Friday, July 29, 2016

Missing Pieces of Mother

My mother was proper, not so much in terms of which fork to use, but more in what she saw as acceptable and appropriate behavior and language.  Crass speech and risqué dress were two things she could never tolerate.  That is what made it so odd when in her nineties she began subscribing to Elle, and Cosmo, and other publications she declared trash the moment they began arriving in her mailbox.  My sister and I would cancel each subscription as soon as we realized she had ordered it, only to find it had been renewed by Mom just as quickly. This back and forth went on continually during the last few years of her life.  
When we were cleaning out her house stacks of these fashion magazines sat beside her recliner and overwhelmed the end-table by the sofa.  Thumbing through an issue of Elle I was struck by an article by Holly Millea.  Millea reflects on her career as a journalist speaking of all the people she had interviewed through the years.  She is looking back following the death of her own mother thinking,
     "I'd spent twenty years interviewing celebrities and never 
     interviewed the most beautiful, fascinating woman the world 
     will never know.  Which has left me overwhelmed with 
     unanswerable questions and regret and guilt that I never gave her the kind of attention I'd given to total strangers.  Shame on
     me that the only story I've ever written about my mother was her obituary."
Millea's words were a punch to my gut.  There are so many things I will never know about my own mom.  Losing her mother as a toddler and being handed over to an aunt and uncle to be raised must have made an indelible impression on her.  Yet she rarely spoke about her childhood.  When she did it was only to tell one of a couple of stories which did little to illuminate the nature of the people who raised her or the relationship they shared.  
There are so many questions I realize now that I should have asked.  Were they good to her?  Did she have a happy childhood?  Was she safe and loved?  I can't say now why I failed to ask these questions.  Perhaps I instinctively feared I wouldn't like the answers.  Or maybe I took for granted I would always have time to ask later.  I only know my opportunity is gone now, and there will always be pieces missing in the picture I carry with me of my mother because I did not ask.


  1. That quote is, indeed, poignant. And probably true of us all. So often, the things close to us are overlooked, while appreciated from others afar. My mother is still alive and she and I have had a somewhat distant relationship. Like, I love her and honor her because she's my mother but I don't feel particularly close to her, like my sisters do. And yet, my youngest daughter adores her and she, my daughter. I'm really grateful for that and peacefully rock in the puzzle of generational links.

    1. I recognize that I had much, much better parents than my eldest sister did. To their credit they learned through their mistakes. Unfortunately for her, she was their initial effort where they made those mistakes. She describes her feelings much as you just did. I was blessed with a better mother, and my children-wow!-they were lavished with the love of a phenomenal grandmother.

  2. You touched on my only regret during the time I cared for my elderly mother at my home. I wish I had probed for more details on her life, particularly her childhood. I knew quite a bit, but now that she is gone, that chance for more information is gone. When my friends are facing the loss of their parents now, I remind them to do this, advising that the long talks will bring them comfort in the sad, lonely hours that lie ahead.

    1. Absolutely true! Once when I was staying with Mom during the last year of her life I did pull out a notebook and begin to write the stories she had started to tell. About halfway through one story I began to realize the story she was telling about my dad was really about my grandfather. It was the very first sign I had that her memory was failing. Realizing that truly stunned me. I was shocked and oh, so sad. Why had I not tried earlier?!

  3. I feel about my grandmothers the way you describe feeling here. There is so much I wish I knew, and now it's too late. I did get bits and pieces, but I think they were of a generation where you just didn't talk about a lot of things. So, I knew when I had the chance that I'd like to ask, but I didn't feel able to. They wouldn't have wanted to. They were both young during the Depression, and then WWII. One had a physically abusive, alcoholic father and she was the oldest of 7 children. (She cared very much about being proper, too.) The other was the oldest of 5, and there was definitely dysfunction in her family, too. I think both preferred to focus on the here-and-now. I'm glad, though, that my relationship with my own mother is much more open. It's a real gift.

  4. My mom would have been from that same era as your grandmothers. They played it pretty close to the vest, those ladies.


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