Yesterday was mother’s day. And it was not an easy day for me.
I set aside the day to spend with Sarah and Oot. That was my Mother’s day present for Sarah. She decided what she’d like to do, and I’d clear my schedule for it.
The plans she chose weren’t elaborate. We were going to run a few errands, get some food, then go to the park to play.
As soon as I got into the car, Oot said, “Gandalf, I don’t want to go on an adventure.”
“Oh,” I said. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I’m a hobbit.”
“I think an adventure would be good for you, Bilbo. They can be a lot of fun. And you can find a lot of treasure.”
“No,” he said. “I’m too scared. I just want to stay home and smoke my smoker.”
We drove to Target, and since Sarah just had a few things to pick up, I offered to hang out in the car with Oot. Things are faster that way. Plus, we’re about to have an unexpected party, where all the dwarfs show up while Bilbo is fixing tea.
While Sarah is inside, I decide to be a good dad and coach Oot a little bit, like Sarah did for me on Father’s Day.
“Today is a special day,” I said. “Today is mother’s day. That means that you should tell your momma, “Happy Mother’s Day!”
“But I’m Bilbo Bagins!” he protests.
“Even Bilbo Bagins has a momma,” I say, thought I can’t remember who it is off the top of my head. “Everyone has a momma. My momma’s name was Marge. And she would have loved you so much.”
This might seem like it came out of nowhere, but the truth is, I think about my mom all the time. Especially around certain times of the year. Especially when I’m with Oot. My mom died in February of 2007, just before the first book came out. Oot is only about two and a half, and that means she never got to meet my baby.
So at this point I’m crying, and trying not to make a big deal about it. Because Oot’s having a pretty good time, and beside, I’m sitting in the target parking lot.
“But I’m a hobbit,” Oot says again.
“She would have loved that you’re a hobbit too,” I say. And then I really start to lose it.
It’s a beautiful day out. I’m finally published and successful beyond my wildest dreams. I have a beautiful girlfriend who loves me beyond all sense. I have a delightful son who adores me. And I’m crying uncontrollably in the Target parking lot.
“Dad, why are you crying?” Oot asks. He’s not worried. Mostly he’s just curious, but there’s still some concern there.
“I’m sad,” I say. “I miss my mom.”
He reaches up and touches my face with the back of his hand. It’s the touch we’ve taught him to use on babies. His gentlest touch. “It’s okay dad,” he says.”It’s okay. You don’t have to cry.”
“You’re right,” I say. But I can’t stop, I’m a mess at this point.
“It’s okay dad,” he says. “I can kiss you.” And he does just that. Gives me a sweet, drooly little baby kiss on my face.
I try to clean myself up because I know Sarah is coming back soon. Oot continues to pet the side of my face. “It’s okay,” he says, again and again. “You don’t have to be sad. You can stay with me.”
Sarah and I managed to do something right over the years with him. I’ll tell you that for free. It was about the nicest thing he could have said to me. And I have no idea how he came up with it.
What’s the point of my story? Here’s my point.
I have a good friend who recently lost a loved one. Someone really important to her. A member of her family. She knew that things were getting close to the end. She’s known for ages. But it still knocked the stuffing out of her. I understand. Knowing ahead of time doesn’t really help.
A couple weeks ago I was on the phone with this friend. I was doing the useless thing you do when you want to comfort someone, but there really isn’t anything you can say.
“It’s like there’s just been a big hole ripped out of my life,” she said. “I can’t believe everyone goes through this.”
I told her that I thought the exact same thing after my mother died. That I couldn’t understand how the world could work with everyone constantly walking around all the time feeling like they’ve been torn up inside.
What I didn’t tell her is the line from Shakespeare that kept running through my head after my mom died. It’s from Hamlet, when Polonius says, “Your father lost a father. That father lost, lost his.” You have to be a real twat to quote Shakespeare at someone. And you’re doubly a twat if you do it when they’re grieving.
“Does it get better?” she asked.
“Not soon.” I said. “But eventually. I don’t think about her for whole days sometimes. I don’t dream about her any more.”
“You dream about her?”
“I used to,” I said. “After she died. I always thought that was some bullshit literary device. Something hack writers put into stories. But it really happens, apparently. It happened a lot to me.”
There was a long pause on the phone.
“The worst part,” I said. “Was that in my dreams, she was always sick. It was just like before she died. And in my dreams we were doing everything we could to make things better for her. But you knew it was just a matter of time. They were horrible dreams.”
I’d never told anyone else this before.
“But the really bad part was when I woke up,” I said. “You know what it’s like when you wake up and you’re not sure if the dream is real or not?”
“Yeah,” she said.
“Well I’d wake up, then have a panicked moment when I thought the dream was real. But then I’d realize that none of it was true. That my mom wasn’t sick. She was dead.” I paused. “And when I realized that, I felt this huge feeling of relief wash over me, because I know I don’t have to go through all of it again. All the hospitals and doctors and funerals.”
I waited for my friend to say something, but she didn’t.
“I mean, how fucked up is that?” I asked. “I wake up from a dream and think, ‘Oh thank god. My mom is dead.’ There’s probably something really wrong with me because of that.”
“I’ve been feeling that way too,” she said. “I’m sad and it’s horrible. But I’m so relieved its all over. And so I feel guilty for that on top of everything else.”
“Well,” I said. “At least we’re both the same flavor of fucked up.”
“I can’t believe nobody ever talks about this,” she said. “I mean people have bad breakups, and you know how to handle it because you’ve heard about their breakups. But nobody talks about people dying. There’s no script for something like this.”
“It’s a real taboo,” I said. “Not one of the silly little play taboos like sex, things we aren’t supposed to talk about and we do anyway. Real taboos are things nobody even thinks of talking about.”
“Somebody should talk about them,” she said.
“Somebody should,” I agreed.
* * *
So here we are.
Generally speaking, when I think about something a lot, I write about it on the blog. Its one of the ways I figure out how I really feel about things. It helps me keep my head screwed on straight.
But the one exception has always been my mom.
I think about her all the time, but I rarely ever tell stories about her.
And you know what? That’s a fucking shame. Because my mom was awesome.
So we’re fixing that. Soon.