Sunday, October 19, 2008

Reluctant Eulogy

My cell phone rang today as I was hoisting Josh into a Trader Joe's cart. I had my hands full and my sweet boy needed buckling, so I let it ring.

Jeff's phone rang a minute later. He handed it to me without answering when he saw my brother's number.

My sister-in-law's voice was utterly steady, even chilly. She asked where I was. (What's wrong?) I hate to tell you this, but...

My first terrifying thought was that my dad had died. But it wasn't.

My mother had.

I was relieved.

The last twenty-five years of her life were a blur of unrepentant self-indulgence, dishonesty and bravado. Her ego--good god, her ego. Unparalleled.

She was also an accomplished writer and a gifted public speaker, with a scortching intelligence and a peculiarly compelling charm. She wrote books and essays and published newsletters. She hired dozens of people and had hundreds of friends. She was generous. She was an engaged listener.

And then there was the wildly addictive nature of her personality.

Drugs--first pot, then ecstasy, then 2cB and ketamine and finally meth and prescription narcolepsy medications--became central to her life. It wasn't that she was depressed without them; no, she was never depressed. That wasn't her nature. It was different: she was bored, she was uninspired, she was out of synch with the higher powers without them. She thought that she had been selected for some sort of greatness; that she was entirely different from the other unwashed women of advancing years with too many cats and no income. She thought that drugs put her in touch with her greatness, society's conventions be damned.

Her myriad friends disappeared, to be replaced by hangers-on who milked everything they could from her. She, in turn, used them to prop up her ego and provide the adulation she always craved. Finally, the hangers-on had nothing left to gain, so they left.

There was a selfishness to her that precluded a warm kind of love. It's funny to say that about a generous person, but it was true. Her generousity didn't encompass the kind of self-sacrifice or humility that the word normally conjures up; it was more limited--money, things, praise. The way I loved my mother--and I did, in some primal way--was the kind one might have for an engaging teacher who singles you out for approbation.

Over the last month or so, my mother overdosed three times on the Schedule C sedative-hypnotic prescribed for her dubiously diagnosed narcolepsy. She was using more than twice the therapeutic dose because she couldn't come down from the adderall binges she so enjoyed. My brother had to have the authorities come and get her when she started making wild threats and accusations. Each time, the hospital physician recommended a psychiatric treatment facility, but each time she lasted just the 72-hour minimum. She didn't think she belonged there.

I have been trying to remember the other mother, the one from the early '70s who wasn't more in love with herself than she was with her children and her intellectual pursuits. It's hard. There are a few dingy memories of a mother who found me a new yellow dog when I had thrown up on my first poor stuffed mutt; the mother who put flashcards up on all of our household furnishings when it was time for me learn to read; the mother who...but I've run out. I'm sure more positive memories will come, though perhaps not as easily as the bitter, angry ones.

I stood in that store and listened to my sister-in-law for a moment, stunned. Then Josh looked at me, seemed to understand that I was upset, and beamed the gentlest, sweetest smile. My thought in that slow-motion moment was a simple one: please let me be a better mother than she was. Please let me be the kind of mother I wish she had been.


Anonymous Jennifer said...

I'm sorry for your loss. I had a troubled relationship with my alcoholic mother and the bad memories outweigh the good ones. But the good ones come, with time, and a kind of peace - a truce, I call it - can come with time and I wish this for you.

And I know that refrain, "Please let me be a better mother than she was." I live it. I think just having that thought gets us half the way there.

12:33 AM  
Blogger steph said...

You are better just by virtue of knowing that there is a difference. I'm sorry for your loss.

5:00 AM  
Blogger MsPrufrock said...

I'm sorry for your loss. Just the other day I was telling my husband how we need to be vastly more stable for P than our parents are, even today.

I'm sure you're a far better mother than you ever give yourself credit for.

6:24 AM  
Blogger Anna said...

Wow. That was erie. And disturbing that there are so many people that have "substandard" mothers.

As others have said, just by wanting to BE a better mother, you ARE. You have the insight to see where her choices led your mother. You can and have learned from her mistakes so you don't need to make them yourself. You CAN be the mother you always wanted her to be - that's what motivates me, too. The only thing ypu can be grateful for, I suppose, is to that you have been able to see what NOT to do and be. And now you can be the mom you always wanted. Your children are very blessed. Hang in there.

7:04 AM  
Blogger Thalia said...

I think it's incredibly tough to lose a parent at any time, but particularly so when there is a real difficulty in the relationship. I'm so sorry you have this to deal with.

And OF COURSE you are a better mother. There is no question of that. You are asking what your children need and figuring out how to give it. That's good parenting.

I'm very sorry for your loss

11:40 AM  
Anonymous Jenn said...

Ditto what everyone else said. I'm sorry.

11:48 AM  
Blogger millie said...

I'm sorry for your losses. By that I mean I'm sorry your mother died but I'm even sorrier that you lost the mom you wanted and deserved a long time ago. That must make all this more complicated and messier.

Like others have said, you already are a better mother. You are a great mother. I've seen it in action so I know that it's true. You're thoughtful about your choices and your actions and you love your kids an incredible amount.

1:07 PM  
Anonymous orodemniades said...

I too am sorry for your loss.

2:11 PM  
Blogger Andrea said...

I am really sorry. Both for your loss now and for the one so long ago.

I remember the "relieved" feeling when my mom died two years ago. We were close, but she was not in good health, wouldn't take care of herself (physically, financially or emotionally,) and I was constantly worried about what horrible crisis was going to happen to her next. When she died suddenly, part of me couldn't believe I'd been spared all those scary scenarios.

I hope you will find those good memories and some peace in the days to come.

7:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's never fun to lose a parent, evn if there were real challenges in the relationship. My greatest sympathies on your loss.

10:06 PM  
Blogger tonya said...

I am deeply sorry for your loss.

I had mixed feelings when my dad died last year, and I still do. He had the drug experimentation things in common, as well as the narcissism. I can relate to a lot of what you wrote, and can assure you that you are indeed a better parent because of your conscious choice to do things differently than you experienced growing up.

I wonder, does your brother have any happ(ier) memories to share? Things you might remember, too? Given what you went through, the chance sounds slim, so please excuse me if I just stuck my foot way down my throat. You will be in my thoughts.

10:17 PM  
Anonymous Kath said...

Oh, dear Bugs, I am so very sorry for your loss. And I am so sorry about all the sadness and pain you must have gone through before this sad news.

Your last words really struck a chord. And you can do it, my dear.

Thinking of you and wishing you strength, love and healing to help you through what will surely be a very complicated grieving process.

12:14 AM  
Anonymous B.Mare said...

Ah, Bugs. You're already a wonderful mother- and will continue to be so by living the sort of self aware life that lets you write this sort of post at such a difficult time, even though it's hard and complicated to articulate.

Thinking of you.

11:41 AM  
Blogger anna said...

you already are, my love.

and this is one of the few absolutes i actually believe in: nothing will ever change that.

love you, bugs.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Clover said...

I'm sorry for your losses- both now and over the years with her. My aunt just died and had similar issues that my cousins had to deal with. Thinking of you.

12:28 PM  
Blogger Rebekah said...

I know what you mean, at least partly. My dad was a manipulative, cheating addict... but he was also, in his own way, a great dad. Sometimes. When it was convenient. But losing him 8 years ago (to cancer) was still really, really hard.

The good memories do return in time.

Thinking of you.

3:06 PM  
Anonymous Soper said...

Wow, I'm so, so sorry Bugs.


5:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


So sorry for your loss. big hugs sweetheart, for the good and bad memories. And ditto about the fact you're already there in being a fab mummy.


1:46 PM  
Anonymous Alex said...

I'm sorry for your loss which, clearly, began a long time ago. I too have a parent whose death would/will come, in many ways, as a relief, a sad commentary on a person who lacks the drug addictions and, apparently, success your mother experienced but whose egocentricism and inability/unwillingness to care for self, never mind others, leaves me often nothing but anxious about the ways in which he will burden me and the steps I'll have to take to avoid getting dragged into taking care of someone who never took care of anyone but himself.

It sounds like you also have a "good" parent, still living, thankfully, and I hope and trust that model plus your own inner strength will enable you to be the mother you want to be rather than replicating the model of the one you had.

11:43 AM  
Blogger Bittermama said...

I'm so sorry for the many losses involved in all of this, and that I didn't see the news until this late. Know that you are an amazing mother, that you combine her intelligence and talent with a loving, nurturing nature and that your children are thriving because of it.

8:46 AM  
Anonymous dee said...

Oh, Bugs, I'm so very sorry. My apologies for not 'stopping by' sooner and sharing my condolences but well, life gets in the way lots of times, doesn't it?

I too share in that familiar refrain of 'please let me be a better mother than she was'--and may I just say that I've got no doubt that you already are.


7:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's bullshit! Why the hell did your mother's house look that way? Did you ever ask yourself that? She must have felt pretty lonelyand unloved. Were you unkind to her because she wasn't a good mother to you, is that how you justify not being there for her when she obviously needed somebody. Or did you and the rest of the family continue to hurl insult after insult at her, the way you still do as is apparent in the ones you hurl at her in death! in your blog. "She was such a selfish person, generosity is conditional..." You must believe that she deserved to die all alone. alcohicl or drug addict and yet she was an accomplished writer? Whatever she was you are not so much better I wouldn't count on you being a better mother, just a less sensitive one.
Everyone writes in they are so sorry for your loss. But you sound like you're pretty happy about it! But while you describe the horrific conditions your mother lived in you're admitting something about yourself. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Who are you to judge? I feel sorry for your mom. Go cry some more..I doubt if you'll feel better. God doesn't like unkind people.

12:00 AM  

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