My mother has been dead for almost eighteen years yet I still think about her all the time. But how I think and feel about her has changed because in death, I feel like I’ve gained more of an understanding of her life and how she lived.
Growing up, especially after I began writing, I felt like I was more like my dad. Why? Because I was creative and inquisitive like him. Yet as I look back, I realize I was more like my mother than I ever realized. I was shy and quiet like she was, reserved until she felt comfortable enough to let her guard down.
My dad always said my mother had grace under pressure and how he loved that about her. I’m going to say that grace under pressure isn’t always a good thing. For her, it was the way she learned to be from very early in her childhood in how to deal with things. She never told me a lot about growing up but what I did learn made me understand why she was one to fight like hell to keep it together. It was why when she got sick I made it clear to her that when it was just the two of us she could let down her guard and bitch, rant, and rave about her illness and the shit that came with it.
My mother would be one to say she had no real imagination or creativity. That wasn’t the case because although she didn’t write or do anything creative like that she had imagination in her own way. She loved to read, watch movies, and listen to music. And she loved art and beauty and nature, too. But she was not encouraged at all growing up to be imaginative and curious. In fact, she once said to me about her childhood: “God forbid you had an original thought in your head.”
To rise up from that and not turn inward as hard as her mother did (my grandmother was an extremely conservative woman), was a gift my mother gave to the world. My mother’s opinions were more practical than anything, something I have a great respect for. For example, she didn’t object to two people living together per se, but just felt that marriage gave people more rights if a situation like that went down the toilet. She also used to say, if they’ve done it to someone else what makes you think they won’t do it to you? She’d follow that with, because people like that very rarely, if ever, change. Also, when I started working she told me two things: the walls have ears, and don’t go fishing in the company pond.
In the early 1980’s, my mom went through what she termed her ‘rebellious period’. It was mild by any means of comparison: going to a movie by herself, going out drinking with co-workers, listening to Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ album (which I traded her for with an Air Supply tape- though she’d come and borrow the Prince album all the time), reading books about gay people (she grew up super-conservative Catholic so she told me this was seriously-forbidden territory to her). Looking back, I wonder just how much shit she got for this. Probably a ton but I was glad she took me along for the ride because we began to talk one-on-one very honestly about a lot of issues. It was good preparation for what was to come later.
But as I write about breaking my own silence, I think about my mother’s silence. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, all she ever heard was that she had to be strong and fight the damn disease twenty-four/seven. But what no one told her was there would be motherfucking assholes who would say some seriously fucked-up insensitive shit that she would have to suffer in silence with because of her job or something else being on the line. It was why I was so damned determined to give her a space to vent and rip it all to hell. And trust me, we ripped it all to hell together on many, many occasions. I told her the day that we couldn’t talk like this was the day we would be at the end. Three days before my mother died, a tumor in her brain took away her ability to speak.
As I get into my story of breaking my silence, I’m beginning to realize how much of a part she has in it. How much her own story mirrors mine in many ways. And it’s a good feeling. Because despite all these years without her, this is proof she’s still with me. It’s proof that we never forget those who go before us. This is what I will tell anyone who has lost loved ones, or who may ask how you would deal with that loss if it hasn’t happened to them yet.
Grief isn’t silent. And no matter how much time passes, the stories are still there, just waiting to be told.