“Tell me what is my life without your love?
Tell me who am I without you by my side?”
- ‘What is Life’ – George Harrison
I miss my mom. I miss her warmth and embrace, I miss her laugh and intensity; I just miss her, is what it is, and I desperately wish she was here with me now. I wish I could have one last conversation with her, see her luminescent smile one last time, and– to have those arms latched around me, squeezing all the love into and out of me– feel one last hug. Oh, well. C’est la vie, I suppose.
Did you know my mother, Patty, died from melanoma skin cancer fifteen years ago this weekend? Were you aware that fifteen years ago today, the 15th, was the last time I spoke to my mom– something I still vividly remember, and wrote about last Mother’s Day— or saw her conscious?
Frankly, if you know me, then the answer is, most certainly, a resounding: yes! Of course you know my mom died when I was 19– and my dad, who passed mere days after the tenth anniversary of my mother’s death– because, well, I’ve let that become the defining characteristic of my personality for much of this past decade and a half.
Little Orphan Adam, always ready around the corner with his morose two cents, never shying away from the opportunity to remind the world that he is unluckier than those with living parents. Be careful to address the topic around myself or my sister– because, ‘Orphans!’— unless you want to feel desperately depressed about how cruelly tragic life can become.
It’s been fifteen years– FIFTEEN YEARS?!?— since my mother passed away, and when these annual anniversaries arrive, it’s tough to figure out what to do. Should I be overwhelmingly sad about the annual reminder that I’m a charter member of the Dead Mom Club? Should I be indignant and resentful about what I, my family and, most importantly, she missed out on since she died? Perhaps I should bust out a box o’wine– her favorite adult beverage– while I chow on half of a cantaloupe– her favorite snack– and enjoy a Christopher Guest movie marathon i.e. one of her favorite filmmakers?
That last suggestion isn’t half bad– minus the Franzia, which is the exception that proves the rule of her great taste– and is a better alternative to my normal, numb state of mind on these dates. Historically, I’ve been driven by either bitter acrimony or overbearing sorrow whenever we’ve entered the alleged death month of August. I had never considered the questions from the lyrics above (by George Harrison, my mother’s favorite Beatle)– what is my life without your love, and who am I without you by my side?– because the answers seemed clear. For so many years, it felt like my life was nothing without her love, and I was nobody without her by my side.
But after fifteen years, the answers are crystal clear, because the questions are purely rhetorical: I don’t need to consider a life without my mother’s love; that shit is ETERNAL. I may not have first hand access to it anymore– or be able to make more memories, like the time she, my sister and I saw I Am Sam at the movies, and the three of us loved it, constantly cracking up inside a silent, unamused theater– but her love is here, hovering in everything she ever did, said, or taught me. It’s sort of like the poem I read at both my parent’s funerals: “if you always think of me, I will never be gone.”
I know there’s nothing wrong with missing my mother monumentally, and recognize there’s nothing wrong– whatsoever– with feeling a twinge of rancor when I consider everything she’s missed out on. Emotions are difficult to control, and nostalgia is a powerful tool; no matter how many times I insist I’m done crying about my dear departed mother, here comes David Bowie– one of her favorite musicians– to tear me down to pieces.
But it’s a fine line between love and hate, and as I’ve gone through consistent therapy these past five months– for the first time in my life– it’s clear that I have a choice in the matter. I can choose hatred, and follow that path of spiteful animosity towards the world, continuing to lash out at any and everyone because a pair of moles eventually killed my mother (side note: please, people, wear sunscreen!). It would be easy to continue luxuriating in my anger– finding a sort of “comfort in being sad,” like Nirvana sang– because when you’re in so deep, sometimes it’s easier to just swim down.
I don’t want to do that, though– not anymore, at least– and I know my mother would be like, “Come on, Sparky, it’s been fifteen years: choose the positive.” This year, somehow, I’m choosing to focus on and embrace the love she gave me, and the way she– in only 19 years– infused me with a lifetime of beautiful moments. I’m remembering the incomparable compassion and gentleness that she imparted in every interaction- like the way she told me Chris Farley died, ensuring 11-year old Adam understood, and was ok with, the sudden death of his favorite comedian.
Seriously, I can see her slowly enter my room, cautiously sit on the edge of my bed, and deliver the news with the same solemnity she’d use to relay a relative passed away. She never wanted to see me– or my sister– hurting, and preemptively providing a shoulder to cry on was one of her many, many talents.
She’s gone– and her physical presence is never coming back– but it doesn’t mean she has to be forgotten. The sad, soul crushing memories are there– receiving prominent display in my mind forever– but so are the joyous, life affirming ones. We’ve all spent years shaking a fist towards the sky, cursing the heavens for taking someone so wonderful in the prime of her life. But you know what that and a dollar will get you? An iced coffee at Cumby’s.
This year, I’m raising a glass of barely palatable, boxed white zinfandel in Patty Swierk’s memory– maybe paired with a couple of cheese dreams cooked in a toaster oven?– and hoping, in some way, I’m continuing to move in the right direction. I’m nowhere near the man my mother tried to raise me as…but I’m getting there.
I’ll keep trying, Mom, I promise I will. And I’ll get there, because you showed me the way. I love you, I miss you, and here’s to you never being forgotten…