I wrote my mother’s eulogy the day of the service, this Sunday. I was stuck. I wanted to share all the profound things we had said to one another over the years, but we just didn’t have that kind of relationship defined by meaningful, deep philosophical conversations. As I sat with Brody’s head in my lap, it occurred to me that we also did not share in deep conversations, but it never lessened our bond. As soon as I thought about that, it all started to come.
My mother was not one for profound conversations. Don’t get me wrong- she was a profound thinker, absolutely, but I think she found the idea of sitting around talking about philosophy either pretentious, or simply a distraction from the things that really mattered, like dessert. This was a hard thing for me to accept.
I spent my whole life waiting for us to have those deep, intense, heart to heart talks where we would bond over politics, being a woman, or a mother, or a wife. It was really important to me that my mother and I share that kind of moment, and I’ve been working at getting her to engage in one with me for as long as I can remember.
I started when I was eight, by attempting to start a Mom and Me Book Club discussion. I said, “Mom, what does the word ‘conceive’ mean?” I often asked her about words I didn’t quite understand.
She said, “What’s the context?”
So I opened up my Judy Bloom book from the library and read, “I was conceived under the Million Dollar Pier.”
She pursed her lips, pointed to the Encyclopedia Britannica and told me to look it up. That was the end of Mom and Me Book Club, though to her credit, she never once banned me from reading Judy Blume- or anything else, really.
When I was in high school, my subversive reading habits led me to writing all sorts of editorials for the school newspaper about the availability of birth control for teens, the failures of the Oceanside Unified School District, Administrative Team, abortion. I spent a lot of time in the principal’s office. No one could figure out how I grew up to be such a diehard feminist. They all thought my sweet little mom would be mortified to know what I was saying. She knew. She’s the one who planted the seeds in my head in the first place.
Still, I was bound and determined for us to get our deep moment of profound conversation. I kept giving her chance after chance. When I went away to college, I was down for every holiday, and many weekends. She was there for every milestone event in my life. She was at the birth of both my children, the doctor’s appointments when I was worried about something scary, the triumphs and the defeats and the myriad tiny moments in between.
When the kids got older, we’d meet for lunch every week. Brian hated those lunch meetings, because ‘lunch’ was always followed by ‘shopping.’ She’d always convince me that I needed a new pair of boots, a necklace, a pair of earrings. She did not believe in practical gifts. Gifts should be beautiful and shiny and able to be physically opened and lord help you if you used one of those little gift bags instead of wrapping it with actual paper and ten pounds of curling ribbon.
Our interactions were a lot like those presents: plentiful, beautiful, and fun.
When she got sick, I panicked, because I was thinking, you know, all this time together, hours and hours and hours, and we still haven’t had those profound conversations that mothers and daughters are supposed to have.
I tried, once, to talk to her about what was going on, and she said, “That’s depressing. Pshaw. Turn on Harry Potter.”
I asked her if she could have anything, what would it be. Anything, Mom. And she said, “I want to go and watch the balloons in your backyard.” That was our life these last two months, Harry Potter and balloons and just being together.
I sat with her every day, Dad and I and the kids, making sure that when she was ready to impart her wisdom, I was not going to miss it. So when Dad was taking the kids to swim class, and I was sitting next to her on the bed, she held my hand, looked at me, and said in as earnest a tone as I have ever heard, ‘Can I ask you about something?’
I was thrilled. This was it. This was the moment I had been waiting for my whole life.
“Of course, mom.”
She took a deep breath, fixed me with her gaze, and said, “Do you know what Spotted Dick is?’
“It’s a spotted pudding, right? What made you think of that?”
“I don’t know. It sounds gross.”
“OK, Mom. I won’t make you eat one.” She giggled.
As the weeks wound down to days, I knew I had to figure this out if I was going to be able to move forward without regrets about wisdom left unshared. So I thought about what Mom would tell me to do- and I looked it up.
I found a book about dying, and it laid out the things that you’re supposed to say in order for someone you love to be able to die peacefully: I forgive you. I love you. We’re going to be ok.
I put the book down and shook my head. That’s all they had to say?
Forgive? There’s nothing to forgive. There were no unresolved hurts.
I love you? That’s nothing new. We said that every day.
We’re going to be ok? She knew that. We were always trusted to figure things out for ourselves, and though she was there for me if I needed her, I rarely did.
And that’s when I finally figured it out. There is no need to have profound conversations when you live a profound life. She truly did lead by example, with grace, kindness, toughness. For all those friends and family who are so upset that they didn’t get a chance to tell her something, don’t fret. She knew. And you knew her.
I will never have to wonder what advice she would give me in the long days ahead, where she would have stood on an issue. She has built a place in my heart minute by minute and day by day for decades now, and now that she’s disappeared inside its confines, I will never worry about whether or not she is there.