It has been 15 years since the most difficult day of my life. I was driving cross-country on my way to a new life in California and on the last leg. In Mojave, California, I stopped off to give my dad a call and check in. This was in the days before cell phones, so I had to rely on random pay phones. I found a Wendy’s and called home when my Dad gave me the news. My mom was just taken to the hospital after suffering a heart attack. She was technically still alive at the time, but I knew it was over. While it’s hard to believe, I swear to you that the clouds eclipsed the sun just as I pulled out of that Wendy’s parking lot and the first song that played on the CD player in my car was “Lightning Crashes”, which has the line “Lightning crashes, an old mother dies.” I shuddered and knew this was it. I am convinced that, sometimes, there are greater forces at work. I completed the drive to Sacramento and, less than 24 hours later, I was on a flight back to New Jersey as my mom had passed away overnight. While it has been 15 years, it seems like an eternity since I last saw her. You only get one mother and I miss her dearly. And as my kids get older, I think I give her even more thought.
I always tell people that when Iris first came into this world, I totally saw my mother in her face. Even now, the similarities make me smile–not only physically, but with personality. My mom was almost overly affectionate like Iris. And like Iris, my mom had a stubborn streak that was almost comical. Occasionally, I’ll share stories about my childhood with Iris and tell her about the grandmother she never met. Things that she said or did. The way she did those special little things that mothers do. But while my mom’s picture is placed prominently near our front door for Iris and Robyn to see all the time, she is relegated to being a nothing more than a character in stories as opposed to the major life force that Cherise’s mom and my Dad have become. Yet she’ll have played a greater role in the upbringing of Iris and Robyn than they could ever imagine. I think of the line from the Dixie Chicks song (yes, I listen to the Dixie Chicks): “I’m forever changed by someone I never knew.” Iris and Robyn will be forever changed by someone they never will never know.
Five years ago, when it was 10th anniversary of her death, Iris was only three months old and I was definitely struggling with fatherhood. I was convinced that I had signed up for more than I had bargained for. I was exhausted, confused, frustrated, you name it. I remember taking the long walk after I got off the bus coming home from work on that Friday night. The challenges of parenthood coupled with the melancholy of my lost parent made it one of those nights when I needed time alone to think. As I remembered my mother, the magnitude of being a parent really struck me. We only have one birth mother and birth father and those people end up shaping who you are and what you believe. I intended to use that time to think about how much I missed my mother, but I began to think less about what a wonderful mother I had and more about her imperfections. Nothing malicious, but rather those little quirks that make a typical parent-child relationship so challenging. That’s when it kinda hit me and the pressure was off. The author Tom Robbins once said, “People aren’t perfect, but love can be.” In the end, none of us ever do the parenting stuff perfectly. We continually make mistakes and learn along the way. And all you can do is love unconditionally and support in every way possible. That’s what my mother did for me. That’s what I do for Iris and Robyn.
I’m not a religious man. I don’t know if there’s an afterlife or if those who leave this world go on to somewhere better and can look down on us, but I sure hope so. I know my mother would’ve loved Cherise and the girls and I think she’d be proud of me. And in the end, that’s all parents can really ask for…