In Good Company

My mother’s in good company, and by this I mean, she died in good company.  This month marks the anniversary of her passing, as well as  the passing of such notables as Frank Sinatra, Phil Hartman, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, to name but a few.  And, of these, Jackie O passed away the same year as my mother, but a couple of weeks earlier. Jackie’s life was celebrated with scores of magazine special editions that came out in the days following her death, and I went out and purchased a few.  I grieved for Caroline Kennedy who, like me, was still in her thirties, as I felt a connection with her that dated back to our childhood years, when she was in the White House and I was playing hopscotch in Queens.

JFK & Jackie, circa 1960. Photographed by Frank Fallaci.

But no sooner did I learn of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ passing, that my own mother had a seizure and fell, hitting her head hard on the bathroom floor.  Brain dead, was the verdict upon arriving at the hospital in the early hours of Memorial Day. I was awoken by a call from my sister telling me the news.  Not sure what to do, my sister’s words sprung me into action:  “Come. You need to get on a plane and come.”

I flew out the next day and on the way there, I wrote a poem for my mother, not realizing that this poem would end up becoming the eulogy and that I would be the one to read it.  The words poured out of me, along with my tears and pain, and when it was finished, five pages later, I was devoid of any feeling except one:  The moment in my life that I had dreaded most had arrived—I had lost my mother.

Unlike for Jackie, there was no televised funeral, no dignitaries in attendance.  But there were a lot of friends and family, and even come cousins and one of her sisters, who flew in from Caracas for the occasion.  Together, we shared our sorrow, love and relief.  Relief that the Alzheimer’s could get to her no more, and could not frazzle her brain any further.

The week is mostly a blur now, but I have fleeting memories. Of seeing folks I hadn’t seen since I was a kid in Queens. Of posing for pictures with my siblings and playing in the front yard with my nieces. Of collapsing twice, under the weight of my grief—once upon saying goodbye to my brain dead mother in her hospital room, and once while on a walk with friends.

I remember sitting in the office of the funeral director, going through the motions of choosing everything from the casket to the service, and how, at the last minute, one of my brothers insisted on buying a wooden cross to put in the casket, tucked into her folded hands. I remember the funeral procession and how the police escorts were able to control the traffic lights so that they stayed green for us all the way to the church. I recall, too, not being able to console my father, and arguing with my sister over what flavor ice cream to buy for the wake. Finally, I remember placing a copy of the poem I’d written into my mother’s casket, and wondering whether Caroline Kennedy was faring any better.

Since then, I brace myself at the start of May.  For me, it is a month of reflection, starting with the feelings elicited by Mother’s Day. During the month, I quietly remember Jackie, Frank Sinatra, and Phil Hartman (who was tragically murdered by his wife), who each contributed greatly to this world and were favorites of ours.  And when Memorial Day weekend rolls around once again, my brain compels me to relive that  time, 17 years ago. Which is when it hits me:  May must be a hard month for Caroline, too.

So I leave you today with an excerpt from the poem I wrote for my mother.

There is so much more I want to say:

I want to thank her for showing me the moon, the stars,

For making a romantic out of me,

A Dreamer.

For taking me into her garden of creativity,

Filled with roses, tulips, pussy willows,

Lush with life and grace,

For taking me to story hour at the library,

Encouraging me to read, to discover,

To Feel

The Wonders of my youth…the unexpected possibilities,

Amazing me time and again,

Over and over,

With her passionate love and devotion,

Strength and resilience.

For forgiving me my rebellion, my trespasses—

Sometimes frightening, sometimes maddening—

For allowing me to pursue my own life on my own terms.

For loving me–Right or Wrong.

Before the Alzheimer’s began to take her from us,

Mercilessly, relentlessly.

Before she lost her memory, her identity,

I can remember her.

My Mother.

My Selfless, Fearless, Loving Mother

I want to thank her now but I know,

I can never thank her enough,

Yet I want to thank her,

For to me she is still the most beautiful mother in the world.

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35 thoughts on “In Good Company

  1. In a few weeks, my mother and I will recognize the fact that my father has been gone for a year. It seems like ages in some ways and like yesterday in others. The fog is less dense than it was, and this is good for life has begun to take on meaning once again.

    Thanks for sharing your feelings. It was nice to see a different side of your writing.

    • You never quite get over the loss of a parent. You just learn to live with it. And yes, it does get better, but it never goes away. Nor do I want it to. I will always remember my mother’s love.

  2. Beautifully done and yes May is a momentous month for you. I’m also sure that inspite of Jackie’s press and accolades, all Carolyn felt, was exactly what you felt. Two women experiencing personal loss and grief.

  3. My mother and I didn’t often see eye to eye on many things but the love we shared was like no other in my life. She died in 1996 and though we lived on opposite sides of the world, I still miss her and I would like to borrow your phrase – My Selfless, Fearless, Loving Mother.
    Thank you for sharing this very personal post.

    Judith

    • Absolutely you may borrow it. Losing a parent is a common pain we go through and if you can find comfort in my words, then I am touched knowing that I have helped you in some way. Thank you for letting me know.

  4. Like Judith, I’m grateful for your sharing your profoundly personal post, including that poem. Fifteen months since my own mom’s passing, I’m heartened to think of how unalone I am in having experienced the loss of mom . . . and the loss that precedes the physical loss, where things like Alzheimers or schizophrenia are concerned.

    • It’s amazing how connected we are to our mothers, that no matter how strong we are in other areas of our lives, the loss of our mothers is like the loss of a piece of ourselves, something that is very hard to bear. Whether it’s been a year or 20 years since her passing, its the knowing that you can never get that relationship back. That’s what hurts the most.

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  6. What a sweet tribute to your mom! I didn’t know you were a poet too- it’s beautiful. Moms really are the best.

    • I have tons of poems that I’ve written, mostly when I was still in school and for a few years after that. Then the well dried up. Now, it’s all about blogging! ;)

  7. Beautiful Monica! Your mother would be so proud to see you now. You are a beautiful spirit and she obviously taught you that well!

  8. You wrote as if your mother died a short while ago. There are moments in our lives that are so vivid, they seem as if they just happened. My mother died seventeen years ago in April, and I can picture everything that happened that day. And your poem is beautiful. So many things we wished we had asked when we could have still received answers, no?

    • Looks like our mothers died around the same time. For me it was May 1994. Yes, there is so much more I could’ve said to her, but a couple of years before she died, she was already in the throes of her Alzheimer’s. So I ran out of time with her long before she died. No more chats. My marriage was falling apart then, but I no longer had my mother to lean on.

  9. Your poem and your love for your mother are beautiful. I know that losing a loved one is very hard and that you never quite get over it. Loss continues to make itself known as the years go by. Cherish your memories, they will only get sweeter as the years go by.

  10. Monica, how utterly heartbreaking and beautiful. I am deeply moved as I read your post today. Not only does it make love for a mother tangible, it also painfully reminds me of my aging mother and how you eloquently wrote, the moment in one’s life which one dreads the most and that all of us have to face some day. They say that a mother’s greatest fear is the death of her children and that in turn, a child’s greatest fear is the death of his or her mother. This is something that I think about from time to time. How will I handle it? How will I cope? Will I be able to go on without my mother’s advice, her guidance, her support? I shudder just thinking about it. And yet I know it is a reality we must all face. Thank you for sharing this personal account with us. You have given me much to think about.

    • Mitch Albom (Tuesdays with Morrie) wrote a very short book, “For One More Day,” about getting to spend one more day with his mother who had already died. I loved this book, as I would give anything for five more minutes with my mother (pre-Alzheimer’s). Read it, because it will make you appreciate your mother all the more knowing she is still alive. Read it, because it’s a beautiful, eloquent story and a good read for anyone who has experienced the love of a mother.

  11. What a lovely poem. The two year anniversary of my father death is coming up and I still don’t know which is harder that or Father’s Day? And it’s interesting to see how you and the people who replied remember that time. I have almost no memories. It was so sudden and so wholly unexpected I think I went blank. And stayed blank for a very long time because some crazy awful shit happened afterwards.

    I’m sorry you’ve lost your mother but glad she’s not suffering anymore. Alzheimer’s would be such a scary way to go.

    • Thank you for your kind thoughts. Sorry to hear about your father. In answer to your question, which is harder, I would say both hard, as both are reminders of what you no longer have. The question is how to deal with it, to wallow (which I like to avoid) or to turn it into something that honors their memory. For me, it’s writing about how much my mother meant to me. I have also noticed that the way I am as a parent today, I learned from her. I am as devoted to my children as she was to hers. Sending you lots of hugs your way…

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  13. Thank you for this, Monica, especially the poem…

    I went through many of the same things as you did when my mom died 3 1/2 years ago…hopping on a plane with my oldest daughter, writing her funeral announcement on the plane, sitting in the funeral director’s office making the arrangements (my brother insisted on a $600 container for my mother’s ashes – she had wanted to be put into one of her own vases in his back yard overlooking the swimming pool), packing up her things with my daughter, brother, sister-in-law and niece. We didn’t have a funeral for my mom…a family friend who was also a minister came and said a few words for her in my brother’s back yard, and the minister’s son (my brother’s best friend) gave us a tree to plant in her memory.

    I still think of my mom often, as I’m sure you do of your own mother.

    Hugs,
    Wendy

    • The experience you describe really does sound like mine. Wow. It’s the worst feeling and though I’m glad it’s behind me, yes, I still think of her. My daughter was just two when my mother died and I wish oh wish they could’ve gotten to know each other. I keep my mother’s memory by displaying old, black and white photos all over the house. You can’t miss either her or my father and that is the only way my kids know their grandparents. Through the photos and my stories. Hugs back atcha, Wendy.

  14. Monica, your words moved me to tears. My mom has been on my mind a lot as she and I both get older, and I just don’t know how I am going to cope when I lose her. My son, only four, already asks me if I’m going to die. I guess these are our primal fears–losing to death the one who gave us life.
    I am blown away by your blog. And do I see your most recent post has close to 300 comments??

    • Why, thank you, Suzanne! I’m thrilled that you finally stopped by my blog and even more delighted that you liked it! Yes, my post titled, Broken Hearts and the Road Not Taken, was freshly pressed, featured on the WordPress home page.

      Thank you, too, re your comments about this post. My mother was the world to be and I miss her terribly, but she lives on through many of my stories. Even wnen I don’t talk about her, she’s there. Losing her was the hardest thing I’ve gone through. 17 years later, the pain isn’t what it used to be, and yet you never quite get over the loss. So thanks for stopping by. You should subscribe because there’s plenty more in me to say.

  15. I lost my stepfather a few months ago. I loved him more than my real father, because he actually cared for me. I freely say I contemplated jumping out of the window, I was so grieved. He died in a car accident, and when I went to the hospital, I couldn’t identify him. A friend helped me get through it, and I don’t know how, but he managed to stop me from doing anything crazy. My mother has never been quite the same since, and the sorrow and suffering for me strikes on Father’s Day.
    I know he’s somewhere, looking after me, maybe from heaven. And I believe your mother is looking over you, too. Because the ones that love us never really leave us, they’re always in our hearts.
    They’ll stay with you always. Until the end.
    – Ashley

    • Ashley, I’m so sorry to hear that. Losing someone who loved us, unconditionally, is heartbreaking. You miss not having that person in your life anymore. I’m sending hugs your way, for you and your mother. Thank you for sharing your story here.

  16. Wow, Monica. I’m already sending you love and light in advance for the month of May. Thanks for sharing such a moving tribute of your mom. Sounds like she was a phenomenal woman, indeed. And oh, how she made such an indelible impression on your heart. She’s in good company, but she’s forever in YOUR company as you navigate this ship of Life!

    This poem adds to a renewed appreciation that I have for my own mother, who is still with me. I’m learning to understand her better as I move forward in the throes of mothering my own children. “It ain’t easy!”, but these reflections color my impressions of mothers all over, and add dimension to women who are mothers. Thank you for that.

    • Thank you, SomerEmpress, I’m feeling your warmth and well wishes across the blogosphere. It’s almost 20 years since my mother passed away, and frankly, I can’t believe I’ve been living this long without her. She was a solid presence in my life, one I always wanted to please and find ways to add to her happiness. I dreaded losing her, and to this day, I’m still shocked she’s not here. But, life goes on, doesn’t it. I’m so glad my story and poem has inspried you to think about your own mother and what she means to you. I’ll be thanking Totsy for bringing us together. ;)

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