We lay down our shields and swords, and we embrace each other and weep. Mother is dead.
It may be the most beautiful thing to witness because it is so rare— unfettered grief poured out from men’s hearts. We are taught young to cry, merely by her permission, for crying comes naturally if we let it, and when she leaves us for good, the public grants us permission again for a few fleeting moments to mourn with a show of tears.
Then we go back to work.
What is the role of Mother?
It’s Mother who teaches us that crying is just another way to be alive. As children we wail and wail and wail, and she just lets us wail. And when we’ve had enough, she confirms, yes, the pain does end if we let it. It’ll be back. It’ll show up somewhere in between a bunch of other things, and it’s supposed to be that way.
It’s Mother who teaches us that crying is just another way to be alive. Then again, she may ignore our pain or cry so hard herself it drowns us into silence.
It’s Mother who loves us first and forever, unwaveringly. We are feuled by her unconditional support on our journey of millions of miles— a devotion that starts when we are little dots of nothing and can’t possibly remember anything else. That’s true for me. I know what it’s like to be loved like that.
It’s Mother who loves us first or maybe just sometimes loves us or doesn’t love us much at all. She can’t ever truly know who we are. She just can’t.
It’s Mother who stands by us no matter what. My mother stood against Doberman Pinschers and school principals and anyone who dared to hint we were unloveable. She stood against my father’s rage and my older brothers’ punishing jealousy. And when that nasty girl broke my heart with scathing insults, we curled up on the kitchen floor where she held my head all snotty with tears, and she gave me advice only a the wisdom of Mother’s perspective could offer, “Oh honey, she was such a bitch.”
It’s Mother who stands by us except when she can’t or doesn’t.
What remains when Mother isn’t there?
She faded very slowly from me over many years until in many ways our roles reversed. I would tell her stories to comfort her. I would listen to her complaints and visit her doctors and tuck her into bed. She’s gone now, and it’s impossible to know everything that remains of her with me. I do know what it’s like to be loved without question. I do know what it means to see someone in the pit of despair somehow rise into the next day. I do know how to cry my heart out. That knowing, for sure, I got from my mother.
Eighteen days ago, my three brothers and I stood around her bed, each of us touching her body, her ankles, an arm, a wrist, her neck and head. Her heart, fueled by an adrenaline drip, kept her alive long enough for us to get to her side from California, Florida, and Minnesota. With a word the doctors stepped out of the room. As the last drop of adrenaline drained from the bag above, she let out a final breath, one of us said, “I think that’s it,” and her face faded from pink to gray.
Then we cried.
We cried like we were children again, like grown men who had just lost their mother. We cried in each others arms, our faces stretched and screwed up. We cried like we had never been told not to cry.
Have you ever seen men do that? I hadn’t. I’ll never forget it. Life is beautiful, even in death.
Mom, thank you.