for the tradition of the Day of the Dead to help me remember. I don’t want to forget her, but I admit, I am. My war-buddies, my siblings - we have been set free. Free to either be in each others’ lives or not, but no longer brought together by the gravitational pull of taking care of Mom. So far, we still reach for each other. And I am one of those lucky people with a second Mom, a woman I adore and respect and count on, my mother-in-law, Beverly Mello. I have spent more Christmases with the Mellos than I did with my family of origin.
A few years before my Mom died, I made an MP3 of a voicemail she left wishing me a happy birthday. That was unusual for her. She seldom called me (I called her) and it was even rarer after her stroke. She said, “A, baby?” Then sounds that sound like words but were not. Then, “you are given. Bye Bye.” She laughed her head off and left the phone wherever it had been and wandered off. I could hear her collapse into the laugh she would make when she surrendered to the absurdity of her situation. Her helper, Holly, hung up the phone after saying, “hello, hello?” That MP3 is a reminder of what I loved so much about her -- her realism and willingness to be a good sport.
My iPhone shuffle is one of my higher powers because this sweet little message has popped up continually in the last month. Mom’s voice, Mom’s ashes, Mom’s picture - these things are real. But they are not alive. I don’t want to forget.
Mom and I flew to New York City, 1977 to visit Laura. Our first flights! We saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind and King Tut’s tomb at the American Museum of Natural History. We thought we were hot shit.