For the past twenty five years this day, October 19th, has begun the same way. I usually get a call, text or email from my aunt saying, “A moment of silence.” You see, today is my mom’s birthday. And yet since her disappearance in 1990 we don’t really celebrate this day, but we have to recognize it in some way. So that is what we do, we have a moment of silence.
Though my mom never liked to tell her age, we do know that she was born in 1938. So she would have been (or maybe is) seventy seven years old. Birthdays were never a big deal in our family. We never had cakes or parties. However, the only picture I have of my mom, strangely enough, was taken on my younger half sister’s birthday. And the only reason we have that photo at all is because my aunt bought the cake for her and took this picture. That is my Grandpa O’Neill and my Uncle Ang (my aunt’s husband) in the pic too. And my mom sporting a freshly bleached hairdo (thanks to my non beauty school skills).
The buzz word the last decade or so in the mental health and wellness world is “abandonment”. Frankly, I can’t say I’ve actually felt that with regard to my mom. In order to feel abandoned you have to have felt an attachment to start with, no? As I have said before, I don’t think my mom was actually connected to any of us kids. So when she left that one morning and told my then teenage half sister that she was going to walk to the store to get cigarettes, but never returned, we didn’t panic. She would go on little sabbaticals (as we called them) from time to time. And she would return. Though this time she never did. My sister put in a missing person’s report with the police department. And apart from a couple of “Jane Doe” non matches with dental records, there were never any leads as to her whereabouts. Even in today’s internet age, where you can find practically anyone with a Google search, there is no trace of her.
So without closure, not knowing if someone is still alive or not, how do you mark the date they came into the world? My Hubby is always in shock at how my siblings and I have dealt with this unanswered question in our lives. He says, “She is your mom, and you came through her body, why don’t you go looking for her?” He never met her so it is hard to explain. But for the first few years after she left, to be quite honest, we actually had a sense of relief. No more drama! The havoc that she reeked in our lives was absent and we kinda liked the silence. But then of course you do start to wonder, okay, if that was me, would I want people to be looking of me? My aunt and I did go to the Social Security office to see if we could get some answers. Since my mom would surely be collecting money, we could find out something. But in fact she hadn’t collected any of the money due to her. So what was she doing? Don’t you think as her daughter I might feel in my soul if she had passed from this earth?
I then began looking around at homeless people and wondering what if she was one of them? What if she just decided to check out of reality and live freely on the streets? She could take her drugs to her heart’s content and not have any responsibilities. But on the other hand I thought about her intelligence and maybe, just maybe, she actually decided to get on the straight and narrow. On the day I graduated from U.S.C. celebrating with my own grown kids, something occurred to me. What if my mom actually went to college after all and became, say, an attorney, and is now working in a successful law firm?
Still it is all conjecture and nothing to hold on to except the memories. As you have read thus far on this YDP blog, not many of the memories of her are in fact good. Sure I could be hurt about the abuse and neglect, the lack of love and respect. I could be resentful about the fact that she spent all the money I made doing television commercials as a child on her drug habit. I could be angry that she allowed our home to be an environment where nefarious characters repeatedly stole my innocence away in the dark of night. But what upsets me the most is that she not only kept me from my father after their divorce, but she blatantly lied and said he didn’t pay child support. I only discovered the truth after he passed away. I was helping my stepmother clear out his office and found all the cancelled checks. For years he sent her the money and she cashed the checks. I saw with my own eyes her signature endorsed on the back of each check. And I thought why would someone do that?
These things I have tried to explain to my Hubby but he always goes back to, “But she’s your mom”. This morning he noticed I was deep in thought. I told him what today was and he said, “You’re gonna be good to her aren’t you?” since he knew I had to write a post about this day. He takes the Irish stance, “Don’t speak ill of the dead.” I get that. Yet, I don’t know if she is in fact dead. One of my brothers (the one who was a priest for a day) likes to say, “Mom just lost her way.” That kinda covers two things, one that she left to buy cigarettes and without a GPS literally got lost. And the second being that there was nothing malicoius in her behavior. She went off the rails of normalcy long ago and that just happens to people sometimes.
So here is what I plan to do. I will go to mass as I have before on this day and light a candle and pray for her, wherever she is. I will find and focus on a memory of her that is positive. She was, I feel, proud of the fact that I was in gifted classes in school. Once when I was in high school she saw the good grades on my report card and bought a little second hand sweater vest for me as a reward. At the time I remember what a big deal it was, even if from a thrift store, since she never gave us surprises. She was (is) intelligent and though she might not have been able to channel hers in a productive way, maybe she would have been happy I used my intellect and went to college and graduated with honors. And I do hope she would be relieved that I was able to break the cycle of abuse and raise my kids in a healthy and loving environment. Never ever having to go without, nor scared of monsters. Not the make believe ones under the bed, but the live ones walking around the house. Sure their upbringing wasn’t perfect, as nothing is. But it was one in which the chains of darkness no longer existed.
My son, though only thirty, has come up with some pretty wise words in his lifetime. One of the best lines was when our family was going through a most difficult time. During his father and my divorce he said to me, “Mom I didn’t ask to get born” to which I replied, “Come to think of it, I don’t think I did either.” Today I will take that another step further and say I don’t think my mom asked to get born either. Yet I am glad she was, so that she gave birth to me and I to my kids. Life is strange, and yet beautiful in all its ups and downs. I pray my mom is at peace, wherever she is. And so to help me deal with the enormity of this day, I decided to deal with it the way I know how to deal with things best. I’m gonna get in the kitchen and start cooking!
Since we never really celebrated birthdays, I thought, why not bake my mom a birthday cake? And then I am going to go share it with a group of homeless people I have encountered not far from the church. I can’t change the past and there is no certainty of the future. But for today, this moment, I am going to use a very simple but profound recipe.
An open and willing heart
Just let go
All of us
This delicious triple layer lemony cake is another version of “when life gives you lemons make…” and even though my mom wasn’t a baker, I think she would have approved. Since we’ve all heard of a humble pie, why not a forgiveness cake? I’ll post the actual detailed baking recipe for this another day. But for today, try out this forgiveness recipe too. I think you might find it has a very memorable flavor!
With forgiving love,