Someone to Watch Over Me

The two biggest things that happened last week were the Supreme Court’s upholding of the Obama health care plan and the passing of Nora Ephron.  So much has been written about both, that I don’t feel I have anything to add to the eloquence already expressed by so many others, though health care and loss are ever-present mid-life concerns.

Amidst the hubbub and emotions of a difficult weekend and week beginning, in which our family had a monumental decision to make, I received a quiet email from F, the father of my childhood friend C.  Entitled “C needs your help,” he told me that C’s mother R, who has been battling cancer for years, had been brought home from the hospital for the last time and was beginning hospice care.

C and I grew up together in a smallish town, where everyone knew everyone else and we all knew each other’s parents pretty well.

C and my mother had a special bond.  C had weathered an unusual number of blows for a teenager — the death of her high school boyfriend from cancer and a chronic and elusive auto-immune disorder that confounded doctors and would strike without warning.  After I left to spend my senior year of high school in France, as C dealt with the havoc the disease and its medication were wreaking on her body, my mother would take her to explore the growing number of ethnic restaurants in the area. When I traveled to Florida to bring my cancer-riddled mother home with me to Seattle, C came down from New Jersey to say a last goodbye.

My relationship with C’s mother and father was less intimate, but no less constant.  Snippets of memories have surfaced. I remember the Kiss posters in C’s bedroom, as we plotted how to sneak past her mother to go to the midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I still remember the exact placement of the table and chairs in C’s kitchen, where I would sit and tell her mother stories about France, while she played with her little dog, Muffy. I marveled at the ease with which C’s mother slipped into Italian whenever we visited her immigrant parents, and mostly I remember her faith.  As C’s eyesight waxed and waned because of her disease, her mother would light candles and pray to Saint Lucy, the patron saint of the blind.

Though I didn’t see them again after I reached my mid-twenties, C’s parents remained my cheerleaders from afar. They always asked about me, my mother said, adding that they were always proud of what I was doing.

When my mother was dying, C’s father, who by that time had been dealing with his own wife’s cancer for a few years, sent me encouraging words of wisdom.  I hope I’ve adequately expressed to him how much his support meant to me.

When you lose your mother, you lose the one person who keeps her eye on you, no matter how old you get, no matter how independent you seem. My mother never fully recovered from the loss of her mother and, as she lay dying, it was her mother she called out to.

I was missing my mother last weekend, as our family grappled with our decision, knowing that she alone would understand what I was wrestling with.  “What do you think she would have said to you,” asked a friend, when I told her that my mother and I had once had to make a similar decision.  I thought about it.  “She would have laughed and said, ‘Now do you understand how hard it was for me?'”

My daughters are blessed with an inner circle of mothers.  We celebrate their achievements and we provide counsel and support, when needed. My mother used to joke about being “Mother in the Dark,” that she was often the last to know what was going on with me.  But when you have a circle of mothers, there’s always someone to watch over you.

For Mother’s Day this year, my daughters and their friends filmed a tribute to all of us moms, which included an awards ceremony.  Among the mom honors they bestowed were: best dresser-upper, best with no make-up and all that jazz, best advice, best garden, best redhead, best cowgirl and best chef (yes, that was me, but when asked what their favorite dish of mine was, my kids were hard-pressed to come up with their answer:  pancakes.).

Just as I do with my own daughters, I like to imagine what these girls will be when they grow up.  I know I will always be their cheerleader, even from afar.

Shortly before my mother died, I received a call from one of my brother’s childhood friends, whom I hadn’t seen for more than forty years.  Until he moved away, his family lived in a house behind ours and he and my brother bounced back and forth between houses every day, backdoors slamming with every arrival and departure.

“I was at your house when we got the news that President Kennedy was assassinated,” he told me.  “Your mother brought us together to watch the news and explained what was happening.” For him, my mother was an inextricable part of history.

As we enter our fifties, more and more of my contemporaries are losing their mothers. Though I often get the news via Facebook and sometimes I did not know these women well, I still remember them:  the mother with the gentle eyes, the one who showed how beautiful a woman can look when she’s prematurely gray, the one who drank endless cups of coffee with my mother.

Thank you, R, for being an inextricable part of my history and for being a member of my inner circle of mothers.

With much love to R, C, F and your family.

Depending on your vintage, Nora Ephron was like a friend, sister or mother/mentor and the way in which she shared the experiences of being a woman was beneficial to so many.  Here’s Lena Dunham’s take on Nora from the New Yorker:

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