Mommy Would Have Been 100 Today

PocketbookIMG_2507Pocketbook notesIMG_2509  Pocketbook openIMG_2508

Mommy upright

Had my mother lived past her 85 mostly miserable years, she would be 100 today—the Ides of March. Chances are she would have been no less miserable, had she been granted those extra 15 years and likely she’d have been meaner, more hateful, and punitive. We do hear those stories of the wretched relative who turns into pure sweetness at life’s end. There are Nicholas Sparks’ novels and sagas of forgiveness following years of disharmony paired with redemption and love.


I will never know for sure if my mother would have gotten better or worse. I do know that she left this earth with me yearning for her love. Her narcissism trumped all and I have worked hard on my recovery., moving on, raising my own family, believing I am loved and offering love deeply and genuinely. Perhaps I made some therapists rich over the years but they helped me recover while learning boundaries and self care. They also opened my eyes to the fact that the way she thought and acted was in no way normal mothering and never my fault.


Last night I was rearranging our clothes closet when I came across two items. The first one was the light green knit “Gap” jacket, size small, with Sharpie printed letters inside the collar marked, ‘Florence Conlon.” It was hip and cute actually and why I have held onto it all this time is hard to say, but it hung in the laundry room in our last home for years when I felt I could not discard it. I’d washed if for her shortly before she died and then it moved with me to our new closet. She’d spent a short time in a rehab in Long Island, thus the identification of her clothing. (After that she’d moved back and forth to Raleigh, NC three times within the span of a few months! We are talking, moving van, airline tickets, the whole nine crazy yards. It’s a whole other story!) My mother loved to shop for “tops” as she would say, but would oddly take apart, re-design, and add onto anything she bought. I hated that, as I could never understand why we couldn’t just leave a dress or pants alone and why instead they had to have added fringe, sleeves removed or other changes. I believe it was the unrelenting rebellion in her that took a front row seat in every moment of our lives. Everything had to be “different,” but I just wanted to be the “same” instead. But, back to the jacket—15 years later it still looked good and current and frankly, if it fit, I would have worn it. She knew a little about a lot of things, but she really did know fashion and a good buy as well.


Old ladies cling to their pocketbooks. They never put them down or let them out of their sight. My mother was no different and living in New York, probably more so. She never used a shoulder bag, but rather a double handled handbag. That too, has lived in the corner of my closet and I have been unable to part with it for all this time. It is vinyl, not leather and black of course. There are three broken combs, a broken half of a mirror, some mint gum, a checkbook with no cover, a tattered address book, notes scribbled on a ripped piece of paper, used tissues, a Lipton tea bag. There is a black nylon “cosmetic case” with “Wet and Wild” lipstick (she was 85!), a nail file, more broken combs, Vaseline, Labetolol, Nitroglycerin, and Chapstick. It is the essence of her as most of our handbags reveal the essence of each of us. I feel as if I am prying and violating privacy as I poke around in it and am still afraid of what I might find so I am a bit ginger in my poking.


But here’s the truth. I took that light green Gap sweater and I put the arms around me, trying to wrap them tight. I asked her once again to love me but I got no response. I sniffed the jacket but smelled nothing and then, I placed it in the “going to Good Will plastic bag” saying goodbye. It was done. As for the pocketbook, it has been put back into the corner of my closet where it may stay for another 15 years. I can’t really explain why but I just can’t let it go and likely I haven’t quite let her go either. Still waiting. Still hoping. Knowing better.


Dodging Bullets


Even if we duck, it seems we are still in the line of fire. Sometimes I think I should count the friends and family members who DON’T have cancer instead of those who do. Is it as my author friend says, “We are at that certain age” or is it a matter of the world around us becoming so toxic that none of us are getting out of here alive or at the very least with whole bodies?


The friend of mine who breastfed all three kids for longer than most has lost both breasts, is undergoing grueling, humiliating treatments and is afraid to think further ahead than the next moment. The lactation consultant friend who also breastfed her two kids long and well and of course has devoted her life to helping others do the same. She has lost both breasts, undergone all the torturous treatments that go with the diagnosis along with losing the body parts. Being in NYC she also has to deal with angst and frustrations that exist in the relentless and mostly unforgiving city while she has also continued working and serving the new and anxious moms and babies. My La Leche League co-leader and friend who helped hundreds of new mothers breastfeed as she had done for her six blessed children—she too! My best friend who suffered so much loss ahead of time and then had to face the loss of her breasts and her mojo or as she has said, “I’ve lost my center, my touch stone.” My friend and priest so devout and lovely and giving her heart and soul through bad marriages, rough rolls of dice and single motherhood. Nope, she was not spared either. Even my sister who finally found her groove and her happy place living at the beach sacrificed both breasts to disease a few years ago, made a healthy and miraculous recovery only to recently find out that her cancer has metastasized and spread.


When I had my twin sons over 17 years ago I felt awestruck by the miracle at my advanced age and dark dwelling in grief after the death of my youngest son. My surviving three sons and my husband were over the moon with delight at this moment of doubled grace. However, in a very short time I also felt completely and totally overwhelmed, tearful, anxious, and sometimes fearful of how I would make it through the next hour alone with two crying infants. My church family and my good friend and priest came through many times and often in my moments of greatest need as one woman or another would come walking through the door with arms to hold, hands to do laundry and the gift to me of a simple glass of water or lunch sometimes. They were all helpful beyond measure.


But, there was one woman, one angelic, loving, giving, beautiful woman, Lesley who truly saved my life. Lesley came at least once a week for years. She changed diapers, carried, rocked, walked those babies, allowed me to take a shower, check email, eat, drink, even sleep sometimes as she would take the babies out for long walks and even car trips. When we decided to move to a bigger house, Lesley packed each and every dish and kitchen item neatly into boxes. (Being a former china and silver retail buyer, believe me, this is a big job!) Once the twins began eating solid food she would patiently feed them that one shared sweet potato piece by piece, morsel by morsel. Lesley would help me carry the babies upstairs and tuck us into bed so I could nurse them to sleep and nap as well. It was truly life saving and I could never figure out how to show her just how grateful I was.


Lesley is married to Larry, probably one of the finest human beings I have ever known. Early on when we first moved to Raleigh, NC I noticed Larry because he shepherded the deaf community in our church in every way. Our rector, Diane was proficient in sign and so was Larry, which was an important element in this small congregation. I watched Larry care for his deaf flock week after week, in awe.


Lesley is very British and quirky in many ways. She was intense with how right and well she wanted to make things and her empathy knew no bounds, ever. She and Larry have been madly in love for decades and she has raised Larry’s two sons as her own from early on. Now, as grandparents of three grandsons, their love is boundless and they do fun and exciting things always from skiing to traveling, to unrivaled holiday celebrations. Larry has always worked hard and been very successful so their means met their needs comfortably and limitlessly so that their pleasure and generosity matched. Larry never stopped doing good things for others. Never. I am quite sure this was true in ways that many of us never even saw which likely went far beyond his care and love for the deaf community.


There have been only a few times in my life when I have looked into the eyes of another human and seen the eyes of God in all giving, all loving, all ways. In my childhood it may have been the blue gray eyes of my Hungarian grandmother as she made baby lamb chops for me and sprinkled sugar on top of a grapefruit as well. No one had ever done anything like that for me before. And no one before or since has ever loved me so deeply and so unconditionally as my grandmother. It was I believe, a once in a lifetime opportunity and in my immature way, I knew I was in the presence of a special human being!


Fast forward many, many years later when I was a new mother living in Hampton Bays, New York. Our nextdoor neighbor Greg was the most loving, giving, selfless human I had met and he loved our family as his own, including each new son I brought into the world. Finding God in the eyes of a Jewish atheist was a stretch for me but there in those eyes I did glimpse the divine. I know it to be true, and have kept Greg in my heart ever since, even naming my fourth son, after him!


And so, there is Larry and although I did not get close enough to him to really know him well I did have that tingling, soulful feeling once again early on when I observed him. I knew that once again I had seen God in my midst and when Larry smiled, you knew it was the heart of God meeting your own. He cared for Lesley so lovingly and deeply that bearing witness to this relationship was an honor indeed.


I had a long phone conversation with my dearest and oldest friend last night but saw Shep pacing around waiting for me to get off the phone so I did. And so, if anyone here can explain to me why I have gotten the news last night that Hospice has arrived at Larry’s bedside for cancer that has spread to his brain and is stealing his life rapidly and viciously, I would appreciate them stepping forward. I have thrashed in bed all night demanding answers where I find none. I never found any when my own son died and after enough years of thrashing, my pestering was worn down to silence. But, here I am again spinning, twitching my legs, tapping my foot, pounding on my keyboard asking why, why, why?


The pilgrimage begins. I will bring my twins to visit and bid their farewells. I will hold Lesley in my arms as tightly as she always held me. I will be scared and sad and so wildly angry.


Is this how it goes now? Every few days or weeks or so? The dying off of our species. The changes in our damaged world that are killing us all and not in any natural way of aging but rather dying through sheer toxicity. This is a cruel and ugly way and it makes no sense and seems to be sparing no one. I’m scared too. Oh yes, I am so, so scared. It is epidemic and totally beyond our control. Perhaps that is what this is all about?