Sunday, May 10, 2015

On Mother's Day, from far away

Dear Mom,

Yesterday I realized that this would be the tenth Mother’s Day we’ve been apart since I moved away. After spending the first 42 years of my life within spitting distance of you and Dad, ten years ago I found myself thousands of miles and three time zones away.

Everything changed. My marriage crumbled not long after the move and I longed for your comfort. My best friend died from breast cancer and I wanted so much to cry on your shoulder. The kids were growing up without their grandparents, aunts and uncles, and I was so alone. Even after I met Dan and remarried, I wanted you here to be a part of my new expanded family.

But it’s been ten years now. It’s kind of a cliché but I’ve been moving through the ten stages of loss and grief over missing you. I have many friends who have lost their moms, and for them Mother’s Day is a stinging reminder that she isn’t there at all. So maybe grieving for you while you are still here, safe and sound in your comfy house in Florida, seems silly and self-indulgent. But it’s still a loss: a loss of the way I had always imagined my life as a mother would be, with you in it.

First was denial: I will build a new life on my own out here. I don’t really need them; phone calls will be enough. Next was anger: why don’t they come visit me, don’t they know how hard this is? They must not love me. Then bargaining: I know – you guys need to move out here! I’ll help you! Even Arizona would be closer and it’s a great place to retire, the climate is so good for your arthritis!

And then there was the depression. As my kids grew, some days I was so sad that I wanted to leave California and move back to be near you. Of course that couldn't happen, because my kids’ father would not agree to let them move. And there’s also the small detail that I swore I would never move back to Florida, which I consider the sweaty armpit of America. (Hey, some people are just not cut out for humidity and giant bugs.) But that’s how much I missed you. Our all-too-short visits over the years only made me miss you more. I felt helpless as I watched you and dad grow older, and wondered if you were really happy with us so far away. Did you miss us too?

How different our lives have been. When I graduated from high school, you weren’t even 40. My firstborn is graduating this year and I’ll be 53. I remember you as a young mother, clever and vibrant and so beautiful; I remember how Dad adored you (and still does). I remember feeling special as a child, how you always encouraged my creativity, and how I hungered for your praise and approval. But I also remember that you didn’t like me all that much when I was a teen, and who can blame you: I was an over-emotional train wreck of hormones and drama. Somehow we survived that and grew closer as I got older. We actually liked hanging out. We liked spending time as a family, my siblings and our spouses and children as they came along. I remember Memorial Day and Labor Day and birthdays at our house, all of us together having cannonball contests in the pool and grilling burgers and eating watermelon, all the things I hoped would go on forever.

And then I moved away.

Ten years on, I think I’ve finally hit the acceptance phase. This is my new normal: a phone call every week or two, pictures on Facebook, cards for birthdays and holidays. It’s become enough. I know you are there and I know without question that you love me and my kids. I know I could hop on a plane if you needed me and that’s a comfort. I know my sister is near you and that is also a comfort. I know you and Dad have each other, and that is the biggest comfort of all.

I just hope you know, no matter what the new normal is, that I still miss hanging out with you, and I love you more than words can say. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.


Me, mom and brother Bobby testing out the new Polaroid camera, 1966-ish