I have a birthday looming on the horizon. Between you and me…I am really praying it is a better day than last year when I was plagued with a nasty attack of vertigo which necessitated an ambulance ride to the ER, a CT scan of my brain and a cocktail of drugs that left me for lack of a better word wasted. I mean let’s be serious that episode not only took being “wasted” on your birthday to a whole different level but it also meant no birthday cake..let’s not get me started on the depths of that tragedy (shudders just thinking about it..) However..vertigo and lack of birthday cake are not what this post is about..
I am turning 48 in 21 days. 48 ..the same age my mother was in 1986 when her cancer diagnosis turned the world upside down. In 1986 I was 16 and 48 looked like a million miles away ..today 48 is merely a breath away and I am quite frankly terrified.
My mother was never really one to take care of herself, she smoked like a chimney, ate very little in the way of healthy/nutritious food, barely went to the doctor or the dentist (if you saw her teeth you would know what I mean) and pretty much existed on unsweetened tea or coffee , the occasional sugar raised doughnut and the infrequent meal out courtesy of one of her sisters (IHOP was a favorite). I have inherited her disdain for seeing the doctor and the dentist, however I drag my backside for cleanings every 6 months and for dental work when need be..the doctor I do not have much of choice to avoid..but let me tell you just like my mother I will ignore whatever is going on with me until I can’t let it go any longer. I am a prime example.. some apples do not fall far from their trees. Thankfully I have never smoked..not that I did not try to be like some of my neighborhood friends or the girls on the bus to school ..I just never liked anything to do with it and that has turned out to be in my favor. I often remind myself..I am not my mother..but then I am reminded while that may be true..she lives inside me, we are forever connected.
31 years is a long time to be without one’s mother. I realized how profound the impact of my mother’s loss was to me when I had my first child and was alone thinking how am I ever going to do this? How can I be a mother when I don’t have one to show me the way? Worse still…my mother got sick and died during that awful time of my adolescent angst. Still in that I know it all, you are too old and too out of touch to know anything phase..too stupid to realize she could leave at any moment ..too self absorbed and ego centric to acknowledge I was scared about what was happening and honestly no one cared. I did not think in those days that I needed her or any of her baggage, I saw someone through the lens of a child who failed on many levels ..She died before I got to know her. My adult self has this fantasy inhabiting my imagination that given the chance I would rewind the clock and spend a day with my mother and get to know her, find out what brought her joy..discover why she felt so much pain. I know that would never happen because I am her daughter and opening up is not easy for me and was not easy for her. More likely than not..a well planned out conversation in my head would come out all wrong when it took place and she would tell me like she often did that the answers to my questions were none of my business. Such was the nature of our relationship.
I want to say I am sad that my mother is gone ..however I am back in the point of the grief cycle where I am angry at her for leaving me. I admit my anger is purely selfish ..she left me before I got to know her. My mother left before I got to know me ..and whether I like it or not she is part of the reason I am this person I have grown into and I needed her for longer than the time I had. I am looking for answers… I search into her eyes in the 2 pictures I have of her looking for a bit of myself to reflect back and I can not see it. I am searching for a connection, I am searching for closure, I am searching for her to tell me it is all going to be ok.
My mother died on July 15 1986. From the time she was diagnosed with end stage lung cancer in April 1986 until the day she died about 90 odd days passed. During those days we lost our home and had to move in with family, she started aggressive chemotherapy and radiation therapy..she celebrated a birthday on May 17, her hair fell out, tensions were high with the family..despite having lung cancer and being treated with poisonous drugs she still could not put down the cigarettes..This is what I remember. I cannot remember what she looked like or what her voice sounded like, I don’t remember the good conversations..I have lost it all and I want it back. My mother was 49 years, 1 month and 28 days old when she passed away..I have this bargain with myself that I must live to see 49 years,1 month and 29 days. I have 447 days from today to reach my morbid goal.
There is a book called Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss by Hope Edelman that I read many years ago when I was in my late 20s/early 30s and it talked about how anniversaries and becoming the age at which your mother left be it by death or by choice (in some cases leaving is not a choice) is profound and will affect you in ways you can not imagine. I will be honest ..my thoughts then were ..yeah right. Flash forward 20 years…I am 21 days..3 weeks to be exact before my 48th birthday and this is what dawned on me…I have never imagined myself growing old. I have never seen myself beyond where my mother left. I am stuck in this terrifying limbo of will I make it to June 11, 2018. The book sits on my book shelf calling my name to read it again ..and I know I need to but just not now ..maybe after my birthday or maybe after June 11 of next year or who knows when..but I know I need to read this book again. This is affecting me in ways I did not imagine.
I see the next 447 days as a journey towards a symbolic ending…an ending of what I have known and held on to. I am moving towards what I am fearing most which is dying before I get the chance to live. Dying before my children are ready to lose me or worse dying before I finally get some peace with my mother. I have spent the past 30 years trying to cram every experience possible into my life..to do it sooner before it is gone..I got married very young… I had my babies young, I went places and made sure I could say I owned a home, I went to college, I saw my children graduate from high school (an experience my mother missed out on), I drive a car ..all those things my mother never did. Along the way somehow I lost the joy in all that I have and that I have achieved in this life because I was trying to check off the list and get it done and prove to myself I am not my mother. I have 447 days and I pray that I make it. Like my mother I got a diagnosis in March ..mine was March of 2014 ..I was 44 years old at the time..mine was initially pericarditis, I have learned since it is still pericarditis but the cause is not a virus but rather SLE or as we all call it Lupus. My diagnosis came in march of my daughter’s junior year…my mother was diagnosed in my junior year ..totally a coincidence but I have to admit it scared and still scares me..
So my birthday is 21 days from now. I declare there will be no vertigo (I hope) and there damn well better be a cake ..either a chocolate cake with white frosting or a lovely white cake with strawberries and cream in the center and whipped cream frosting ..447 days from now there will be champagne and a celebration of life and the world will turn right side up.
I need to add that yes I had to edit a few things here..I suffer from terrible bouts of insomnia ..thinking straight at 1:30 AM is not always possible..but let’s get real ..thinking straight is not one of my stronger traits …I have hopefully cleaned up this post and gotten my math straight ..and I checked the birthday is still 21 days away (as of this writing)