Moments Big and Small

When my mom first got sick - or at least sick enough that I knew deep down that she probably wouldn’t get better - one thing that scared me the most was that even in my late 20s, there were so many “big moments” I hadn’t had yet. Knowing that if I ever got married or had kids or celebrated any major career accomplishment, it’d be without my mom, and that means it would be hollow, or incomplete.

It was Halloween 2018 when we found out that the cancer had spread to her brain, and that night she said to me, “I don’t want you to worry. I’m going to be fine. I’m going to be there when you sell your first pilot,” and if that ever does happen, it’s hard to imagine feeling the kind of joy that I would have if she were there with me.

In the almost six months since I lost my mom, there have been a few huge moments for me, and I desperately wanted to be here so I could share the good news - AKA update her on various email exchanges. But there have been tons of teeny, tiny small moments where I wish I could talk to her, or get her advice, or just complain about my day. It’s cliche but it’s true.

My mom and I hung out, like, all the time. We got brunch on the weekends and lunch during the week and talked on the phone at least once or twice a day. But more than that, she always wanted to do whatever she could to help me out in small ways- sending me coupons for Barnes and Noble and Panera, bringing me Tide pods for my dishwasher - because she wanted to do whatever she could to make my life a little bit easier. Obviously, I’m a grown up and these are things I’m capable of doing or buying myself, but she still worried about me and wanted to help me out. I still use her Barnes and Noble membership because I think she’d want me to. “It’s silly, save your money,” she’d say, or something like, “What, like I’m going to use it?”

And now that my mom is gone, I still have some of the last things she gave me to make my life just a little bit easier - a bottle of face cream, sunscreen - that I don’t know quite what to do with now that I’ve finished them. Even it seems silly, it’s hard to throw away something that connects me to another time when she was still here. When she’d be picking me up for brunch tomorrow and telling me what she thought of my show the night before and forcing Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons into my hand. But because I know my mother, I know what she’d tell me - that I’m being ridiculous and to throw them out. Unfortunately, as much as I love her, it doesn’t mean I always know how to listen to her voice in my head.


This Must Be the Place

Up until recently, one of my favorite things to do was to pick out an array of calendars for the upcoming year - and I couldn’t just pick out any calendar. I had very strict rules about this. For home, I like a good page a day. For the office, I prefer one of those monthly calendars that sit on your desk and you flip a card over each month. (One year, my sister got me one of these with illustrations of famous historical women’s desks and it sat right at the nexus of all my interests. They don’t make them anymore, I checked.) And, of course, I have my planner. I have very strict rules about this too - I need a monthly layout, plus individual pages where I can write what I need to work on each day. As someone who is admittedly very stupid about technology, my planners and various analog ways of keeping track of time help me keep my head on straight. I went through a period where I wouldn’t even consider leaving my house without my planner, even to like, go to a bar or something.

One of my favorite things - even when I was younger - was to flip the page to a new month on my calendar or in my planner. I sometimes wouldn’t even look too closely at the illustration each month had because I wanted to be surprised and excited by the novelty of something new. A new month felt like it could contain exciting possibilities - things to look forward to, things I didn’t even know about yet.

And now, well, it’s hard to imagine looking forward to anything anymore. I haven’t ripped a page of off my page a day calendar in three weeks. Flipping the page on my calendars is an afterthought. I look at my planner now and then but not with nearly the same gusto as I used to. Since my mom passed away, it feels more like I wake up and take my body where it needs to be. I do what I have to do to get through the day, but nothing - not even the things I like - really bring me joy the way they did before.

There were times in my life before where it felt like I was where I was supposed to be, when I was supposed to be there. (I used to listen to “This Must Be the Place” by the Talking Heads a lot.) Without my mom here, it’s hard to imagine feeling that way ever again - or even really looking forward to things. I make plans, but they feel half-hearted. I keep myself busy though, because I have to, because I’m scared of how I’ll feel if I’m not. (Somewhat relatedly, this speaks to my years-long pattern of overworking myself, getting sick, and then forcing myself to slow down before eventually overworking myself once again. I am currently on part two of that cycle.)

I guess at some point things will change. I’ll start to look forward to stuff again. But part of me doesn’t want that to happen, either. Because the more time that passes, or the better I feel, that means it’s more time since my mom has been gone. More time without her.

(Also - if my knitting looks better than it did a few weeks ago, it’s because my grandma sat with me and fixed it.)


Alternate Universes

My mom used to call having cancer her “alternate universe.” Most of the time that she was sick, it didn’t feel real. And now that she’s gone, things feel incredibly upside-down. There’s this overwhelming sense of “This is not how things are supposed to be.”

A few weeks ago, I went to see Into the Spider-verse after coincidentally having started Russian Doll that same weekend. Both have alternate timelines and a sense of loss and tragedy pervades each of them. Now that my mom is gone, I feel like a character in an alternate timeline movie or television show - that somehow, in another universe that’s running parallel to this one, my mom is still here. And we still do all of the normal things we did together - birthday celebrations, brunch on Sundays, big life events. My family and I still have those things, but they feel hollow and incomplete. Right now, it feels like I’m waiting to discover the mission I need to take to get back to a timeline where my mom is still here, and our lives are not the saddest version of what it could be.

About a month ago (against my better judgment), I went on a perfectly fine date with a guy. We talked about our families, as one does, but the best part of the date was that, for a few hours, I got to pretend like my mom was still alive. This guy didn’t know the traumatic experience I had just been through (I mean let’s be real, that I’m still going through), and there was no reason to tell him. For that night, I got to channel the timeline I so desperately want to be in. The one where my mom is still here, and I still get to talk about her in the present tense. Where I would wake up to a call or text from her telling me what time they were picking me up for brunch, and what new place in Greenpoint she was excited to try.

Instead, I now have a giant, gaping hole in my life, a potentially unethical reason for going on dates and as of yesterday morning, and an ill-advised (expensive) membership to Equinox (one in a series of desperate attempts to keep myself literally constantly moving).

And, if I must be honest (since now would be an odd time to stop, given how the nature of a blog often requires you to be forthcoming), I was out of town last weekend and haven’t made much progress on my knitting, but here we are anyway.

The First Stitch

Last month, a friend of mine did one of those things on Twitter where they put forth a question and invite people to quote tweet them with their answers. She wanted to know when you felt most like your mother.

The question came mere days after my mother passed away, and while, under normal circumstances., I would jump on the opportunity to talk about the instances when I feel most connected to the most important person in my life, losing her was still too raw, too fresh.

At my mother’s funeral, my dad talked about how, when the two of them would watch television together every night, they couldn’t watch anything with subtitles, because she’d be knitting and crocheting with the TV on in the background, not able to give the selected show or movie her full attention.

Similarly, although I am a passionate lover of television, I must admit that I am not very good at watching it. I have an aching need to multitask, often writing or cleaning with the TV on in the background, with few exceptions. This is also why I haven’t watched a drama since 2013 (with few exceptions). That being said, the TV is almost always on. It’s like the Nervous Dater lyric: “Because when things get quiet, I feel uneasy/I need my friends or at least just the sound of the TV.”

I started knitting, last week, just like my mom did, as a way to feel closer to her. The TV on, but my head down.

I know there are a million different stages of grief (the experts say there are five, but to me it feels like approximately one million), because my mood and cognitive understanding of my situation shifts from moment to moment.

Yesterday I went to the bank to deposit some bonds my dad found in my mom’s safe deposit box. Bonds that were given to my parents after I was born and later, as a bat mitzvah present for me. As I signed the back of each of the bonds, I was taken aback. All I could think about was how excited my mom must have been when I was born, and the future she saw for me, and for us. And now she’s gone. Seeing her name, written over and over again on the bonds, didn’t help either. It wasn’t long before I was full on sobbing at 2:45 p.m. at TD Bank in Greenpoint. At one point, a man sitting nearby asked me to borrow my cell phone. When he saw that I was crying, he took back his request, but then told me about his father dying in his arms, so I consider that interaction a wash.

A thing I’ve been thinking about lately is that even though I spent close to five months visiting my mom in the hospital, then in rehab, then in the hospital, then in rehab, then in the hospital, and finally, in hospice, all of that time feels lost to me. Like she was here one day and then suddenly she was gone.

So far, I’ve just taught myself how to cast on and began with a simple stitch. But it’s a start.