Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Today is my mother's birthday. Or more so it would have been my mother's birthday. I lost my mother to cancer about 3 years ago. I wonder if after someone has passed on if we should still celebrate their birthday or honor their memory with the day of their passing? In my mother's case, I sort of feel obligated to acknowledge her every day of the year -- or as I used to tell her: "After all every day is Mother's Day!" And she wouldn't have had it any other way.

The loss of my mother was particular traumatic to both me and my brother -- but in very different ways I think. Without a doubt our mom had meant the world to both of us; either one of us would have taken a bullet for her, but we each had very different experiences with our mother. We had her for very different times in our lives, and mother regrettably once acknowledged that she raised me too independently. I wasn't particularly a "mama's boy" (although my brother would disagree). I didn't rely on her in the same way that my brother did.

I moved away from home in my late teens, at the suggestion of my mother. I had just come out and my mother's husband at the time (don't want to get into that) would have made my life a hell (was making my life a hell) because of my orientation. And not to mention, interestingly enough my mother -- the beautician -- didn't take it all that well. She worried of course that I had come into something that would be an intense struggle for me, and no parent wants that for their child. She also personally wrestled with the feeling that she'd been negligent in her responsibility as a mother. I always say to that: my mother did the best that she could with what she had. Most importantly I feel that she was very focused on raising me to be very independent -- I don't think she was worried about whether or not she was raising a gay child. She didn't want me to rely on exterior forces for my needs. My mother taught me to cook and take care of myself, especially to do my own laundry. She asked me always to be responsible and respectful.

My mother, unfortunately made poor choices in the men that she let into her life. My parents divorced when I was around 6, and that's a whole other story that is completely irrelevant to these musings, but one worth putting a footnote in for the memoirs someday. My brother and I were raised by our very hard-working single mom, who was doing her best to balance her life fully and raise a family. Like I said: she did her best, but had she been in relationships that were particularly healthy and supportive my mother would not have had to feel as if she'd failed me as a parent. You see -- to her it felt as if I was just giving her despot of a husband at the time more fodder to make her miserable. It had nothing to do with me, she just felt she now she had more "defending" to do.

When I came out 19 my mother suggested that it perhaps would be best that id I was going to choose to live as a gay man that I start my life on my own. So I moved out. I had the support of my entire family, so didn't move into a shack -- I had a pretty decent fist apartment for a kid my age and I had the run of it. I could do as I wanted and come and go as I pleased, and my mother didn't have to worry about what anyone thought I was doing because I was doing it under my own roof.

In those early years, we spent some time together -- she didn't adjust very well (I remember) to my living on my own. We also seemed to had taken "a break" from one another. Which was fine by me -- I had a lot of living to do and things that I was figuring out. But on occasion she'd sneak over to spend some time with me -- yes...she had to sneak to visit her gay son as her husband didn't very much approve. During that time I had begun to solidify the other family in my life, my closest friends who would encompass life-long friendships that I would still be maintaining into my adulthood. Friendships that later on my mother would admit she envied. She didn't particularly like that there were individuals out there that knew me better than she did.

My mother had it tough with me. And it's no one's fault really, but it was a constant determinant to maintain a position in each other's life. She undoubtedly loved me, but that love difficult at times, and unmanageable. We didn't always understand each other, but she was a pillar of fierce courage at times, and if she dealt me anything it was some tough love. My mother would tell you I am stubborn, hard-headed and in too many ways fiercely independent, but as I often reminded her: she raised me to be no less. I did the best I had with what I got.

And it was OK. My mother was exceptional but she was no different than anyone else's mother. Sometimes she could be too critical and judgmental, but always she was loving her hugs were from the heart. She loved her boys deeply.

Before my mother passed away we had an opportunity to spend a great amount of quality time alone. I had begged her to spend some time with me in New York...so she came and stayed with me for 10 days. I remember picking her up at the airport; she was sitting alone in the arrivals area -- we here in New York don't usually have cars of our own and rely on public transportation. We took the subway home from the airport together and I remember how I was thinking she seemed timid about the trip, a commute that should have been familiar to her since she herself had lived in the north for sometime. Now in reflection, I wonder if it wasn't that she perhaps knew that something was amiss with her health. We spent the most quality time together during that visit than we had ever in our life; we even spent time with my Dad (who lived in Jersey at the time), and mostly we talked. One of the things that we had done that changed my perception of my mother so dramatically, was a trip to a pub that we took with my boyfriend (at the time). We spent the time eating, drinking, laughing and telling stories; me, my mom, my boyfriend and another friend that was visiting, and I remember my mother saying to me: "I missed out on all this...these moments." And she was sad.

During her visit my mother told me how proud she was of me and the man that I had become; she commented on how complete I was as my own individual and she confided that she felt guilty that she didn't have enough to do with that. I told her she had everything to do with who I was and who I am and who I would become. I am what she (and my father) made me. And I was content that she could look at me after such an embattled history and say that she was proud of me. It meant more to me than anything.

When my mom passed away, it wasn't sudden, but her fight with cancer was a losing one that claimed her in 6 months and rather than commit those last months to the difficultly of the disease she surrendered, and that was fine. She had earned that much, but mostly she trusted that her boys would be fine -- they had each other, and although each one was dramatically different from the other, we both were so much like her that she would endure. She's done her best, but nonetheless loved, honored and respected what we'd each become -- at the end of the day, what more can a mother ask for?

1 comment:

  1. A very well worded & moving account JC, I dread the day when something happens (as it will) to either of my parents, how I'll deal with it I don't know, we are all different, but your right, your Mother was proud of you & what you had become, & so she should be.

    All the best, Alan.