Thursday, November 12, 2015

revisionist history

Are we entitled to whitewash our memories? They are our memories after all, and inherently subjective. I think it's human nature to look back through rose colored glasses. But is there some acceptable standard deviation from the cold hard facts? I guess even "facts" get squishy when filtered through our tiny human brains, don't they?

A while back, my little brother posted a photo of my mom standing alongside my sister, brother and one of my mom's best friends. My brother wrote that the photo was taken after the Bay to Breakers 10K in San Francisco, and that she'd pushed him in a stroller the whole way. That did actually occur, but that is not what this photo depicted. My sister and I both mentioned (separately) that the picture was in fact taken after Mom had run a marathon in the Redwoods. My brother got annoyed and said something along the lines of, "Thanks for editing one of the few memories I have left." *Sad face.* At the time I was surprised by his reaction. We reasoned that if it were us, we would want to know the actual story behind the photo. But now? I'm not so sure.

My mom is the one with legs for days and totally tubular hair.
My sister is the cute blond.
My brother is the one staring at the clouds ;)

For those that don't know, my mom and step-dad died in a plane crash when I was 18 years old. My little brother lost his mom and his dad-dad. He was 7 years old at the time. He doesn't remember a whole lot beyond moments captured in photos and stories he's been told. My sister and I often discuss how sad that is, and how sad it would be if we died tomorrow. For lots of reasons, obviously, but not least because our children, ages 7 (hers), 5 and 3 (mine) probably wouldn't remember much at all. From our perspective, a whole little life has been lived in those 3, 5 and 7 years. It is the entire universe of our experience as parents and so to imagine that being reduced to a few fuzzy memories and dusty photo albums is just... unfathomable.

Now, as a mother, and a big sister, the saddest part of remembering my parents is that my brother... doesn't. The notion that he can only experience their love in snippets and freeze frames and secondhand stories just breaks my heart. And so I consider myself, albeit a poor proxy, an ambassador of their love. I feel like it is my responsibility, along with others who hold a piece of his mom and dad in their hearts, to pass these imperfect memories on to my brother, in perpetuity. It's like a kidney transplant. You don't need the whole thing. Just cut a little sliver and wedge it in and your body will take over from there. (Or is that the liver? ;))

(Side note: this is yet another justification for my mamarazzi tendencies. My sister actually played this card on Halloween, when DM and my bro in law were grumbling about us trying to get one single decent photo of everyone. "Well, when you lose someone you love and pictures are the only thing you have left you'll be thankful we made you pose for this godforsaken Halloween photo." Jerks. ;))

Somehow the issue of my parents' untimely death came up a while back (probably because Jack is intrigued by morbidity, bonus points if a flying metal death trap was involved). I was furiously texting DM like, "Mayday, mayday, the kids are asking how my parents died!" DM: "In an accident." Me: "Tried that. Not cutting it. They want specifics. What do I say???"

I ended up giving them the general idea even though they're probably too young and I probably damaged their wee psyches and I'll certainly regret this next time we're flying on a plane with other members of humanity. "Mama? Are we all gonna die in a fiery pwane cwash like your mommy and daddy did?" Anyway. It came up again last night in a conversation about grandpas and Colby said, "WAIT. You lost one of your dads, too?! You must be SO SAD for yourself."

Yeah, kid. Sometimes, I am.

I wrote a couple of posts about this back in The Cheese's infancy, one about my mom, and one about the anniversary of their death. I've actually written plenty of posts about death, for a grandpa, a couple of grandmas, my dog, my best friend's mom, etc. For whatever reason, these types of posts really resonate with people, more than the so-called funny ones. Misery loves company and all that I guess. Or maybe it's just easier to tug on heart strings than it is to make people laugh. Anyway, in the spirit of laziness and not reinventing the wheel, every Mother's Day and October 17th (the day they died) I usually just trot out the mom post and call it a day.

This past Mother's Day,* in response to my recycled post, "Uncle P," one of my mom's best and oldest friends, wrote "Your mom would have liked this post a lot. She would tease you a bit about it being a little over the top (it is), but she WAS a good soul and a good friend. You apparently don't remember her fiery temper and biting tongue, but she was also quick to laugh and quick to forgive. She also loved her children as fiercely as she loved her independence. She would be proud of the adults you have become."

Made me smile. And he is right about the post being over the top. It is saccharine enough to make your teeth hurt, and Mom was not one for hyperbole. But the part about her temper and biting tongue really got me thinking. I would never list those among her memorable traits. Maybe I didn't register the biting tongue so much because I inherited a bit of the biting tongue myself? Who knows. But the temper? No way. I can honestly remember two serious arguments we got into growing up, and only one real, legit fight that my mom and stepdad had in front of us. Maybe it's because my father had a very volatile temper and so, in comparison, she seemed calm, cool and collected? Or have I just completely rewritten history in my mind?

Which brings me back to my original question: Am I not entitled to do so? Do I not have artistic license over the memories I've woven in my mind's eye?

Uncle P was actually there when my mom, step-dad, and their friend Bud, died. Like, right there. He scaled down rocky cliffs and into the ocean waves that were crashing against the rocks to try to pull them from the wreckage (at least, I think this is how the story goes, but again, I could be completely making this up). Uncle P has been very open and forthcoming with my siblings and me about this. If and when we want to know the nitty gritty, he will be there to tell us. But again, enter Mackenzie, cherry-picker of memories. I really don't want to know. I have been to the crash site, by the way, and even in broad strokes, its enough to give me nightmares. The few gruesome details I have gleaned can still, nearly 20 years later, wake me from a dead sleep in a sweat. I have almost nothing but good memories of these people lodged in my heart, and I guess I'd like to keep it that way. Some people say, "Oh but you need closure." But you all know I think the notion of closure is a bunch of BS ;)

This train of thought makes me think of my mom's funeral, where one of her brothers stood up and talked about how my mother lived her life in service to Jesus Christ, her Lord and Savior. At the time I was doing a Category-5 eye-roll in my head, thinking, Really? That's funny, because the way she told it, as soon as she was old enough to do so, she ran away from Jesus so fast her hair was on fire, and never looked back. She thereafter avoided religion like the plague, and made absolutely no effort to instill in her own children any of the religious tenets that were the foundation of her upbringing.

But you know what? Despite her tumultuous past with the church and good ole JC, my uncle was right. At her core was an enduring kernel of faith. People who knew her in her later iterations might be surprised to hear it, but I remember my mom telling me about a handful of childhood "miracles" from which this tenacious thread of faith was spun. She spent a good chunk of her life thumping Bibles. It is not a belief system that is so easily outgrown. My uncle remembered one of many Moms. And who am I to begrudge him that?

Linear thought is not my strong suit, which might explain why I am also reminded of this story:

Once I was sitting with my mom and step dad, listening to a Blue Oyster Cult CD my mom had just bought in a fit of nostalgia. My stepdad said something like, "I can just see you with your Mathlete/Band Camp friends jamming out to this heathenous rock-n-roll." My mom replied, "More like getting stoned out of our minds." She then went on to recount one specific Blue-Oyster-Cult induced memory where she drank too much tequila and she got so sick she lied down behind a car in the parking lot and prayed (presumably to the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit) that the car would roll over her and put her out of her misery. I remember the look on my stepdad's face, like he'd never met this woman before in his life. It still cracks me up to think about it. See? We fabricate memories of the people we love even when they're still alive.

One of my best friends recently lost her mother. They had a deep but complicated bond, and I think that makes it so much harder on the person left behind. I thought this quote really captured the intricacies of love and grief and the many roles we play in each others lives and the ways in which our memories of one another evolve into these stories we grasp so tightly in our sweaty little hands:

“Don’t be so hard on yourself, You’re doing the same thing, trying to reconcile all the moms that Mom ever was - The one you wanted, the one she was when you needed her and she was there, the one she was when she didn’t understand. Most of us don’t live our lives with one, integrated self that meets the world, we’re a whole bunch of selves. When someone dies, they all integrate into the soul - the essence of who we are, beyond the different faces we wear throughout our lives. You’re just hating the selves you’ve always hated, and loving the ones you’ve always loved. It’s bound to mess you up.” - Christopher Moore

I think in that way I am very lucky. I mean, sudden, tragic death sucks balls, but, all things considered, I had a great relationship with my parents. I am not left with regrets, or resentment, or some burning question I'd been meaning to ask, or words I'd always meant to say. My grief was (and is) sharp and pure and as uncomplicated as grief can be. And for that I am grateful.

Well, anyway, the whole point of this line of thought was to write a less theatrical tribute - Mom: IRL. But I just wrote a LOT of words and that seems hard now (on me AND you!) so, another time :)

Until then, some quotes I like:

“When we think of the past it's the beautiful things we pick out. We want to believe it was all like that.” Margaret Atwood

“It has been said, 'time heals all wounds.' I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.” Rose Kennedy

“Whoever said that loss gets easier with time was a liar. Here's what really happens: The spaces between the times you miss them grow longer. Then, when you do remember to miss them again, it's still with a stabbing pain to the heart. And you have guilt. Guilt because it's been too long since you missed them last.” Kristin O'Donnell Tubb

“He always thought that Touie's long illness would somehow prepare him for her death. He always imagined that grief and guilt, if they followed, would be more clear-edged, more defined, more finite. Instead they seem like weather, like clouds constantly re-forming into new shapes, blown by nameless, unidentifiable winds.” Julian Barnes
A baby Mama. I mean, c'mon. Cutest little fish monger you ever did see <3
* Yes, it has taken me 6 months to turn the note "write about mom memories" into an actual blog post. What can I say, it's been a busy year :)

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