It’s finally here, the one-year anniversary of my mother’s last breath – her ‘expiration date.’ I haven’t written anything since May. Well, not here anyway.
This year will go down in the history books as one of the worst – I can’t even begin to list all the shit that’s happening in the world, especially in the US. The pandemic death toll won’t stop ticking, it’s well over a million worldwide. And our family suffered another great loss; my mum’s younger sister passed away in July. She had been in and out of hospital, but her death was unexpected. I was crushed by this news. I would’ve seen her one last time if Mum’s burial service hadn’t been cancelled. I didn’t know my aunt that well – I don’t know any of my British family well, but we all share the blood of George and Olive, and that’s enough for me.
Getting through holiday season last year was hard, Mother’s Day was brutal, but not hearing from my mother on my birthday was excruciating. No matter the age or where I lived, I would always get a card before my birthday (never late) and a call that morning. Cue the waterworks when the card didn’t come and the phone didn’t ring. A flood of “I wish I had…” went through my mind – I wish I had kept her last voicemail, no matter how mundane. I wish I had recorded her saying ‘happy birthday’ or ‘I love you, honey.’ I wish I had ignored her objections and shot videos, maybe even interviewed her about her childhood. I wish I had sat with her more often, read to her, watched stupid TV shows with her. But I didn’t. It’s not that I didn’t think of recording her over the years, I tried. I wanted to document her life’s story and her decline into dementia. But she only allowed me to take her photo when she was in a good mood and had particularly good hair. And, no matter how foggy her mind, she was always aware of my phone and came to regard it as a camera. I set up a granny-cam in her bedroom, but seldom made videos. It seemed too invasive; I felt guilty recording without her knowledge or consent.
Like Christmas and Mother’s Day, I wanted to get out of town on my birthday: just drive for a few hours, destination unknown. But when the day came, a few people called, texted or left messages on Facebook. My best friend brought me breakfast, and my niece came over with her husband and daughter to give me a card, a gift, and some much-needed hugs. I was glad I had stayed home after all. I ran to the market and bought myself a few single slices of cake. Due to the pandemic, there was a long line outside because they were restricting the flow into the store. Everyone was wearing masks and standing six feet apart, which made the line six times longer and six times slower. I came home and ate my birthday cake alone. I recalled my birthday two years earlier when we ate cake with bright blue frosting. Both of us had blue lips and teeth, it was hysterical. We had such a good laugh and I took her picture. She laughed even harder when I showed her the photo. But this year, that memory made me sob.
On Mother’s Day 2011, I wrote: Many of my friends have lost their mothers and don’t understand our estrangement; they would give anything to have one more day with their mothers. Think of me what you will, you don’t know my trauma or drama. People often ask, “Can’t you just forgive and forget?”
Four years after writing that, I uprooted my entire life and moved back to California. What the actual fuck?! Had I forgiven her? No. Had I forgotten? No. My persistent depression (diagnosed Dysthymia and OCD) and lingering thoughts of suicide are a constant reminder of my family-related trauma. But the guilt of not helping her finally outweighed the anxiety of having her back in my life… in person.
My life in Colorado had already bottomed out. I had been at my job for nineteen years and had every intention of staying there forever. Then the owners partnered with foreign investors who came in and flipped everything upside down. The foundation we had forged together for two decades was stripped away, meaningless to the new partners. My duties were delegated to others to lighten my load, so I was told. I no longer felt indispensable nor valued. I knew too much, had a hand in every department, and accepted change too slowly. It was time to go.
Around the same time, my girlfriend and I separated amicably, yet it didn’t feel like a break-up in the true sense. She was Australian and had been living undocumented with me for three years. There were no fights or fuck-offs but there was silence and anguish. I went to work unhappy and came home worse, sometimes furious and venting. She wanted to go home, and I didn’t blame her one bit. I was left holding my heart in a death-grip. I was unsettled, moving three times in three years. Also, during this time – both of my elderly cats passed away and I turned fifty years old.
I had never felt so abandoned, unwanted, and unloved; and I no longer had the option of throwing myself into my work, because I wanted to quit. This quote often comes to mind, “If misery loves company, why am I alone?” It was on a plaque hanging in my childhood home(s). Why in the world did we have a picture of a sad hobo-like clown holding a cocktail with that quote – in the bathroom?
Thoughts of suicide began strolling from the back of my mind toward the front. It was around that time I spoke with my mom about her health, multiple falls, memory loss, and obvious need of care. I had nothing to keep me in Denver – I had come to hate my job, my coworkers, the owners. I was still heartbroken, had only a few close friends, and a new cat who took great joy in biting me. I began plotting my move from one miserable situation to another. How much worse could it be? If you’ve been reading this blog for a few years; then you know the answer to that.
** Full Stop ** I’ve been working on this post for a few days and wrote about 5,000 words. I read it, edited, reread it, shared it with a friend… and finally decided to save it for another time.
So, let me wrap this up by saying – I never intended to come back to California once I left. I never wanted to move in with my mother. I definitely never wanted to be her full-time caregiver, especially if she was bedridden, wearing a diaper. I never believed I would genuinely love her. I never expected my heart to shatter when she died last year. And, lastly, I never thought I’d miss her presence as much as I do. To quote Charles Dickens and Justin Bieber, “Never say never.”
What I wouldn’t give to eat blue cake (or fish & chips) with my mother again.
Photos — Mum loved receiving flowers 🌹🌻🌷