A few days ago I went to Lady Mendl’s for High Tea. It was a celebration of a friend’s mother, who passed away five years ago, and a new-ish tradition. My friend gets depressed every year at this time; not only is it the anniversary of her mother’s death, she died the day after birthday: a double whammy. Remembering life. Remembering death. When we first became close friends, I suggested that instead of dreading these two days, why not celebrate her mother’s life? What did her mother enjoy? We decided on a trip to the Met and High Tea and we’ve been celebrating with tea ever since.
On the anniversary of her mother’s death, she posted photos of candles on Facebook with an homage. That same day, I was struck by how many other friends were posting similar images: their mothers as young women, heartfelt sentiments about parents who had passed, the marking of anniversaries of both births and deaths. Social media provides us with the proverbial bully pulpit, something ordinary people haven’t had in the past: an opportunity to broadcast our innermost thoughts to dozens — or thousands. These postings raised my current level of anxiety a few notches. My mother is 79. She obviously isn’t going to live forever.
My mom isn’t infirm. She’s in fairly good health and, for her age, pretty active. She plays competitive bridge every day. This past August she even joined me out in the desert for 48 hours of Burning Man! But one day she won’t be here. I can grasp this in the abstract; children are supposed to outlive their parents. But the actual fact? It’s too awful to even think about.
I talk to my mom often. Not every day, but almost. I call her when I get a really good bargain at a thrift store or flea market, every time Wheel of Fortune is particularly exciting or when I experience one of life’s little victories. Mind you, I don’t share any of my defeats. Joan doesn’t do sad. Crying pisses her off, no doubt because it makes her feel helpless, a feeling she doesn’t like one bit. She also doesn’t do sick. Which is probably one of the reasons I’m so healthy: it just isn’t in the family script to be ill. My mom has survived three different cancers — THREE! — and each time it was like she had a hangnail.
Somewhere out there, perhaps cancer number four is looming. Or merely old age. Whatever it is I hope it isn’t protracted. I’ve been enlisted as chief plug-puller. Ack. I can’t imagine not being able to pick up the phone and call her. There isn’t anyone else I call just to say hello. I don’t even want to think about saying goodbye.