Absence makes the heart grow… confused?

Ah, the merry month of May. This past Sunday was Mother’s Day, and Cinco de Mayo is my mom’s birth date. She would’ve been 80 this year. She barely made it to 33, going home to Jesus in her “Jesus year.”

I was three years old when she passed away, so I really have no memories of my mom. But I’ve been told by other family members that she was feeling tired all the time back in ‘68. And with four kids under the age of 7, what mom wouldn’t be tired? She finally went to the doctor, and they discovered she had leukemia. They gave her six months to live… about a month later she was gone forever. My father never really recovered. My whole family never really recovered.

I’ve read so many studies that say the years from birth to age 3 are so crucial to a child’s development, and I’m grateful my mom was around back then. I’m also doubly grateful that my father did such a great job raising four kids by himself. But I’ve spent the rest of my life desperately trying to conjure up any memory of my mom – a song she sang to me as she tucked me into bed, a smile she gave me, a special moment we shared – to no avail. It’s a riddle that can’t be solved, a blank that will never be filled in.

Singer/songwriter Sufjan Stevens has a new album out called Carrie & Lowell, named after his mother and stepfather. His mom Carrie, who suffered from depression, schizophrenia and alcoholism, abandoned her family when Sufjan was 1. She later married Lowell, and Sufjan and his siblings spent a few summers with them when he was between ages 5 and 8. In an interview on Pitchfork, he says something I can certainly relate to:

 “Her death was so devastating to me because of the vacancy within me. I was trying to gather as much as I could of her, in my mind, my memory, my recollections, but I have nothing. It felt unsolvable.”

So I’m never quite sure what to make of Mother’s Day. I know tradition dictates that those with a deceased mother wear a white carnation, but wearing a giant question mark would seem more appropriate. 

I’m not even sure if I went to my mom’s funeral. But now I’m at the age where many of my friends’ parents are passing away. I go to their funerals and blubber like a baby, and then get mad at myself because I know my tears are for my younger self, and not for my friends.

At least I can find some comfort in music. Here’s lyrics from Sufjan’s song “Should Have Known Better” on his new album:

I should have known better

Nothing can be changed

The past is still the past

The bridge to nowhere

I should have wrote a letter

Explaining what I feel, that empty feeling

 

And a song by one of my favorite singer/songwriters:

4 thoughts on “Absence makes the heart grow… confused?

  1. Hello Damien
    It was sad to read this passage on your mom.
    My family (Wain) lived next to yours on Liberty Avenue.
    I was in my teens at the and have vivid recollections of her, your dad
    and some memories of you, your brother and sisters. You were very young then and
    moved away to Arkansas after your mom passed away. Your dad would visit my parents in JC on trips back east.
    Please email me if you’d like me to share some memories.
    Veronica

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  3. What an important feeling to write about and try to sort through/make sense of. Have you listened to Sufjan’s song, No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross? Always leaves me with a feeling of loss and indignation at the same time. Thank you again for sharing this. You put words to a feeling most people can’t quite explain.

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