Monday, December 3, 2007


Thirteen years ago, around 11 o'clock on the morning of December 3, 1994, during Hanukkah and Advent, on the day before my parents' 45th wedding anniversary, my mother died unexpectedly at age 78 of a massive heart attack.

Beginning in 1987, at age 36, when I began my recovery from many years of bulimia and anorexia, I had felt an increasing resentment toward my mother. On the day that my mother died, I woke up feeling an unexpectedly deep and painful anger toward her, which I wrote about at length in my journal that morning. Later in the morning while I was at work, I received a phone call from my youngest sister who told me that our mother had died that morning. I had not experienced before, and have not experienced since, the profound shock I felt in that moment. In my shock, I "saw" a dark heavy cloud, located at the level of my eyes, lifting up and disappearing and revealing clear sky, and I said to my sister, "I don't believe you." Then I said, "She can't hurt me anymore." Then I began to cry. In the following 24 hours, I began to experience the anger and grief that had been building up since I was a tiny child. What was missing was the fear I had always lived with.

One of my earliest memories, at somewhere around 2 years old, is that my mother was angry. I didn't know why she was angry, but I didn't sense that she was angry at me. She was vacuuming the living room in the apartment where we lived. My father was at work. I don't know where my baby sister was. I listened to my mother's angry words and thought, "Anger is stupid. I will NEVER be angry." How a 2 year old could come up with that vow is still a mystery to me, but that was my vow -- a vow I tried to keep, consciously and unconsciously, to the detriment of my physical and mental health, until after my mother died. Now I know that anger is not stupid. It is a challenging and revealing part of being human. I understand now that my mother may well have been experiencing unexpressed grief in the form of expressed anger and rage that blocked her ability to live in peace and love fully.

My mother's first memory was that she was a very young child in a room full of people, that she looked out a window and saw a human body fall from above and said, "Body," and that no one understood what she was trying to say. Soon it was discovered that someone had committed suicide by jumping out a window. After my mother died, my father told me that when my mother was a young woman in her 20s, a young man killed himself after she expressed that she was not interested in a relationship with him.

The last time I saw my mother, in February of the year that she died, she told me that she was tired of being angry. Until she died, I had always had a hard time understanding other people's anger because I had not been able to consciously experience my own anger. After she died, I was shocked to discover the extent of that anger. As a child and until after she died, I don't remember feeling love for my mother. What I often felt in connection her was fear and something else I couldn't identify but now understand was anger and grief.

My mother's mother wasted away and died at home of gallbladder cancer when my mother was 20 years old. My mother told me that she had felt anger toward her mother long before her mother became ill and that she had felt anger towards her mother throughout her mother's illness. When I look at the above photo of my mother and her mother in the year prior to her mother's death, I see the physical and emotional "distance" between them. I suspect that my mother, too, was not able to love her mother until after her mother died. I believe that there was considerable emotional distance between my grandmother and her mother. When I was in my early 30s, always deeply ambivalent about motherhood and never having been pregnant, I made a clear decision not to be a mother and at age 36 underwent a tubal ligation, creating an irrevocable distance between me and the possibility of giving birth to a child.

When my mother was in her late 60s, in the years when she was considering converting to Judaism, she began to study Tai Chi. My favorite photos of my mother are those of her as a child, as a young woman on a horse, and as a 70-year-old woman practicing Tai Chi. On the first photo of her in the series of photos above, her mother had written, "Miss Independence." Maybe "independence" is what I first began to love in my mother after she died, something that made her somewhat distant and confusing as a mother but which now endears her to me, as well as this sonnet she wrote thirty years before she died and in which she expresses both grief and gratitude. It has taken me a long time to learn to begin to understand and love my mother who at age 50, as she began to turn away from organized religion, wrote:

The answers rise and fall like waves. I wait

Then blindly stumble on towards heaven's gate.

Sometime in the months after my mother died, I was startled to experience a vision of my mother inside heaven's gate, being greeted by her mother whose name was Irene and whose name means "Peace."


robin andrea said...

What a beautiful tribute to your mother on her yahrzeit.

The Dream said...

Reading your post makes me feel the power of LOVE - forgiveness, understanding, compassion, healing, peace. It also makes me deeply appreciate every aspect of our human experience - all the emotions and behaviors. MOST of the time when I am angry, it is because I am hurt. Your mother did the best she could. I loved reading her words and 'meeting' her through YOUR words and these photos.

Something I read a long time ago, though I don't quite remember where: "If you hate your mother, you hate yourself." I hated my mother - for dying when I was a child. This was a profound hurt that took me a long while to work through. And, I DID hate myself.

Thank God (as I understand God to be) for recovery ... and for LOVE.

"Love is all you need."

am said...

robin andrea -- As always, thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. Yarhzeit. Yes, that's it.

dream -- Thanks so much for writing about your experience, strength and hope.