The last week of November is always a tough one for me. My mom’s birthday is the 27th, she gave birth to me at 27 and died when I was 27. Add a holiday to the mix and the result is an emotional tsunami. You may not have known my mother but to know me is to truly get a glimpse of what she was like. Most of my best characteristics and my most regrettable flaws are either inheritances or learned behaviors from my mother.
Julie was larger than life to me. She had a very big personality. She was very vocal about what she believed in. She was a vegetarian for most of her life, wearing a faux fur coat in the wintertime with a “Fur is Death” pin on it! She believed passionately in the ethical treatment of animals. She also believed in the ethical treatment of children. We were once in line at a restaurant, and my mom saw another mother viciously hit her child and my mother yelled at the top of her lungs, stirring up a frenzy in only a fashion she could pull off, “ABUSE!” “ABUSE!” The other mother turned to mine and barked “mind your own business.” My mother, with teeth clenched and chin high in the air proclaimed for a growing audience to hear, “the welfare of EVERY child is INDEED my business!”
She was a character. I’d like to think that she’d love this blog including its domain name. She was quite a snob in her own manner. She was resolved for her two children NOT to emulate the blue collar culture that my father’s side of the family espoused. We would come home from Christmas at my father’s brother’s house, and we’d have “debriefing sessions.” “Don’t act like them!” she’d beg. We’d have enunciation sessions: “who, what, where, when, why” we’d recite, as though we were blowing out a candle with each “w” pronunciation. She’d explain to us that there was a difference between people who work with their hands and people who work with their heads. She was a riot, maybe a bit misguided, but always wanted best for her children.
She was smart. She was well-read and well aware. She was ultimately frustrated because her intellect was probably far beyond what she had use for. She really had no one around her that could understand her complicated thought process or thirst for knowledge about esoteric things like the welfare of factory farm animals or the political plight of the nation of Israel.
She was manic. My mom suffered from mental illness, manifesting much of her life as mania. She would take on the world by storm in such a dizzying whirlwind that most might not understand. She was always busy.
And, ultimately, she was a tragic figure. I never once wondered why she was “taken from us”. She allowed a lump in her breast to go unaddressed until it was too late. Breast cancer would consume her but it was by her own doing. I absolutely hated when people said to me “God needed her” or “she left us too soon” or the obligatory “I’m so sorry.” Don’t be. She left us as a result of her own behavior and choices. She suffered for them but she also inadvertently set me free. She was so emotionally dependent on me, we were so psychologically intertwined, or so it felt, and for most of my life I was left parenting instead of being parented.
After my mom died, a therapist had me read a book called The Drama of the Gifted Child. The “gift” is not what you think; gifted children in this book are not exceptionally talented or intellectual, they are gifted with both personal coping mechanisms as well as the ability to parent their parents. Finally understanding this relationship I had with my mother really changed everything for me. I was able to be more authentic in my other relationships. I was able to understand better what I needed from people and why I needed to be needed by others. I was able to stop filling a void that the terminated relationship I had with my mother created. I approached new relationships with much more healthful resolve.
And ultimately, I still have a relationship with my mother through her spirit that lives on in me when I take on five tasks at once, when I care for my animals, when I thirst for the knowledge to understand something new, when I employ my zany sense of humor, when I look in the mirror and when I love.
On the evening of a recent anniversary of her death, rather randomly, a white rabbit came out of no where and “weaseled” her way into our lives. Could be a total coincidence, and I’m not even sure that I believe in reincarnation, but with the sense of humor my mom had, I wouldn’t be surprised if a piece of her soul lives on in this precious little girl who lives with us now. Wallis, the rabbit, has inserted herself into our family in a way that is unusual for otherwise timid rabbits. That’s the kind of communication I’ve had with my mom since she died, always sending me signs and messages and guidance and direction and vigor and warmth and comfort and love and hope. I’d imagine she’s keeping herself rather busy.