Over the years in this space, I have, occasionally, written about my mother.
I once wrote a Halloween column on how she made me the Mummy. (She wrapped me in toilet paper, which was fine until it started raining.)
I wrote about how she marched me into the library after a librarian had told me “that book’s too hard for you” and my mother yelled, “Never tell a child something is too hard for him! And never THIS child!”
I wrote about how she insisted I stay in college, even when my father lost his job. How she refused to learn e-mail because she feared I would stop calling her. How I beckoned her to the stage at the Fox Theatre during a charity benefit, and a friend yelled out, “She’s in the bathroom!”
I wrote what it was like feeding her after her stroke, a spoonful at a time. And, finally, what it was like to stare at her as she withered, wondering whether she knew me at all.
The difference between all those columns and this one is pretty simple.
I could show her those.
I can’t show her this.
She is gone.
Funny, fierce and loyal
We lost her gradually, first her balance, then her movement, then her speech, her recognition and finally, last weekend, her breath. She did our family a final kindness going that way, because she was too great a force to disappear all at once. Instead, like one of those NASA rockets, she stripped away piece by piece en route to the heavens.
How can I tell you about my mother? How do I fit her 84 years into words? She didn’t change the world. Only our world. She didn’t run a country. Only our country.
She lost her father when she was 15, and with him went her dreams of college and medical school. Instead, she became a teenaged parent to her heartbroken mother and younger brother.
She married the only man she ever dated, my father, when she was 20. They wed on Christmas Eve, because the restaurant was available. For six years they lived with my grandmother, who made no apologies for bursting through their bedroom at any hour. No surprise, my folks remained childless until they moved out.
How can I tell you about my mother? She went by Rhoda, Rho, Aunt Rho, Mrs. A or Bubby. She was funny and fierce and loyal and brilliant and while she never became a doctor, everyone ran to her for advice. She was loving, wise and patient and she cared not a whit what the world thought. She used to say, “The masses are asses.”
She volunteered as a clown in hospitals and in fund-raising for ALS. She taught herself interior design and became one of the most-respected designers in the Philadelphia area. In death, she leaves her mark all over the country, in armoires, ottomans, wallpapers and throw pillows.
Remembering her voice
She loved to walk while holding her children’s hands, she loved to sing and twirl us around in a dance. She loved to jump into our affairs, no matter how much we might resist, and she once actually said to me, “Mitchie, if you let me, I could straighten out your life.”
Yes. She called me Mitchie. Only a mother can do that, right? It’s funny. Over the last five years, as she slowly slipped away, I lost the sound of her voice. I only saw the suffering body in front of me, the locked arms, the grimaced expression, the 80-pound skeleton wearing an adult diaper.
The horror of that seemed to muzzle my memory. But now that she is gone, her voice is coming back. And so is the reminder of how truly, truly loved I was, and how much I miss it.
How can I tell you about my mother? This might sound silly. But in the 1941 movie”Dumbo,” there’s a scene where the captured mother elephant, through the bars of a cage, cradles little Dumbo in her trunk and sings:
Baby mine, don’t you cry
Baby mine, dry your eyes
Rest your head, close to my heart
Never to part
Baby of mine
I choke up whenever I see that, because I know that feeling. Forever loved, forevercomforted, through whatever bars may separate you, never to part. If this is the last column I write about my mother, then you should know. That was what it felt like to be her son. And it was glorious.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/mitch-albom.