How do I start writing about something that is still so painful and weighty? As you could imagine, I’ve been avoiding it, because I know it will be difficult to be coherent, though necessary to work through. I accept inevitability, but will always be a procrastinator.
The day has arrived, friends.
The past month brought out a thicket of mental clarity and oneness with home (Tampa) for me. I received and read David Kushner’s Alligator Candy, a memoir about the kidnapping and murder of his brother Jonathan in 1973, when David was only four. This was shortly before my dad met the Kushners as a graduate student at USF, before he and my mom were married in 1985.
As many of you know, David’s mother is also my godmother, Rainy. She and her late husband Gil were like surrogate grandparents throughout my life, and so it was important to me to read this critical story about their lives, much of which long preceded my birth in 1987.
Understanding more about Jonathan Kushner and his immediate family, and discussing it with my dad, picked at the scab in my heart about my own first-hand experience with death.
My sweet mother died (now more than) one year ago, and I have been transformed by the spectrum of emotional stages one visits in loss and in grieving. Her chapter concluded as peacefully, dignified, and symbolically appropriate for someone so kind and deserving of a calm passing. I was and am still grateful for this.
I read so many stories, including Jonathan’s, about violent, harsh, malicious death, and can only imagine how much more nauseated and angry and helpless it makes those left behind feel. There was no perpetrator in my mom’s deterioration, only the combination of genetic predisposition to pancreatic cancer (her mother was killed by it too), and the range of environmental factors which I believe have incrementally but systemically ruined our bodies over time.
Like: chemicals in food, especially “diet” products; hygienic products absorbed through the skin with the same nebulous ingredients; and “sick” institutional buildings. My mom worked in the central Tampa library for many years and developed asthma only after breathing in mysterious ventilation particles and elements common in construction of that era (1960s).
There is nothing to be done about these things now. Toward the end of her life, she so enjoyed living healthfully. No recipe went unmodified, everything was whole grain or brown instead of white. Homemade if possible. She and I would laugh when we could trick dad into eating a vegetarian meal with imperceptible faux meat.
We had a lot of fun together. She was a best friend, who would always laugh, always hug, always turn down the sheets and always ask your help in repainting the walls or pushing furniture around the house (to rearrange). Sometimes we’d drive the five minutes to IKEA to pick out new duvet covers and consider rugs for the bedrooms.
When I was living at home and would ascend to the second floor of their townhouse where the kitchen is, she’d smile and say good morning with a cup of coffee and the newspaper in her hand, heading to the chair near the window in her pajamas while the house was still except for her and the cat. She was incredibly habitual, but not in a way I saw as rigid. She was always willing to deviate to try something new. I strive to be like this, and find that I too rely on my rituals, as they are grounding and comforting for both body and mind.
The time while she was sick and getting sicker, up until March 5, 2015, were incredibly stressful and sad. I realized later that it was also traumatic, as it is those scenes I replay over and over, seeing her so thin and ghostly, a fraction of her former self. When she finally passed, her mouth hung open a la The Scream (I know she would find this funny as an art lover).
As hard as it was, I forced myself to go see her just after she’d expired, and asked everyone to leave the room, including the Hospice nurse. I held her hand, kissed her forehead. Stroked her hair, which was still in fabulous, thick salt and pepper waves.
It was so hard to express anything then and there—I had my major wailing moment at her memorial service, which many of you probably saw on video…
The initial aftermath was dominated by a sense of relief and numbness. We all needed a resolution to what we knew was coming, and it was easy to overlook the gaping hole that was soon to come with the residual activities, like planning her memorial and my move abroad.
Then in September last year, I entered Italy semi-permanently, and everything changed. I left my comfort zone, my network, and my support system of friends and family. I chose to struggle, and that’s how it has felt for a long time.
Somewhere between the weather changing and anticipating the first holiday season without her, things grew very dark. All I wanted to do was sleep, eat sweets, and binge on Netflix. I shopped often, spent too much, and felt empowered by Prada, Etro, and Bottega Veneta.
In my defense, these were the friends I made. Minus a few American ex-pats I’d met in Milan and a few schoolmates I liked, my friends became the sales associates: Yu, Katherine, Cristina, Matteo. I had a few dates and a few hook-ups, but never felt fully committed or worthy of affection.
I was incredibly lonely.
I also neglected my gym membership. Or rather, didn’t get one until November last year, and then groaned thinking about going in the evenings after class, in the cold and wet. I realize now that a huge key to feeling good, for me anyway, is looking good and reaping the benefits of endorphins.
Easter with my dad and his friend Susan, on Lake Como, passed. Seeing him with another woman was strange, but not disagreeable. I actually felt more like I made a new friend in her, than I felt like she was some sort of replacement. I believe it is more important for him to be happy than anything else, post-Jane.
Mother’s day came and went. I avoided social media that day, and resented the cascade of emails from retailers touting their perfect gifts for moms.
And now I’m here. Writing this post, thinking about her and wanting to write a million pages, but still wanting just to sleep, for it to feel easier.
I started listening to Pat Metheny, her favorite artist. As a kid, I really didn’t appreciate his music. It wasn’t cool. Now of course, it is.
Now what I need is someone to love. What I’ve lost is the ‘love of my life’ (up to now), and what I crave is someone to lavish affection onto, to understand and appreciate. And to laugh with.