Running to My Mother

POSTED ON 03/05/2016

Running to My Mother

My mother died four years ago in June. I remember exactly where I stood in the Paradise Pier Hotel lobby in Disneyland, past midnight, alone with the man polishing the floors, when it happened. It was a horrible, numbing, blackness falling all around moment. But the truth is I had been experiencing this moment, preparing for it, for at least a year.

My mom had been sick. Heart attack. Progressive congestive heart failure. Massive stroke. My last few cross-country trips home to visit her had been increasingly heartbreaking. Sometimes I would arrive and she would think I was going home that same night. She became fixated on getting my kids a swing set, like she had gotten her other grandchildren, forgetting that my yard in California was the size of a postage stamp. She forgot it was my birthday. It sounds small to bring it up, but there is something devastating about spending your birthday with your mother and neither of you acknowledging the day. My two year old became afraid to lie with her in her hospital bed. It broke all our hearts.

The last time I saw my mother she was pretty lucid. But she wouldn’t meet my eyes when I was leaving her hospital room. I looked back at her and she was looking away, purposefully looking away. I think maybe she was crying. I think she knew that was it, and she was keeping us both strong.

So I knew the day was coming soon. And when I got the call that morning in Disneyland I knew there was no way to get back to Boston in time. So I did what I had been doing for months. I faked it, went about my day, tried to keep the growing fear that I was soon to be mother-less at bay.

The only thing that worked for me that year was running. For months I would run and run, sobbing the whole way while in my mind I wrote her eulogy. I knew I would never have to deliver it. That would be my brother’s job. And I was grateful for that.

It’s been four years and I think I’m finally ready to get the words down. They may not seem like much. They aren’t. I’m not one for overwrought drama. I never share posts about mothers on Facebook. I don’t think I believe in signs from above although some days I desperately want to.

This would not have been much of a eulogy.

But this is what I know.

My mother had an easy laugh. She laughed at everything, including herself. She made the most ordinary day fun. She loved to have a good time.

My mother loved to complain about the winter but I would always catch her marveling at the beauty of new fallen snow in the morning light.

My mother loved children. Nothing made her happier than sneaking in when one of my kids was asleep in the crib. She would watch them, beaming brighter than the moon, and say isn’t he just beautiful.

My mother never went to college. She didn’t want to go to college. But she knew I should and she made me work hard, even when I didn’t want to.

My mother loved to lie on my twin bed and listen to me talk to my friends on the phone. She was nosey. So am I. So I let her, and I loved the nearness of her.

My mother didn’t mind that I hated her throughout high school. She understood I was just growing up. She never judged me for it. She let me find my own way.

My mother loved family. She was Italian. Her “spaghett” might of been doctored with Ragu, but she knew the importance of sitting together and breaking bread.

My mother would stay up with me until 2 a.m. watching Everybody Loves Raymond re-runs when I came home, just to get more time together. She would marvel at how much I could stuff in one suitcase on my last night there. She said I was brave for traveling alone with three small children. That made me so proud.

My mother let me believe my entire sophomore year of college that she had taken up baking apple pies, despite her general distaste for cooking. There was always one in the oven when I’d come home. She laughed and laughed when she finally admitted they were store bought. I’m not sure why she did this, but I appreciate how much of a kick she got out of it nonetheless. And they were great pies.

My mother said her prayers every night, even when she didn’t want to. She had faith but also recognized that sometimes faith takes work.

My mother’s cheek was the softest I have ever known. I will never stop missing the feel of it against mine.

My mother knew she was dying. She wasn’t afraid. Years before it all went down she told me, “What do you think, Eileen Mary, that I’m going to live forever?” She prepared me to go on without her, to be a strong mother to my own kids.

My mother would defend me but never before first asking what I did wrong. She would send me to school with a fever. She was tough. She made me tough too.

Now that I am finally writing there are endless things I could tell you about my mother. Frankly it is hard to stop. But I will. But I’ll never stop being grateful for our time together. If you are lucky enough to have a mother, don’t wait until Sunday to tell her thank you. Call her right now.