Leaving Mom

Feb 13, 2019–My mom died last week.

It was the final separation, but what intrigues me is that it’s a separation that has been underway my entire life. This is just the last step.

It begins at the aftermath of birth, really. In a painful and precise moment, we are all thrust from the comfort of our mother’s womb. The cutting of the umbilical cord is more than symbolic; it is a literal severing of the tether that tied us to mom.

The separations continue apace. First we are weaned from the breast, the last time we depend on our mom for direct sustenance.

From there, the separation is spatial. We literally put physical distance between us. We crawl, then walk, then run from her, a handy skill when she is brandishing a hairbrush to apply to either end.

Entering the teenage years, the gulf with our parents becomes more cerebral, as we fight to find our way in the world and become headstrong in our opinions. Your parents become “the other” that you must confront to become your own person.

Then the distance becomes temporal. We stop telling mom “everything” that’s going on in our life, start staying out late, and leave home, chasing college and careers.

The next step is when we cleave from our parents and cleave onto a significant other. It must seem a sort of death for a parent to see their child turn to another for emotional and financial support, however welcome it seems at the time.

Then comes the long wandering in the wilderness. We get drawn away with work, and families, and busy-ness.

One day we look up and realize our parents are not “our parents” anymore. They are not the same. A loss of step, a stooping posture, thinning hair. The worst is the detection of dementia and loss of mental faculties. Every visit reinforces the truth that your mom and dad are drifting away from you, little by little.

In our case, there was the drama of taking mom from her normal home and placing her in a center where she could receive 24-hour care. That separation might have been the most wrenching. From there, every visit was a document of the distance our mom was now traveling away from us.

As dementia seeped through her mind, she stopped knowing who her own children were.

When I got the call late Sunday night, I remarked to my sister that we really lost our mother years ago, when we walked into the room and there was no recognition. For a while we could still project our humanity on her, but there seemed no meaningful connection beyond our own thoughts and memories.

Somehow, that was enough for the following months. So when the spirit finally left the physical realm, it seemed more natural and right than traumatic. It was, after all, just the final separation that started a lifetime ago with the cutting of a cord.