My mother passed away very suddenly of a heart attack, after no specific illness at all, in 1995. It was June 6th, our son’s birthday. One second she’d called to say she wasn’t feeling well and was probably going to go to the doctor. The next she was being pronounced dead in the emergency room of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chicago. There were a few phone calls in between. I was actually on the phone with the ER doc while they were working on her.
And here’s what I thought when I hung up: I didn’t want to tell anyone. Because if I did, my whole world would change forever. I didn’t want it to. I didn’t want to grieve. I didn’t want her to be gone. For about ten minutes, I stood in my kitchen, phone in hand, having these thoughts.
Of course that’s not what I did. That’s not what people do. But that particular moment has stayed with me. This enormous sense of trying to hold back the inevitable. For those few minutes, I actually believed this was something I could do.
I’m thinking of my mother today – of the things she taught me: to love reading and story telling. That everything would be okay no matter what messes life brought my way. To be independent and have a back up plan. She was, truth be told, not always the happiest of people. She’d had a rough childhood and as I’ve written about widely, an enormously unhappy and very unmotherly mother – my Grandma Lena from Russia. It was probably not the easiest way to grow up. But she kept going, with a smile on her face. She embraced life. Loved Baskin Robbins ice cream cones (two scoops, different flavors), Fluky’s hot dogs (two dogs on one bun so she could justify the fries), going to the movies, tanning at the neighborhood swimming pool, reading, shopping at Marshall Fields in downtown Chicago, trying new restaurants, going to museums.
The idea of mothers – the good, the bad and the crazy of what it means to give birth, to be there for another human being; that feeling that if I just tried hard enough I could hold back the rushing tide of destiny and death – these loom large in both Dreaming Anastasia and Haunted. Anne’s mother, Lily (which was the name of my mom’s twin sister, btw), Baba Yaga – they all struggle with this concept to some extent. And Anne in turn struggles mightily with accepting a destiny she never wanted but has no choice but to embrace.
None of this was conscious on my part. But we write who we are and what we know. Or rather – what we hope to understand at some point down the road.
So here's to mothers! And especially to the woman who taught me the curative powers of grilled cheese and tomato soup, a long walk even when it's freezing outside, and the enormous power of doing it until you get it right.