I’m at that age where more than a handful of my girlfriends are orphans. Some are a little younger than me, others a little older, but a fair amount of my girls have lost both parents.
It’s that time of year when if you’re ever going to be sappy, you have full blown permission to do it right now. I just came from listening to two good friends, both of whom recently buried their moms. Both of whom are missing them a lot, missing the conversations you can only have with another woman who has known you your entire life. A woman who was already an adult with her own fears, regrets, joys and hopes when you were born. One who, no matter how she expressed it, really, deep down inside, wanted you to have a better life than she did. Even if hers was wonderful she wanted yours to be even better.
Last week I spent a few hours on the phone with a girlfriend for whom December marked 40 years since her father died and 5 since her mother died. She was, like I am, extraordinarily close to her mother. She is, like me, an only child, single and childless. She talked about sitting in her apartment and mentally ticking off the prescription meds that had accumulated in the house, calculating which had expired, which hadn’t and what would actually be needed for an effective dose to make December a poetic triple header for that family.
I don’t care how old you are when you lose that second parent, you’re an orphan. It’s not the same as being parentless when you’re five or even fifteen, but when you’re fiftyish it’s lonely in a way you haven’t experienced before. When a woman loses her mother, she loses a part of herself, a connection to her childhood, an anchor to her past. And the more you loved, the more complicated the relationship, the bigger and blacker the lonely. I imagine it’s a little bit harder for those of us who don’t have children of our own to anchor us to the here and now.
I’m blessed. I still have my mom. I think about what will happen when I don’t. I think about it a lot. I’ve experienced the edge of that abyss a few times: her seizure, car accident, cancers, depressions. My friends miss talking to their mothers about their shared interests, this mother/daughter had art, that one had education. My mother and I have depression and suicidal ideation. I’m the reason she doesn’t kill herself. She’s been the reason I didn’t kill myself. Death and dying were always part of our conversations. Since I was a little girl I’ve said “Can I have that when you die?” referring to some thing of hers I coveted.
Jeez, Louise, I can hear you say – what a thing to share. There are other things, of course, but it’s the biggest thing we have in common, the thing we can talk to each other about that no one else would understand in quite the same way.
She’s healthy. She’s got a beau. I bought a video camera and now and then I take it out and just tape the inconsequential conversations that make up a visit. We talk about nothing and everything. She’s what I run from and what I hide behind, my fortress and my fear. We are not merely connected, but enmeshed, like ganglia cysts whose roots entwine themselves in and out of tendons and nerves, we are part of each other. We’re partners, locked in a dance where the music never ends.
I used to think we were unnaturally close and complicated. But listening to my girls I realize it’s the dance of mothers and daughters everywhere–seeing yourself reflected in another woman’s eyes; recognizing parts of her in things you do and say unconsciously; hating that you do that thing she did that drove you crazy and missing her more in the moments you do it.
Big Edie and me, we are the last of the line. Who will I talk to when she’s gone? Who will I take care of and worry about and who will worry about me? Hopefully I won’t find out for a good long time…