As many of you know, my mom died almost three weeks ago. Part of me can't believe it's been that long, another part of me feels like it's been forever since she passed. It was a terrible death, very prolonged, with unimaginable suffering. I'm glad she's done with that. There's a huge relief that she's not in pain or terror anymore, and a selfish relief that I don't have to endure the helplessness of watching her go through it. But the grief is still surprising. It hit me much harder than I thought it would.
When someone dies a slow, lingering death, one that takes months, us loved and loving ones have time to brace ourselves. We figure out how we'll deal with it, we buck ourselves up with imagined scenarios and logical forecasting and, in the end, desperately long for it. I love you, Mom. You're an amazing fighter. Please will you just let go now? A third of your skin is gone. It's time to let go.
And then she does. Finally, at last, she slips this mortal coil, probably giving a silver laugh as she wiggles free of that nightmare of a body. She must have had one hell of a crowd waiting for her: her baby brother, her son, her sisters, Charles the Man; they probably had a party. I mused and wondered and imagined it all. But as my very wise best friend once told me, "Imagining and experiencing are two very different things." Sure, she's free of pain but my mom's still dead. I didn't think it would hit me as hard as it has.
I've been on a "sign from her" kick. I feel a bit like Houdini's wife, waiting for that specific sign to prove he's still hanging around. Mom had told me, a long time ago, that she'd like to come back as a robin. She was always a bird lover and robins were a particular favorite. So I've been obsessed with seeing a robin. Come on, bird. It's not like you're an uncommon species. Hop across my path.
Every damn robin on Long Island has been in hiding for the past two weeks. Nothing. Not a glimpse, not a peep, not a warble. Gone. I walk to work every day, straining an ear and an eyeball, and every day for weeks, I've seen no red breast. The paranoid goonie inside me began to wonder. Now that she's dead, she knows about my book FREAK. She's in it; every drunken repulsive thing she ever did in front of me is in it. Well, quite a few. Maybe she's mad. Maybe she doesn't want me to see a sign that she's watching me. Maybe she wants me to stew because I am such a fucking horror of a daughter.
As you can tell, the insecurity addiction was rearing its ugly head, gorging on all that grief and doubt. I hid in my girlie cave and fought the good fight, whaling on my noisy insecurity with a sledgehammer until it settled down again. But still, I looked for that robin. And day after day, it didn't appear.
So let me tell you about yesterday. I was walking into work early in the morning, just sneering at all the cardinals and blue jays and hoards of sparrows, when I noticed a shrieking rage up in the tree I was just passing under. There, puffed up in rigid fury, skinny legs bent and pissed off, was a robin, directly over my head. He was MAD. He hopped, he fluffed, he threw his wings into affronted points and fixed me with a beady eye. His butt feathers poofed, and I narrowly skirted a stream of well aimed, righteous bird shit.
I was delighted. Here was my sign. An angry little bird with no sense of proportion, bitching a blue streak at me from a branch I could have touched with an outstretched finger. He didn't care. He would have pecked me. Oh, yes, this was a sign. I thought back to all the stories Mom had told me of her youth, of squeezing a cheeseburger onto the head of a boy who insulted her, of driving a date's car into the ditch when he tried to feel her up, of clawing red rivers down the cheek of another fresh kid on a bus ride. No spiritual herald of my mom's would have come quietly. He would have bitched and shrieked and tried to crap on me. I grinned and baby-talked and all but skipped with glee at the sight of him. He calmed down enough to look a trifle confused, then peeped a bit and flew off.
When my brother Ian was killed at the age of nineteen, Mom used to clean his tombstone every day. Each morning, she'd wake up, make us breakfast, see us off to school, get her cleaning bucket and brushes, and drive up to the cemetery on the hill. The first week, she saw yellow butterflies covering the grave. The second week, she planted daffodil bulbs. They'd been his favorite flower. At the beginning of the third week, she gathered up her supplies and got into the car. Halfway to the cemetery she told me she heard Ian say, very clearly, "God, Mom...not AGAIN!" She stopped the car in the middle of the old farm road, engine idling, and looked up at the tree on the hill, marking Ian's grave. Then she said, "Okay, son," turned the car around and went home.
I think of that robin yelling at me and I believe it just might be Mom saying, "God, Beck...get on with your life! I'm FINE!" At the moment, I'm in the middle of the road, my engine idling. I think it's time to turn around and embrace life once more. I hope all of you out there, with your griefs and tragedies and sad sad stories, can see the wisdom of that pissy little bird, find a way to turn around, and embrace your own lives. Take care.