I spent most of my life believing I was one of my Mimom’s favorite people. She had eight other grandchildren, a husband, three children, and countless friends, but I still felt more connected to her, for most of my life, than pretty much anybody else…I spent nearly every school vacation at her house in Cherry Hill and much of the summer when I was young, and weekends here and there over the course of my life from the time I was two and my parents took a little second honeymoon to Canada until I was well into my teenage years. I helped my Mimom and BigDad prep for cocktail parties, dinner parties, neighborhood bar-b-ques, I worked in the yard with them, hung clothes on the line (something I adored) and took many train trips into the city with my Mimom and did many projects in the garage or the den with my BigDad. I made friends in their neighborhood and felt I was a part of their life in a very big way. The day after I got my driver’s license, the first adventure I had on my own behind the wheel, was to her house. When my daughter was young it was not unusual for me to get her after work and we would drive out to my Mimom and BigDad’s for dinner, while it was almost 50 miles away, it was less than an hour’s drive, and it was a place where I felt, simply put, good.
Ten years ago, my Mimom and BigDad decided it was time to stop driving and to move to an assisted living facility. Initially they considered moving to one here at the Jersey shore, minutes from my parent’s house and less than 10 miles from mine and I was thrilled, that I would be able to pop in and see them, any day and any time, but they chose instead to move to one nearer their daughter, and much farther from me, a nearly two hour drive, and I knew then and felt it deeply, that things would change forever…My Dad and I took a day off work to help them move after they sold their house, and as we drove, well past the Philadelphia airport, and finally arrived to their new place, I felt such a profound loss…I understood why they would want to live near their daughter at that point in their old age, and I understood that this place was perfect for them; private apartments for the mobile and well, assisted living apartments for the ones who needed some care, a nursing home for the ones who needed constant care, and a hospital for the end…I “GOT” it, why they wanted to be there, but I also “GOT” it that the relationship with them that I treasured was never going to be the same.
The December I first lived in my new house I had a luncheon and they came, my Aunt and Uncle drove them down, and my parents came, and my daughter and my grandchildren, and I was so excited to show them my home, my labor of love, and I think they were impressed that their son the carpenter had a daughter who turned out to be pretty handy. She brought me a belated birthday cake that day, MY cake, the same one she made for me every birthday for my whole life, devil’s food with creme de menthe icing, and she said it was the last cake she’d make, that she no longer baked nor cooked, but to me it was like she gave me a pot of gold…I loved when she would make me that cake, and she gave me that day the ballerina that went on top, the same ballerina in the yellow tutu that was on every birthday cake she made me for all of my life, and there I was, after they left after lunch, crying my eyes out, 42 years old, in my brand new living room, on my spotless Crate and Barrel sofa, twirling this 40-year-old plastic ballerina in my fingers, feeling so sharply a deep loss, that I could not explain. Maybe things changed because I no longer saw her so often, a couple times a year is not much to visit, I can’t know for sure, but what used to be joyful time spent together, over time became filled more and more with awkward silences…I used to joke that I was the proverbial black sheep, the lefty-liberal in a family filled with die-hard conservatives, but we had never lacked subjects to talk about, however, over the first few years that they lived in their new place it felt that we had less and less and less to talk about…I’d ask about all my cousins and we’d make small talk…She would introduce me to her neighbors or friends we passed on our way to lunch as “my granddaughter the grandmother” which was always funny to hear, and that they had two great-great grandchildren was a kind of big deal…the few times we took the girls to see them, even the receptionist knew who they were, as having great-great grandchildren is not very common…people don’t live that long…but no matter the visit, I would make that drive home feeling so sad, that nothing was like it had been, and never would be…My BigDad died two years ago and my Mimom moved last year into one of the smaller apartments in the assisted living part of the community. I used to talk to her so often and now our conversations were a couple of times a year and every time it seemed there was less and less to say…last winter, the morning after Christmas, I called her to tell her I had gotten engaged. All she said was “oh.”
Her lack of enthusiasm or even recognition really that this was a BIG DEAL to ME, was hurtful in a way that I can’t even put into words…coming from a family to whom marriage and traditional ideals or values seem to be really important, that her 46-year-old granddaughter was in love and a boy had asked her the morning before to marry him, seemed worthy, to me at least, of something more than “oh.” Maybe she had no idea how I felt after that phone call. Maybe she was happy for me but just was tired. Or maybe she really wasn’t at all happy for me. I don’t know and won’t ever know. We’ve only spoken a handful of times since. I called her one day late in August while I was on my hands and knees getting marks out of a customer’s maple floors. I had my Mimom on speaker and crawled around with the cell phone scrubbing all the while we chatted. I told her I loved her when we hung up, she is so old, I know when I do speak to her it at any time could be the last time, but I didn’t say what I felt, that she really hurt my feelings last winter and I have felt uncomfortable about it ever since and why? But maybe because she is so old, I decided to say nothing and instead make meaningless small talk with her while I cleaned that floor. I have only been out to see her once this last year, I tagged along with my Dad and my sister. …My sister who never really spent any time with them at all while we were growing up and my sister who never was really involved with them, at all, for most of our lives, suddenly had become my father’s personal driver over these last years and the one who now called my Mimom weekly…it seems that they have had plenty to talk about…so how does it feel, to get an email forwarded from your parents yesterday evening, forwarded from your father’s sister, but cc’d to his brother and your sister, that your Mimom is not feeling well and has not been for several days and at the moment is in the hospital…I looked at to whom the email was initially sent and thought, wow, my sister is now, it seems, the favorite…my time seems to have long been over…it feels empty and it feels shitty. On my birthday last week, I went to my sideboard and got out the ballerina and put it in my cake. My boyfriend, my daughter, her boyfriend, her daughters, and my boyfriend’s daughter, standing around me, singing happy birthday, and I dearly wanted my Mimom to know I had the ballerina as my cake topper, and that I have done so since she gave it to me, and how much it meant to me, and how much I treasure my memories of my childhood with her, but the next day, three times I began to dial and three times I did not go through with it, because I realized I had nothing else to say, besides that I had my twirling ballerina in my birthday cake, and I miss my special cake, and I miss her, and I am sorry for whatever happened over these years that distanced us to this point, that there seems to be nothing to say…