Coming to Terms

shirley maclain screaming

“It’s time for her pain medication!!!”

I think the time has come to talk about it.

I had always wondered how I’d be affected by the death of my mother, though, on some levels I believed she would live forever. I’m still stunned and a little put out that she left us three months ago.

Mother/daughter relationships are complex, sometimes fragile things. At least ours was…Is…Will always be.

I was her only daughter. All her daughter-chips were riding on me, and frankly, her losses at that table were frequent.

mom 1982I would never be created in her own image. In every way imaginable, we were different. (Although as we both got older, I began to resemble her a little, despite having inherited my father’s squinty-eyed, dimpled smile.)

When I was twenty-four, and in the middle of the false labor Cha-Cha with my third child, she and my Nana came to stay. (They ended up leaving after a week of no birthing, taking my 23-month-old with them to wait it out.) One evening during their stay, my mom sent CAM and I to see TERMS OF ENDEARMENT. She said I just had to see it.

Because she recognized it herself, I think it is okay for me to share that there has never, in the history of all time, been a truer example of life imitating art than that movie and our own story.

It was not just pregnancy hormones that made me bawl uncontrollably that night. I’m not usually a crier—at least not like that—even in pregnancy. Captain Awesome Man was helpless; I was a mess.

If you’ve ever seen the Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger, Jeff Daniels interplay in TERMS, you’ve had a fly-on-the-wall view of our own little dramedy on earth. Nothing explains it better than that movie. (Except that my husband has always been loyal and faithful and my very best friend.)

She and I loved each other fiercely, sometimes disagreed fiercely, and rarely lived up to one another’s expectations. We were occasionally critical of one another but defended against criticism by someone else. (Siblings have a lifetime exemption from this rule.)

We were each other’s pains in the rear, but the ones all up in someone else’s business on each other’s behalf. Like Shirley, maniacally circling the nurses’ station when it was time for Debra’s pain meds.

We were proud of one another’s accomplishments, talents and strengths, though they were almost never like our own. Our brains worked differently, and yet, I hear her words in my head—and out of my mouth—on a regular basis.

For two such vastly different humanoids, living hundreds of miles apart, our lives were so very tightly intertwined. Like Shirley’s and Debra’s.

Three months after her death, my brothers and I are still circling a nurses’ desk, dealing with someone she put her trust in, who has failed in his duties to honor that trust. I know she’d expect nothing less than to make this person do his freaking job. She’d be stretching up to every inch of her five feet and spitting nails. I find myself spitting them for her. That’s what Debra would do for Shirley.quen for a day

The answer to how I would be affected by my mother’s death? It’s like an amputation. The recuperation period is pure torture. I’m still feeling a bit crippled, and she’s not here to tell all about it. The ghost pains, the residual sensations of the missing part, may always be there.

But it’s also like an organ transplant, because the bits of her I’ve kept—her words in my head and out of my mouth—are starting to make me stronger every day.