My Mother Died & These Are Some Things She Taught MeMolly McGlynn

Sorrows are the rags of old clothes and jackets that serve to cover, and then are taken off. That undressing, and the beautiful naked body underneath, is the sweetness that comes after grief. ~Rumi

I sat by my mother’s bedside as she lay dying of cancer. It was a late day in June and the scorching pink and purple sunset blasted into the twenty-something floor of the hospital window that overlooked the city. She was restless and agitated, frustrated by being confined to both the bed and her failing body. I asked her if she wanted to go outside and she nodded. She was no longer capable of verbal communication. I picked her tiny body up, put her in a wheelchair and wrapped her in blankets despite the heat outside. I wheeled her down the hall and out to the rooftop garden that had an incredible view of the bustling, pulsing city below. It was only the two of us.

We sat in silence, side by side, for a few moments and then I began to ask her questions I knew she could not answer, just to fill the quiet space. “Are you cold?” No answer. “Are you hungry?” No answer. “Do you like the sunset?” No answer. In exhaustion, sadness and anger, I broke down. “Can you ever hear me? Do you even know what’s going on right now? Do you care that I’m talking to you?” This time she answered, but did not any words. Without turning her head from the view, she reached over, grabbed my hand, put it in hers and wrapped it under the blanket that was in her lap. I was ashamed that I had doubted her. Of course she knew. This was the last encounter with my mother I remember having before she died a few days later.

Four years later, I am able to write this. The immediate, searing pain of witnessing such a loss has subsided and has turned into some sort of scar that I carry around under my shirt – something that no one can see unless they get really close. I am now able to share the things I have learned about life in witnessing my mother’s life  and her subsequent death.

Never be too proud to dance.

Often while cooking in the kitchen, a favorite song of hers would come on, like the bluesy ‘Wang Wang Blues’ from the English Patient soundtrack and she would grab me (often reluctantly because I was a “really cool” teenager), kick her heels off and swing me around the kitchen. Inevitably,  the pot would boil over, which she would run over to with a dishtowel over her shoulder and mumble, “Oh, Christ!”  under her breath while wiping it up, laugh and then go back to swinging me around the kitchen. I rolled my eyes and groaned, but secretly I loved every minute of it.

Sometimes it’s okay to eat an omelet for dinner.

After my Dad left my mother, she received her college degree, then her masters and became a counseling psychologist on top of being a mother to five girls and a devoted friend. At the end of the day, the last thing she wanted to do was cook a goddamn gourmet dinner. Omelet it often was.  I’m fine. My growth is not stunted and I have all my teeth.

Take pride in how you look, without being vain.

Even in the darkest days of cancer treatment, she would put on her lipstick before a visitor arrived. As kid, she would never drive me to school without curlers in her hair and her lipstick. When I would ask her why she was still wearing her bathrobe she would say, “Well, they can’t see that from the car now can they, Moll?” She was not shallow or vain, yet valued how she looked. Make the best of what you’ve got.

Love endlessly and selflessly. That applies to you, too.

The greatest lessons on love, we learn from our mothers. She loved her children and her husband without end, sometimes too much. She gave too much of herself to save her crumbling marriage for the sake of her family.  While I admire this tremendously, I will never love anyone if it means that it will not be reciprocated or I cannot fulfill my own personal goals. There is such a thing as loving too much.

Do it now. Yep, that thing you think you want to be.

My mother was a poet, yet she took her first creative writing class when I was about ten. It was soon evident that she was extremely talented.  If she had started a professional career in writing at the age I am now, I think she would have had a few novels under her belt. She also never would have had me. Funny how life works out.

I came across this in one of her pieces and it struck a deep chord in me. I could no longer be fearful of being a writer of anything else for that matter. There is simply not enough time:

I was fifty five years old when I become a writer. I appeared, it seemed, out of nowhere. ‘Nowhere’ for me was half a century of talking, listening, attending and interruptions from children and a twenty-five year marriage.

Whatever you want to do or be, do it now. Pick up the triangle now if you want to be the world’s best triangle player/dinger.

 Speak firmly, but gracefully; listen as though you have to retell that person’s story in vivid detail to a stranger and when you speak to children, get right down to their level. It’s less scary that way.

No comment.

 You are never too broke to treat yourself to champagne.

The following is from an email my mother sent to my sisters in the midst of her treatment:

“Ever since that scraggy hair was cut last night, I feel so much better! I’m all dressed up today, replete with matching scarf, new sweater (I was saving it, but I didn’t know why – now I do) and I feel good. Maybe it was that little glass of Veuve Cliquot that I had before I went to bed?

 Note to my accountant – increase budget to include this essential item on an ongoing basis.”

 No matter how bad things seem, everything is better in the morning after a good night’s sleep.

3am is not the time to wonder why your life isn’t how you predicted it to be on September 12th, 1994 in your Princess Jasmine diary.  Tackle the big things when the sun is out.

 I will never stop missing my mother. Grief rears its ugly head in strange ways, but I do know one thing – grief is the price we pay for loving, my mother would always tell me.

It is always worth the price.

(A note on this picture of her: This used to be a picture of her with  ex-boyfriend. She cut him out, literally and figuratively, because she liked the way her hair looked. Never let an ex-boyfriend ruin a picture of you with good hair.)

comments

Please help us maintain positive conversations by refraining from posting spam, advertisements, and links to other websites or blogs. we reserve the right to remove your comment if it does not adhere to these guidelines. thanks! post a comment.

  1. Molly- I hope you are well. This piece is so beautifully written- I’m crying at my desk. It’s funny, I always figured that you would become a writer. Even in Mr. Glatt’s English class I can remember your writing always being so beautiful. Be well! Lots of hugs and well wishes to you!

  2. This is wonderful and empowering, thank you.

  3. Really beautiful.

  4. We all need our mothers, no matter how old we are. Thank you for sharing your touching story.

  5. my mom has been dead 4 years now. I am now sitting her crying because of this article. I needed it though. I hope I can give similar things to my kids to remember me by when I am gone. I remember my mama and I hope to be remembered for the same.

  6. I loved your story. I lost my mother to cancer a well. Writing about it really helped me deal with the grief. Thank you for sharing this special piece. Sorry for your loss.

  7. What a beautiful piece of writing, your mum sounds like a gem, I’m sorry that your time together was cut short.

    Your scar under the t-shirt analogy is perfect, I lost my mum 18 months ago and I don’t think I’ll ever be the same as I was before, it truly is a scar that will only be seen by those who get very close.

  8. this is beautiful. i learned a lot.

  9. Loved this! : )

  10. As a motherless daughter myself, thank you for sharing these amazing life lessons. It’s a sorority we never wanted to join, but I like to think that we are stronger for our losses.

  11. This as beautiful and I am very sorry for your loss. My mom is now in hospice care for early onset Alzheimer’s. I feel like I lost her without realizing what was happening. It’s not something I feel capable of writing about, so I thank you for sharing this.

  12. love mollys! loved this. so sorry for your loss, but thanks for writing, girl.

  13. sitting here bawling my eyes out, but in the best way. thanks for this

  14. I read this with tears in my eyes because no matter how many years it is grief still manages to take over. When we lost my nan (she raised me from the day I was born until she left us when I was 17 and 5 months and 5 days) I felt like my world was ending but now as much as it still aches like nothing else the things she taught me are the things that jump to mind when I think of her. Never judge someone based on how intelligent they seem, there’s many ways to be clever. Giving people your time and attention will always pay off. Be kind. Laugh. Laugh. Laugh.
    And just like your football team, stick by the ones you love through thick and thin.

    You’re right grief is the price you pay for loving someone.

  15. Beautifully said. I’m sorry for your loss. Having lost my own mother some time ago, I know that loss doesn’t go away…it just changes day to day. Thank you for sharing these life lessons with us.