My Last Conversation With My Birth Mom. Part Two.

My birthmother and I.  Our first meeting.
My birthmother and I. Our first meeting.
I said I didn’t remember my last conversation with her, but that isn’t exactly true.  For truly, the last one — the most recent — was on Sunday, Mother’s Day, after her funeral.

After I met my Uncle Thom for the first time.  The one who called me when she was dying and when she did die.  Who I knew from Facebook and with whom I share a special connection.  Who, after we embraced, said, “Come, meet the rest of your family,” and introduced me to uncles and cousins and spouses while I wept behind my sunglasses.

After I met her friends from the Daughters of the American Revolution.  The ones who told me how happy they were for our reunion.  The ones who knew every nuance of our story.  The ones who said I looked “just like my mother.”  And whom I felt no need to correct with terms like “birth” or “biological mom.”

After I introduced myself to the minister and he threw his arms around me and pulled me to him.

I hadn’t made it to town in time for the viewing.   The funeral was closed casket.  My Aunt Julie made arrangements for me to see her at the funeral home after the ceremony.  Before I went in, I called her and asked if I might tie a red thread around Pharen’s wrist, like the one I wear.

I explained in Kabbalah, mystical Judaism, this thread represents protection.  That one wears it on her left wrist, the pathway of the artery to the heart.  That one was placed on me after my Jewish divorce so that I would be reminded of what I am moving toward.  For me, it is greater love.  I didn’t know what it would be for Pharen.

She gave me her blessing and suggested I ask the director for help putting it on her.

We slipped the thread over her clawed hand and I tightened it.  The skin of the dead feels strange.  Rubbery.  I didn’t like it.  I felt badly about that.  And then the director left me alone.

The thread didn’t go with her outfit.  She was dressed in a gorgeous beaded suit, with a beaded clutch in her clutch.  She had chosen this outfit some time ago and had discussed it in detail with Aunt Julie and I — all the way down to the pantyhose.  I was surprised, but I shouldn’t have been.  Though born in Detroit, she had become a Southern lady, after all.

I told her that I met the rest of the family.  That I was staying with my friend April, who I had met last time I visited.  That I would be seeing the boy we had talked about.  That he and I had fallen into a beautiful and loving friendship, yet still I was anxious I might not see him.

I told her about meeting her friend Ely.  That I said she had great style and she said I did too.  That we discovered we shared a few things in common.

To all of this she said, “I know.”

I apologized for the times that it was hard between us.  The times I put up walls.  The times that I was afraid.  Afraid she’d jump into my skin given half a chance.  I did not apologize for the boundaries I learned to set for myself.

I apologized that the red thread didn’t match her ensemble but mentioned I thought she would like the idea of us having matching bracelets made of string.

I told her I called Robert, my birthfather, and let him know of her passing.

And I sang to her, just like I did in the hospital and on the phone.  Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.  Gypsy.

“You come from far away with pictures in your eyes…”

And then I pulled up a chair and I listened.  She told me she loved me about a thousand different ways.  And she told me that I knew what to do.  And that was all.

I left knowing that it had all already been said — when she was alive.  And if perchance I had forgotten something, that I could tell her anytime.  And if I”m quiet and lucky, and if I believe, I will hear her response.

Likely another, “I know.”

My Last Conversation With My Birth Mom. Part One

My birthmom as a girl, in the blue.  My ex says I look just like her.
My birthmom as a girl, in the blue. My ex says I look just like her.

I don’t remember my last conversation with my birth mom.

I remember a brief talk we had from the car, when she told me to call her when I could sit down and really talk.  I did, a few days later.  But I don’t quite remember what I said.  Or what she said.  Something about paying bills.

I had gotten used to the idea that she would be around for a while.  I had forgotten she was sick.

A little more than six months ago I got a call that she was in the hospital, unresponsive.  That if I wanted to see her before she died, it was time to go.  So I went.

By the time I arrived in Charleston 36 hours later, she was sitting up, drinking chocolate milk — the occasional expletive flying out of her mouth.  She was “fine.”

But she wasn’t fine.  She was hooked up to tubes and machines.  She looked frail.  The doctors were pushing her to make decisions about the end of her life.  She wasn’t having any of it.

I had imagined sitting next to her, stroking her hand and telling her everything I never got a chance to tell her and wondering if she heard any of it.

Instead, we had a dance party in her room.  I danced.  She held  my hand.  We listened to Motown — naturally.

I sang to her and rubbed her feet and we talked about boys — the one I had just met, the one that was my biological father, the one I used to be married to.

She told me she had written my ex off as “dead,” as she and her friends were wont to do.  Fiercely protective of me.  I told her she didn’t have to.  That he was a good man.  “But he hurt you,” she said.

“It’s ok.  I’m ok,” I said.  And she softened.

And yet, when I left her I was certain I wouldn’t talk to her again.  Wouldn’t see her again.  Neither turned out to be true.

We continued our conversations as she was moved from hospital to hospital to rehabilitation center to home.  None of us believed she would ever go home, let alone live another six months.  But she was determined.  And when Pharen got an idea in her head, it was hard to derail her.

And so, over a six month period, I was lulled into a sense of security.  A belief that she would “be there.”  Our conversations felt less dramatic.  Less desperate.  Less “this might be the last time we talk.”

I was surprised when I got the call that she died. And yet, there was a peace in not knowing our last conversation would be just that. That we could just talk, like people do. Like we had learned to do.