It's been one year to the day since I last wrote about my mother. I know only because it's my birthday - same as it was 365 days ago. Amazing how that happens, whether you like it or not.
When the Jude (as we playfully liked to call her) was alive, I admit I never particularly connected my birthday to her. In hindsight, I imagine it was somewhat shortsighted and a little 'all about me," as she did in fact give me life. But now that she's not here, that connection seems to resonate in a way that it never did before.
Last year I celebrated my birthday weekend in LA with my brother and his family. On my "big day," I woke up feeling sad and recall feeling compelled to finish something I had been trying to write since she had died. As I sat on the bed typing away on my laptop, with my niece Ruby sitting beside me playing Angry Birds, I found myself trying to hide my tears from her. But she's a smart, sensitive girl. We didn't talk about it, but we both knew. Knew it was somehow about Grandma Judy.
Maybe because it was starting to get chilly and I pulled out the same coat I had been wearing the previous November. Or because the trees in the park started to hint at the winter to come. Or maybe it was just because I knew the anniversary date was nearing and I had looked at the calendar. Whatever the reason, come early November this past year, the memory of finding out my mother had brain cancer, through to the 5 weeks later when she died, weighed heavy on my heart and in my head - in a way that wasn't the same as even a few months before. I've often felt anniversaries and other markers of time can feel forced, and other than because the calendar says so, somewhat random. So I found myself surprised at how this one year mark effected me. (Naturally, my close friends weren't - and had anticipated it way before I felt it.) My sister and I texted, talked. Nothing really to say, just a nod, an acknowledgement that a year had passed since then.
On the anniversary date of her death, Shari (my mom's friend since they were 10), my sister and I all lunched at Gramercy Tavern to toast to her, to celebrate her life. So, for a few hours, we could all share Judy together. I think it's then that it occurred to me. All the markers of time we use as reminders - birthdays, anniversary, etc - are days that every one of those that loved her, will use to remember her. And maybe some even have their own unique anniversaries, ones they remember as a special date. But this date - February 20th - is mine and my mother's alone. And now that she's not here, just mine, alone. Mine to think of her, remember her, miss her. And I do.
I met a new friend for coffee a few weeks ago, and in telling each other about our lives, she told me her father had died 4 years ago. And then I shared that my mother also had died recently. When I told her when, her response was "still raw." She's right. Perfectly worded. I'm still constantly aware of her absence, even if i don't always feel the pain. It ebbs and flows. But when it hits hard, it seems to spring from nowhere. An image, a memory, a smell, a random thought? Most of the time I have absolutely no idea what brings it on, just something in the recesses of my mind that pushes it to the forefront. For a moment or two (or as long as I allow myself to indulge), it can fully cover me with a deep and profound sense of loss, emptiness and sadness. Other times though, a thought or memory, even one that brings a smile to my face, just fleetingly comes and then goes, as if she were still alive and living around the corner.
But she's not. And sometimes it's not sadness I feel, just pissed off - pissed off she's not here. I want to pick up the phone to gab with her about nothing at all important, to call and say "Hey Jude, what's up? How about Obama? Or Whitney Houston? Or the clothes in the Style section? Or what do you want to do to celebrate my birthday?" The funny thing is, I know exactly what she'd say to all of it. "Obama's back, so sad about Whitney, love those shoes, how about dinner & drinks at that new place.…" I knew her so well, I can actually have the conversation all by myself. Not quite the same exactly. Of course, all conversations weren't wonderful. Like all relationships, ours wasn't perfect. When it would come to conversations where I shared the more important stuff, the details of my life, wanting her opinion or support, she didn't always deliver. At least not in the way I had wanted anyway. Perhaps my expectations were too high, or she was just unable to emotionally connect with me in the way I sometimes needed. And it was those times when she could truly annoy the shit out of me. Ironically, I miss those times too. Well.. sort of.
There are also the conversations we never had - so many things I wish I'd asked her about when I had the chance, and things I know I'll want to ask her about with each passing birthday. Frustratingly, because of the brain cancer that killed her, and the quickness with which it affected her, we never really got to talk about what was happening to her, how she felt, what she knew, or to really say goodbye. That's a conversation I'll always regret not being able to have.
Much of the memories of those 5 weeks we lived her death are fuzzy and hazy - probably because most of it I'd prefer not to remember. But there were some moments that I remember vividly. Some painfully tragic, like when my sister and I knew we had to end her misery and spent 10 hours feeding her morphine, our mother aware just enough as we began, to pat my sister's knee indicating yes. Others, more humorous, you had to be there moments, things no one would appreciate except us - making me, my sister and brother howl 'til tears streamed, giving us just the antidote we needed to get through.
So today, even if me and the Jude can't chat on the phone, or enjoy a few drinks and a dinner at a cool new haunt together, in my head I'll be playing out a conversation we won't have, couldn't possibly have. A good one, that includes understanding what she was thinking and feeling during that time - and the time leading up to it. Hearing everything I know she wanted to say to me in those last days, but wasn't able to. Telling her those funny stories I know she would find as hilarious as we did. And updating her on all the mundane details of life she's missed out on in the last 14 months - the political race, finally putting Harry down, the Good Wife (her TV favorite), Downton Abbey (would have been her new fave), the Oscar race, spring clothes, her/now my apartment, our family gossip, etc. - all the things I know she'd want to gab about.
One of my mother's classic quotes - summing up her fatalistic view on life, is - it is what it is. As much as I feel her absence, life does go on. One without her here on my birthday. But she's always in my heart, and even if today I have to have the conversation only in my head, that will have to do. On this, our day.