Sunday, January 11, 2015


A year ago, I sat on a plane to Salt Lake City for the job I had at the time, worrying about flying and trying to distract myself with two new books I had purchased just for the trip. One was "The 100 Foot Journey" by Richard Morais (which I loved). The other was "Wild", by Cheryl Strayed. I started with Wild - I had heard it was wonderful. And on about page 15, as the details of the author's mother's demise from cancer became clear, I closed the book with tears in my eyes. Not ready. 9 years, and I'm not ready. 

Now, there is a movie. The book has been sitting untouched on my bedside table for a year. I am still not sure, at 10 years out, that I'm ready to delve into this story that - excluding the heroin and copious sex with strangers - feels remarkably like my own. But, a few nights ago, I went to the movie with a friend who has also lost her mother. She had ended up reading the book after seeing one of my posts about it, and when the previews for the movie came out we made a plan to see it together - knowing it would be hard thing for both of us to do. 

me, probably on my first day of kindergarten, photo by my mother 

The movie was wonderful. I cried, a lot, as I knew I would. A few times, I thought I might have to step out so as not to disturb the other viewers. I watched it all and, though I am quite sure I will never hike the entirety of the Pacific Crest Trail, I do think falling on my knees in the wilderness and screaming "I miss you" might be really therapeutic for me. 

Primarily told in flashbacks of Cheryl's childhood and the loss of her mother, one thing that surprised me about watching the movie was that it made me as weepy about my own children as it did about losing my mom. Maybe it's that the movie kids are an older girl and a younger boy, like mine. Maybe it's that, though they seem to be poor and uprooted a lot, the mom is really happy and always loving with the kids. She doesn't seem stressed out, worried about money, or frustrated with her kids. Maybe I will understand this when I read the book - will see she was actually more flawed, or that she has been accepted into the sainthood of the dead and just appears perfect in memory - but I found myself worrying if my own children have as many sunny memories of me. When I am gone, will Dora think fondly of when we say goodnight and blow each other kisses? Will she remember how much she loves my chili? Will she think of all the times she told me I'm the best mommy in the world? Or will she remember my tired, stressed out, overworked self, easily annoyed and nowhere near as patient and nurturing as I would like to be? 

my mother's coffee mug and turquoise ring, which I wear every day. photo by Dora 

After the movie, I sat in my car in the parking garage of the Aloft hotel and wept, loudly, covering my face with my black fingerless gloves. The pain of missing someone you love - of missing your mother, the one who nurtures, cares for, and protects you - it is a shitty, relentless, ominous beast of grief that patiently waits for you to feel slightly ok before jumping out and beating you up again. It doesn't go away - at least not in 10 years - and strangely I wouldn't really want it to anyway. As another friend told me recently, in the remembering and grieving the one we have lost is kept alive. 

The movie transported me back to the feelings of total helplessness, fear, and exhaustion we felt when my mom was sick. It reminded me of how we started out hoping for big things like trips and ended up just hoping for a pleasant meal together. It reminded me of that claustrophobic little room where the doctor tells you it's terminal cancer. In the movie, Cheryl's mother asks, "can I still ride my horse?" My mother said, "You know, you're really ruining my dinner plans right now." Sigh. 

I sat in bed with Dora the following night, helping her fall asleep. I scratched her back as she closed her eyes, brushed her hair away from her face so I could watch her relax, so I could stare adoringly at her 7-year-old face that still looks like the infant I remember. I was flooded with an unexpected memory of my own mother, sitting on my bed and "checking me in" - drawing little checkmarks along my back with her fingernail as I fell asleep. I wondered, did she sit and stare at my face, wondering over my beauty, wondering about my future, feeling her heart swell with love for me? Did she stare at me and see my infant face hidden in my childhood features? Did she weep with love for me? 

first pair of rollerskates, being put on by my mom at my 8th birthday party

The day my mother died, there were a lot of phone calls to make. We divided them up and plodded through them, letting family and close friends know she had died. I don't really remember who I spoke to, or what I said, or even how I got through those calls. But I do remember one conversation. I called the bookstore where my mother had been working when she got sick, and told the store manager that she had died. "You were the light of her life, you know?" was his response to the news. What he said to me meant more than nearly anything else I heard on those calls, or in the wonderful cards that were sent, or in the thoughtful embraces at the funeral and beyond. To hear from someone else - someone outside our circle but who knew my mother well - tell me how she loved me, was a gift. It was so priceless - so meaningful, as meaningful as my own flashbacks and memories, as meaningful today as it was 10 years ago. 

Where am I now? I'm not doing heroin, I'm not a famous author, there hasn't been a movie made about my story. I'm not hiking thousands of miles by myself. I never will. But, I'm on my knees, in the wilderness, crying out how much I miss my mother. I'm in the wilderness trying, as much as I can, to ensure that my kids have happy memories of me when I'm gone, that they know they are the light of my life in every possible way. 

And, I'm finally reading the book. I'm not really ready, but I'm reading it anyway. 


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