The Year of Mom

Celebrating Mom at The Broadmoor
The months since my mother died have been one milestone after another: First, missing her and her goofy food cravings, then my first mother’s day without her, followed by several celebrations of life with my sister, with my closest female friends, with my aunt and sister.  In the six months since she passed I can’t really think of writing about food without writing about my mom, which is to say my food writing has ground to a halt.
Mom’s favs at The Broadmoor
This week she would have celebrated her 74th birthday. Strangely, I miss her more than ever. Ever ambivalent when she was alive, I’ve become a tragic romantic in the wake of my mother’s death. I thought I’d feel relief from the heavy weight of caretaking and holding my mother’s life in my hands—and I do—but it’s seasoned with something else. Nostalgia for her goofiness. Delight in her delight over food she was not supposed to eat.  Sadness I can’t pick up the phone to hear her say “Hi Sweetie!” as she did nearly every morning in the last two years when I called her room in the nursing home. Anger that her life was so fucking hard.
Mom’s favorite
In my life, my mother constituted an absence. I’ve long written about how I don’t have one solid memory of her when I was growing up. She was a ghost, obscured by cigarette smoke. Now she is an absence of another kind. That I must be trying after her death to fill that hole is evidenced in my body. 
Another fav

At a recent checkup, I complained that I’d put on 15 pounds this year without really changing my eating habits.  “Any big life changes?” asked the doctor.  “Well my mother died,” I said, dismissing out of hand the idea that I could be grieving.
That’s her at the table
Yet grieving I am. I am not sad or devastated over the loss of someone who was loving and kind and my biggest champion—let’s be clear. My relationship with my mother was no Disney tale. I carried her for large chunks of my life.  And perhaps there can be no more telling metaphor than putting on weight equivalent to a very large baby; apparently I am carrying her still.  No doubt mom is in the pounds I’ve packed on—in all the potato chip and cupcake tributes, in the times I reach for food to smooth over the rougher edges of the day, yes, but also in the need to fill up the space she occupied for so long in my life. My mother has become existential weight. What to do with the gap, however ambivalent, she’s left?

Grieving is uncertain terrain.  I know that.  But now I wonder if all this insistence on my part in celebrating my mom is masking not only missing her, but missing the mom I wish I’d had. I reach out to her through food, the things she liked to eat, when perhaps I should be speaking to her ghost and getting some things straight.  I can’t go on carrying her forever.

In the end, food was my mother’s biggest pleasure, one of a handful of pleasures she allowed herself in her life time of too little happiness. It is one of mine as well. It seems natural to connect with my mother this way, to celebrate a shared passion.  But in doing so over the last six months, I think I’ve been trying to rewrite the script of our story. My mother was loving and sweet in the end, but she was not always this way.  I understand the lionization of the dead, the drive to remember the good things–that instinct is natural–but the real celebration of a life is holding the whole thing in your hands and still loving what you see.  Until I can do that, mom will be the ghost who continues to haunt my days.  

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0 thoughts on “The Year of Mom”

  1. Your post so resonates with my recent experience of a) losing my mom (6 weeks ago), b) grieving by eating, c) learning to hold the good with the not-so-good. I wish you courage and hope you treat yourself gently–and exhort those around you to do the same. This is hard stuff and the road is long. It takes time. You know all that. GIve in to yourself. We will both get through this.

  2. Kindness, courage, hope: All good things. Thank you for reading and for writing. I am so sorry for your loss and hope that you find many buoyant moments on the road from here to there. "Give in to yourself" is the best thing that's been said to me for a long time.

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