I didn’t want to write these words so soon.
My mother passed away this week.
It was both sudden and not. The last few weeks were like living inside an episode of House–the first sign something was wrong presented like a minor stroke, but wasn’t. Keeping her for observation, they began to suspect several things, none of which panned out. She was fine at first, tired but herself. The longer she was there, the more whatever it was developed, but no one could agree on or nail down what it was. A rigidity took over, a stiffness that could have been–I kid you not–a rare condition called “stiff person’s syndrome.” Just like that, she couldn’t move, couldn’t talk. And then she went to sleep.
Time passed, treatments came and went. The rigidity went away, but still she slept. The doctors, whether out of optimism, puzzlement or misplaced kindness, declared this “the new normal” for the foreseeable future. My uncle, a psychiatrist at Columbia with a specialty in neurology and a fine diagnostician in his own right, went out to see her last weekend. His guess was two to four weeks. The morning after he flew home, she went from sleep to peace.
Sudden, but not.
I see her every day when I look in the mirror, when I look at my boys. I recognize her in the odd line from a script, in an actor’s moves in rehearsal. I share her stories when my 9 year old is looking for new books. I sing with her when my 6 year old asks for a bedtime song. I hear her inflections in their voices at the oddest times.
The other night at bedtime, after I’d heard, 6yr said, “Sing a sad song.” “What’s a sad song?” I asked. “Blue Shadows on the Trail.” Roy Rogers & the Sons of the Pioneers. Which was one of her favorite songs. It’s always been a bedtime song around here. But it’s been months since we’ve even done bedtime songs, and then it had been Tom Lehrer’s “The Elements” for months. He had no idea that she loved it, no idea why it was especially sad this time.
She taught me how to tell stories and how to people them, how to infuse them with life and dialogue and play. Who am I and what I do, that’s both nature and nurture. I can’t possibly tell you enough about her, but if you know me, then surely you know her in some small way.
For all my social media presence, there’s much that I don’t share out loud. But I do want to share this one thought in her memory. Earlier today, I heard a quote from a dopey tv show that went something like this: sometimes, you can’t see the joyful parts of your life until the very end. And I thought, that’s no way to live.
She taught me to recognize joy, to look for it all the time no matter how dark the situation. It wasn’t about ignoring the dark, it was about remembering the light when dark was all around. She taught me to embrace that light–that joy–and to share it, to drive back the dark.
Now, family and friends will gather this week to cry and laugh and remember. Some have never met before. Some are family friends I haven’t seen in ages. And if I’m honest with myself, some are people I may never see again. All of us are bound together by this shared love, this moment in the dark.
As we come together, I look forward to finding that joy.
She wouldn’t want it any other way.