My mom died ten years ago today. Ten years. Sometimes it feels like only yesterday. Other times it feels like a million years ago. I’ve come so far and my life has changed so much in the subsequent ten years that it’s often difficult to remember what life with a mother was like.
I can’t just think of her face anymore without help from a photo. What I find myself remembering most are her hands. Watching them as they worked on something, or the way they felt when she’d hug me or hold me.
I remember her laugh. It was big, and raucous, and contagious. I remember that she had a great sense of humor, and that she talked about flirting with the male nurses in the hospital when she was sick. 🙂
I remember how she cried when I moved into the dorms at NYU, and how I thought it was so silly, because I was only 40 minutes away from the house. Now, I know those tears meant that she loved me so much. I knew that then too, I think, but I was too busy being an independent college student to focus on that.
I remember sitting with her in a hospital room toward the end, and asking her “Don’t worry about hurting my feelings or anything – I know you love me, and Kenny and Janette, and Dad – but if you could’ve done anything else with your life, anything at all, what would you have done?” And she stayed quiet for a long minute and then said “No one’s ever asked me that before.” And she couldn’t come up with an answer, because she’d never really thought about it. But I think she was glad to have been asked and made to think about it.
I remember my mom most when I find myself doing things she taught me – like neatly tying up plastic grocery bags so they’re easier to store, or beating out “Shave and a Haircut” on the side of the pot with a spoon while I’m cooking something.
I also remember her most as I live through things that she never got to see. She never knew that I moved to California, and that I’ve started to build a life and a home in the state where my parents spent the beginning of their marriage. She never met The Fiancee. She won’t be at my wedding. She won’t be around to see any kids I might have. When I go home to New York, while she remains a stop on my People I Need to Visit tour, it involves getting driven out to the cemetery.
She only ever knew me aspiring. She’ll never see me finally get where I’m going, and that makes me sad. I’m always nagged by the feeling that she died worried about me and my well-being. Not just in the way that all mothers will always worry about their kids, but because I’d chosen a less-than-stable career, and I was broke, and I was single, and I didn’t seem to be able to get anything together. I hope that, wherever she is, if she’s able to check in on what’s going on in between Heavenly massages and endless chocolate cake and ice cream that I’m okay. That I’m the best I’ve ever been. That despite the hardships, it’s all working out pretty well. It’s not perfect, but it’s good. It’s evolving in a way I like.
It always hurts a little when I hang out with The Fiancee’s awesome family and I remember that mine’s incomplete. Or when any of my friends talk about their parents coming to town to visit, or going to visit them back home. I’ll never have that, and I always try to remind them to treasure their parents while they’re still around. Even when they’re annoying. 🙂 I’m so glad that I went to go visit my mom in the nursing home, or the hospital, even when I “didn’t feel like it.” My only regret is that I didn’t do it even more.
It’s been ten years, and I miss her. There’s a hole in my life that was supposed to be filled by her that now isn’t. But I’m grateful that she was my mother. She was the best one I could’ve asked for. She wasn’t perfect, but she was perfect for me, and as often as she made me mad, or inadvertently hurt my feelings, or said something less-than-progressive and made me cringe, I also never doubted that she loved me.
She always let me know, sometimes through her words, but more often through her actions, that she loved me and was always there for me no matter what. She encouraged me even when she wasn’t sure what I was doing – like that whole “acting thing” or “being a writer” or whatever. Sure, she’d encourage me to get a “real job,” but she also never said I should give up the other stuff I wanted to do. She just wanted me to be practical and careful. And she would often surprise me. Despite those less-than-progressive things she’d sometimes say, she was equally likely to surprise me with a completely progressive opinion on something when I least expected it.
It’s how I know that she’d be surprised, but ultimately supportive of my upcoming marriage to The Fiancee. She’d love her, because I do. I just wish they would’ve gotten to know each other.
Anyway, I think my rambling’s at an end. I love my mom. I miss her. I celebrate her and the wonderful (and wonderfully complex) person she was. And I’m grateful for her.
If you’d like to help me remember my mom, feel free to go to your nearest Puerto Rican restaurant and eat a pastel in her honor. 🙂 You can read the eulogy I read at her funeral. Otherwise, a donation to your local chapter of the American Diabetes Association is always a great choice.
Mariana Hernandez Jusino
September 21, 1935 – April 5, 2006