I Talk to My Mom More Now That She’s Not Alive
My mother was a drinker—and not one of the social variety. She was the type of alcoholic whose Louis Vuitton clanked with mini bottles of E&J Brandy and often forgot to pick me up from school. As such, I knew she would ultimately die of cirrhosis and her four (or five?) trips to rehab certainly drove the point home. But then she did die, when she was 52 years old and I was 26, and I wasn’t ready. There was still so much left unsaid, so I started talking to her.
To say my mother and I were not close would be an understatement, but it wasn’t always like that. When I was too young to know what drunk was, we were thick as thieves. I’d often stay home from school so we could adventure to the Santa Monica Pier Ferris Wheel or speed down to Newport Beach and stay a long weekend on her new boyfriend’s sail boat. Subsequently, I missed a good portion of third grade and never got a great handle on times tables.
This cavalier parenting style continued, and when I was 12, it was decided I should live with my dad full time (they divorced before I was born). When she was drinking, there was no way for us to have a relationship. But there were periods of time, even years sometimes, that she was sober.
Those times, it was like nothing had happened. I’d spend weekends at her condo, and she’d take me shopping for a prom dress. She even helped me furnish my college dorm. But then, when she returned to L.A., she began drinking again and stopped answering my calls.
I had grown accustomed to this cycle, and by the time I graduated college, she was not in attendance to see me walk. I can count the times we spoke and saw each other on one hand in the years leading up to her death. In fact, two nights before she passed away, I contemplated whether I should even invite her to my wedding.
When I told her I was engaged, she was uncharacteristically supportive and didn’t put on her usual show of saying delusional things like, “I know the best caterer,” and “Darling, I hope you’ve been dieting,” or “Let’s take Mark’s mother to the Ivy for tea. I know the owner.” It struck me as odd, but she knew what I didn’t: She was dying.
Thankfully, I was there when she passed and said my piece. There were so many milestones she missed out on while battling her disease that I expected it wouldn’t feel any different to be officially “motherless.” I was surprised when it did.
As I prepared to get married, the void she left came to a front. I found a job I knew she’d be delighted by and I bought an income property. In quiet moments, I’d even pick up the phone to call her. When I was sick in bed, I found myself aching for her sympathy.
This past Mother’s Day, a dear friend who lost both of her parents suggested I just start talking to her. I looked at her somewhat uncomfortably, “You mean, like, out loud? Sounds unhealthy.” She assured me she’s sane and does it all the time while driving or cleaning the house. She found comfort in keeping her mom in the know about what’s going on and it made the grief lift ever so slightly.
But I didn’t even speak to my mom when she was alive, I thought. But then, one day, excited about a promotion my husband received, I decided to give it a whirl. My mother would have been thrilled by this news, so who was I to keep it from her?
Talking to her made me feel like a total weirdo at first, but I soon realized how much I’d always longed to connect with her—the part of her that bought my prom dress and helped me find throw pillows for my dorm—without her alcoholism getting in the way.
My mom may not have been the paragon of motherhood, but what person is perfect? Talking to her allowed me to reframe our relationship and ease the guilt I felt for not being able to do more for her.
Now, when I buy a new bag or cook something that doesn’t taste like cardboard, I can’t help but smirk and imagine nudging my mother as if to say, “Look at this. I turned out OK.”