Just as I was leaving from work I got word from my brother that my mother had died. We were expecting it. In fact, We’d all been praying for her release. She had dementia and was angry and spiteful. My poor brother and his wife were bearing the brunt of all of it because they had her in their home, caring for her. Hospice came in over the weekend as she was running a fever and having trouble breathing.
He said her passing was very peaceful, which is good.
We had a very complicated relationship, my mother and I.
When I was a child, she was a firebrand liberal. She voted Democrat, fought bigotry, read SILENT SPRING and became anti-insecticides. She had “meatless Tuesdays” during the Vietnam war as her way of assisting in protesting it.
But late in her 40s she had a series of little strokes and her personality began to change. It got worse and worse as she grew older. By the time she was in her 60s, she was a raging bigot.
This is a woman who had a Japanese-American roommate in college right after WWII. She dated Chinese men in college. (It is from her that I learned to love the way Asian men looked! We saw RED SUN together when I was in college and drooled over Toshiro Mifune.) She let the black woman who helped with spring cleaning eat lunch at the table with all of us, which horrified our neighbors in the 50s.
I loved that she believed in justice and equality. I wanted to be just like her.
She was far from a perfect mother. She was manipulative. She wanted full devotion from her children.
But at the same time she told us, “Don’t take anything at face value. Study. Think. Decide for yourself what you believe.”
She just assumed we would believe as she did.
As I got older, she realized that I was not falling into line. I had listened too well, and come to my own conclusions.
Several years ago I talked to her on the phone and told her how I admired what she was like when she was young. She couldn’t remember doing many of the things I’d seen her do. It made me so sad. I cried after the call. She was not the woman I loved any longer. She was someone else.
The darkness in her had found an outlet and taken over. She had always been manipulative, and she could be cruel, but as she grew older it became all that you got from her. I do think a lot of it was brain damage. She was notorious for stopping all her medications and collapsing and ending up in the hospital when she wanted attention. I think that and the little strokes did a lot of damage.
At the end she was Fox news obsessed and raged about Obama making it illegal to carry your Bible. All the nonsense that younger her would have despised.
So it’s good that it’s over, and that she has been released. I hope that whatever she finds on the other side it takes her back to the younger, more idealistic person she’d been. The one who believed in equality and fought for it.
I, meanwhile, am adjusting to the new reality. I will try to cling tight to the things I loved and that shaped much of who I am. I will chalk up the bad to her desperate need to be loved. (Her childhood was not happy, and she never felt wanted.) The bigotry I will chalk up to brain damage.
And I will let myself be sad for losing her twice over.