Saturday, July 14, 2007


The other day I was working at Mo's and this beautiful older either Indian or Fijian couple came in to eat. As I cleared their plates and offered anything else, the gentleman said, "No thank you, we have to get back to the hospital to take care of my mom."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Which hospital is she in?" I always wonder if Justin and I are connecting with the same people, just in different venues.

"Scripps Mercy."

Not this time. "Well, I hope she is doing well," I said. I looked at them and thought, "These are people who are old enough to have hospitalized parents, not us, so young as we all are--too young for his mom to die too young."

"Oh yes, she is a strong woman. She'll be fine," her son said with conviction. Perhaps contrived. Perhaps hopeful, but with sincerity and conviction he said it.

In my constant attempt to connect with a fellow human being I continued, "My mother-in-law was recently in the hospital too."

"Is she feeling better now?"

I paused briefly, I was carrying away their plates, so maybe it seemed natural. Then I said, "Yes, she's feeling much better now."

I couldn't tell a customer she was dead, not a visiting stranger whose mother was hospitalized. One or two of the close customers, the regulars who know Justin and me and like to chat with us know and really care; I see them every day. But Mo's is not a place to bring doom or gloom. Plus it's true. Toni is not suffering anymore. She is feeling better, I am sure. I imagine she's floating around heaven quite happy and relieved to be moving on her own again--out of the wheelchair, though when she looks down to see her boys grieving I am sure she worries. With only one miscarriage I DO understand a mother's love for her children. And a wife's love for her husband.

I am reading a book called "Missing Mom," by Joyce Carol Oates. It has drawn me in--a carry-me-everywhere book whose story is nearly finished. I bought it because Oates wrote that it is the story "that will become everyone's story, in its own unique way." The loss of a mother.

Our lives do not parallel--it's about a widow who is murdered, and a 31-year-old daughter who finds her and then has to work through the aftermath--the estate, the trial, the family dynamics without the motherly glue to hold everyone together.

But Oates is right--it is everyone's story. Our mothers are our past and our present and our future. As my therapist said, "We carry our parents with us for a long time."

To which I responded, "Yeah, Toni's dead, and she's still fucking around in our heads."

But from our mothers we take everything that is good and everything that is bad and have to figure out how to sort through the pieces and decide how we will use them to make ourselves. There is always bad--whether it be too nice caretaking that covers the secrets of the dark insides of all the generations spewed into each being that comes afterward, or simply abandonment, or untimely death, or drinking, or parents living the lives they wish the had lived through the children who wish to live their own lives, even abuse of the mind, the heart, the body... the soul.

I recently heard that "When you're a parent you just live your life in front of your children, and they see the good and the bad."

I've also known of those parents who believe they are hiding the bad, but children always know its there--they lie in their beds and know and hear and feel the electric tension flowing in vibrant sharp currents through the walls of their homes.

Parents do not know what they are doing. Children do not come with operating instructions. They are just pushed into a world and everyone involved simply does their best to survive. Some thrive.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I know there is so much, so much, good in the raising of a child. For me, I know it was there--art and opportunity and love and camping trips and homework help and hugs and food and a home and education. All this from immigrant parents who came to the Western Hemisphere with nothing and built their lives and ours into relative American success. An engineer son. An artist daughter. Good people all. But every story must be complete to be believable and the bad cannot be ignored, the bad is incorporated into the building of the soul; of who we are despite our experience of living.

For that experience parents cannot be forgiven at the same time that they cannot be held accountable. Which means they must be forgiven because they knew not what they were doing.

Even Jesus cried to God, "Why have thou forsaken me?"

But, in the holiest of examples, parents do not forsake their children, at least not mine nor Justin's, they simply live their lives in front of us. Then, in their demise, they live their lives again, as we sort through the estate of memories, keeping the good and putting the rest out for disposal. "Not good enough to use, but not ready to throw away just yet," wrote Oates.

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