Two years ago today, my mother died. She died of cancer, specifically non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I have never really come to terms with it. At least, it doesn’t seem like I have. I stayed with her in the hospital through her last days, talking to her, trying to soothe her fears of reaching the end. And her ultimate death saddened me greatly. But I never cried, I never went through some kind of depression or mourning. And I’ve never been able to figure this out. Is something wrong with me?
When she passed, I merely accepted her death as another process of life that we all go through. Our mortality is something we cannot avoid. But still, it bothers me. Why didn’t I cry at her funeral? Why didn’t I fall into some kind of mournful depression, at least for a few weeks? Is something wrong with me?
I thought about this virtually everyday for the first year after her death, and off-and-on since. Sometimes for a fleeting few minutes, other times for hours lying in bed. I often find myself attributing my attitude to her first heart attack in 1989. Back then, I was totally unprepared for death. I remember being in the hospital with my siblings, wondering, What the fuck are we going to do if she dies? After two surgeries, I took a leave of absence from school and stayed with her to help her recover–my dad was 77 and in no shape to take care of her. During this time, I had many opportunities to talk with her about about death and it soon became just another topic of conversation. Something that was a part of our lives, something that we couldn’t avoid, something we had to accept.
On special days, like today, or her birthday or Christmas, I will leave an offering to her at a kind of mini-shrine at my house. M will make chirashi-zushi, mom’s favorite, and I will leave a glass of wine or sake for her–my mother loved to drink, a pastime we often indulged in together. And I often end up talking to her, or at least to her photos. It’s kind of wierd. I never talk to her in my heart in other places. Only when I am looking at her photos. Out loud. She probably thinks I’m wierd, as perhaps you do, too.
In a way, I guess she is still alive to me. Perhaps, I am mentally unstable because by talking to her as if she were still alive, I seem to refuse to accept that she is dead. Whatever. I will deal with it in my own way, I suppose.
In any case, in memory of my mother, I would like to relate to you a story that might explain me, or my sense of humor. My friends, my wife, my students often tell me I’m sick, that I am overly sarcastic–to the point of sounding cynical–and have a sense of humor that often seems mean and base. They are right, of course. I hate to point a finger at the dead, but my mother does have to take some of the responsibility, I think.
I was about 7 years old, and our family, along with my uncle–my mother’s younger brother–went to an amusement park in Long Beach, CA. I think we called it Long Beach Pike? Yeah, something like that. I don’t remember the name exactly. They had games, a carousel, and a wooden roller coaster. And they had a House of Glass that I just had to try. No one wanted to go in except me and they let me… by myself. I walked in with little trouble. As I went deeper into the maze of glass, my parents became blurier and blurrier as sheet upon sheet of glass separated us. But it was not scary. I easily reached the middle of the maze where there were mirrors bent in all kinds of shapes to distort its reflection. One mirror made me look short and fat, another made me look tall and skinny (I could use one in my house now). The mirrors were amusing, but not as fun as it could have been had I been with someone I knew. Bored, I decided to leave. But I couldn’t. Going back through the maze was impossible. Every turn I made, I hit a dead-end. I could seem my parents and uncle urging me to go left or right, but I always hit a glass wall. I was slowly beginning to panic. Can I get out of here? Will someone come and get me? I finally turned a corner and about 30 feet away I saw my mother and uncle clearly in front of me, waving for me to “come on down”. I made it! I’m safe! Relieved, I gleefully ran down the glass walkway toward their open arms…
I ran right into a glass wall at full speed. I fell backwards on my butt, dazed, wondering what had happened. I propped myself up to look at where my mom and uncle were standing and they were bent over laughing as loud as they please. I’d been had. They had egged me on toward the glass and I fell for it. Ha, ha. Very funny, mom… Grrr, I was ticked. I picked myself up and soon found the exit. I stayed pissed, until they bought me an ice cream cone, the very least they could do since they had had their laugh at my expense.
*sigh* I’m sure a single experience does not a personality make, but it was one of many in my childhood. And because of them, we all grew up with the ability to laugh in virtually any situation. To see the humor in ways that may seem mean-spirited, but is ultimately harmless–except for a bump or two on the noggin.
I miss my mom…