During the five months since my mother’s death, I’ve been offered an endless array of condolences that refer to my mom as my loved one.
I’d have been ok with her being referred to as my mom or mother.
Calling her my loved one makes an assumption: that there was love involved. The fact that she’s my mom isn’t disputed. One could nitpick and call her my adoptive mother; it’s a distinction without much merit. Whatever the state of our relationship, my adoptive mother is who I will always consider my mother.
I have scant information about my birth mother and I have no consuming desire to find her. I’m curious about what she looks like. Does she have blue eyes like mine? Do I have her nose or my birth father’s? I’m curious about birth family medical history and my DNA origins. I can spit in a tube and mail it off and find out that information. My birth mother is someone who has never been a part of my life.
My adoptive mother was a part of my life for fifty-one years. She earned the right to be called mom – in spite of the conflicted nature of our relationship. She changed my diapers. She fed me. Gave me shelter.
But loved one?
I’m not certain of that.
There was much that was wrong with our relationship. We rarely agreed on anything. We fought constantly. She never fully accepted the fact I was gay. We burned a lot of bridges along the way. Being her caregiver as her health and mind slowly deteriorated, we may have somehow managed to build a new bridge or two.
She would never really admit to anything so sentimental as new bridges. “What’s done is done,” is as far as she’d go. The words are innocuous enough. It was the tone that was always open to interpretation. She’d utter the phase along with a gesture: arms slightly extended, hands turned palms down, and she’d move them in a way that someone might gesture calm down.
Hands out. Gesture. “What’s done is done.” Gesture. Hands down.
It suggested a bygones being bygones note, yet there was always something in the tone that carried with it a suggestion of accusation and an implication that I should feel guilty for doing those “done” things. There were times I wondered if I were adding the tone to her voice out of a guilt I should have felt but didn’t always; now, I believe the tone was there. My mom was good with vocal tones. There was always an undertone to what my mom was saying. She knew how to wield words with a devastating accuracy, smiling and seeming as sweet as one can possibly be. My mom excelled at the verbal art of slicing me to the bone while others who were around, listening, were barely aware of the wound she’d inflicted on me. (I never learned that particular art. I can deliver a brutal insult, just not very subtly.)
What’s done is done. Is that the path over a new bridge, the path to some sort of acceptance? Or is it what the sailor of the boat gliding under the bridge says over her shoulder as she sails away, leaving me standing on shore, alone and wondering?
Did my mother and I love each other? Was it more about tolerating each other? Maybe bound by the realization that of the nuclear family I was born into, she and I were the only two that remained?
Maybe there was love.
Was she my loved one?
I don’t know.
Once upon a time I’d have called her my hated one. Not so much anymore.
In the months before and after her death, I read several books on death and grief. Loved one is the term they all use.
What does that even mean, really?
Isn’t it quite an assumption for people to believe that the person who passed is your loved one? I’ve certainly known a few people who were overjoyed at the passing of their not-so-loved-one.
I wasn’t overjoyed. Relieved? I think so. Happy? In a sense: she was no longer suffering.
Being someone’s loved one implies that there’s a great bond of affection, that someone’s death has created a great well of loss and grief. That’s how I feel about Julian, my husband. He’s my loved one. I would be crippled with grief if it was his loss that I had just gone through.
Sure, I miss my mom in many ways. (Only a few ways?) I am not, however, crippled by her loss. Numb yet functional.
Does that mean she’s not a loved one then?
I don’t really know.
As I am slowly making my way through her things, I realize I’m searching for her. Searching for memories. Seeking reminders of those things that made her the unique person she was. I don’t have family traditions to cling to or an endless amount of happy memories to comfort me. The best I can do now is find stories about her: stories that shed light on her personality. The stories that made me laugh. The stories of the small amount of time when we were a nuclear family of four.
Will I find a loved one among all of her belongings?
Maybe I’ll simply find some laughs and smiles — things that patch up the wounds of our relationship. Is it possible for us to discover love in retrospect?
That’s what this journey is. Searching for my mom in the neural pathways known as my mind. Finding reminders and memory triggers tucked away in her closets and drawers.
What might I find? Good things and bad. About both of us.
The last years of her life were difficult. My mom at 93 was so very different from the mom of my childhood.
Perhaps, at the very least, I will find some remnants of the young, active woman who was my mom.
Maybe I’ll find some other good things along the way.