Lots of people died last year. Normally, I read obits as often as I read Spam even though they’re opposite the comics—my guilty pleasure—but on the last day of 2012, The Seattle Times ran a whole page of rich-and-famous obits. Not the standard dinky thumb-sized entries either, with the print you almost have to squint to see, and Whitney Houston and Mike Wallace had color pictures next to theirs.
I’m used to sum-ups in December, so it probably shouldn’t have thrown me, except that lists of movies, fashion and people-up-to-something are not as gut-wrenching as a long roll call of people who are no more. Plus, my mom’s final act was in 2012, although her name was not on The List, because, you know, she was just my mom—a big-kid type of woman born in small-town Lincoln, Nebraska with an easy smile and a generous spirit, who raised five children on a custodian’s salary and loved Kung-Fu flicks, romance novels, hot dogs, Coca-Cola, chocolate-covered nuts and me.
Like many people inching up on eighty with chronic conditions and lousy health habits, Mom’s body had been turning on her for years and after she entered hospice, I spent the first part of the 2012 figuring she wouldn’t see the last, so that just-before-sunrise call last June was no surprise. But, when you lose someone who was ill for a long time—especially one of your very own personal celebrities like your mom—it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference to your heart whether it was imminent or not because it still slams into you like a typhoon and you go under.
It also didn’t matter that I’d already said that last goodbye to one parent, because until I had to do it twice, I floated on the one still in the bank. Rocked by waves of grief, I tried bobbing up to the surface by rationalizing that everyone had an expiration date, most children bury their parents, and that at least her suffering was over, but it was basically a bunch of blah-wah-wah until I passed through the weeping-sleeping-super numb stuff.
It didn’t matter much either that we had our issues. For us, the typical mother-daughter dance was compounded by the fact that we had about five solid things in common–blood, last name, face, shoe size, and big laughs that made us easy to find in dark theaters. Growing up, I often thought that our pairing was one of those huge cosmic jokes. But one day not long ago I was digging through photo albums amped up on green tea and the desperation to connect with her again in some way, and what I saw—all I saw— in every picture of us together was the Big Love she had for me.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, I keep the love, and chuck the rest. So goes my selective reduction of “Mom” memories since she passed, and the ones on auto-loop now are big and beautiful or simple and silly—the way I think it should go when memorializing someone in your heart. I got the mom I was supposed to have. She did her and I did me, we loved each other, were better for the other, and that is that.
Tonight on what would have been her eightieth birthday, I’ll slip on the purple-and-teal feather earrings I was wearing the last time I saw her and settle down for a Rush Hour movie marathon, hoping that between the punches, kicks and comedy, I’ll hear that big laugh of hers in my heart and somehow she’ll hear mine and know that I am back to life.