It was about 4 A.M. when my mother died in her bed in St Vincent’s Hospital.
When the phone rang my body told me what had happened. Chills ran up and down my arms. I felt mom’s death in my bones. My husband and I went quickly to the hospital, only ten minutes away where a chaplain greeted us and gave us the news we already knew. She died.
We went to her hospital room. She looked alive, but wasn’t. I should have kissed her goodbye. I should have touched her lovingly. I should have said some last words of thanks for birthing me and raising me to be an honest, caring person, a mensch. But I didn’t. Instead, I stood still.
My husband identified her body. I couldn’t even get close to her knowing she wasn’t here anymore.
I avoided intimacy and created an imaginary plexiglass wall, a shield for protection, a way to ensure that we would never go back to a mother-daughter enmeshed when we became dependent upon one another. When I went away to college, I flopped. I still needed my mom. My peers sensed my need and either distanced themselves from me, bullied me, or were indifferent toward me.
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One day in 1984 and Mom and I sat next to each other in a movie theater. We saw On Golden Pond about an aging couple, Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn, and their daughter—Henry’s actual daughter—Jane Fonda.
Henry played the part of an eighty-year-old man with dementia, a retired college professor, now pondering his own death. In one scene Jane and Katherine, who played the part of Henry’s wife, were together and Jane complained about her dad. Again. Hepburn said something like, "why don’t you give it a rest already? Your dad is old. Maybe it’s time to forgive him. Stop complaining."
I squeezed my mom’s hand. Insight had come. I no longer had to fear losing my autonomy if I let my mother in, close, heart to heart, with mutual love and respect. To do this I had to let go of my immature self, my hardened defenses, free myself of many gripes about mom, and start acting like a grown up. These childish gripes had an expiration date.
So many times she had forgiven me for things I hadn't forgiven myself for. She called me preciosa de me vida, precious of my life, all through my life. She never let me down. She was always there for me. She provided me with what every child and adult needs, love and security.