Knowing her, knowing me
It was April 1984, and my mother was dying, so I drove up from Southern California to spend time with her. She was at home, as she had no desire to live out her remaining days in a hospital.
She told me that she had hired an iridologist for a reading and had paid for a reading for me as well, as an early birthday present. She invited me to sit in on her session.
The iridologist told my mother that the cancer was a result of hanging on to other people’s problems. In wanting to help them, she had absorbed their issues, causing a fatal internal imbalance.
Then, the woman explained that one eye tells the history with the mother, and the other with the father. She “read” that my mother’s father had been abusive. “Wow, she is way off,” I thought. Much to my surprise, I watched my mother gently nod.
My mother passed away the following month, and I was told she had been determined to forgive her parents before she died. Needless to say, I was just as determined to get to the bottom of this mystery. Here’s what I learned.
When she was six years old, her ten-year-old brother Dirk died from a rare form of anemia. She was heartbroken. She had not only lost her big brother, but her best friend, whom she adored.
Instead of providing comfort, her grieving parents (my grandparents) ignored her; she ceased to exist. She tried everything to get their attention. Once, when they approached a movie theater, my great-aunt Earline walked behind them.
“Little Janice reached up to take her father’s hand,” said Earline. “He pushed her away.”
They made her sit by herself in that theater, so they could be alone in their grief. She was six-fucking-years-old. My heart cries for that little girl.
I know now that my grandfather was behind it, and that my grandmother just followed his lead. His sister Opal told me that a few years earlier, my grandfather had punished Dirk for wetting his bed by making him stand in a cold shower. That poor boy.
No one who ever met my mother would have guessed she had experienced a traumatic childhood. Her bright smile lit up any room she entered. She wouldn’t just rise from a chair, she leaped up. She was generous, outgoing, and loving.
I wish I had known her story during my churlish teenage years, when I felt claustrophobic by her hugs. I would have understood that she wanted to make sure that her children never experienced what she did.
After her memorial service, one of her friends introduced herself, looked deeply into my eyes, and told me that I had my mother’s “spirit.” I smiled noncommittally.
In the liner notes of Natalie Cole’s album, “Unforgettable, With Love,” she wrote how angry she was at her father for dying too soon. I knew exactly what she meant.
I’m angry at my mother for not telling me. I understand now that she wanted to protect me, but damn it, I could have been a better daughter. There could have been healing conversations – for both of us.
I’m angry that she isn’t here to enjoy her grandchildren, sharing her love and creativity, and I have felt my brother’s pain in not being able to ask her advice.
Having her spirit has been my saving grace. After stress melt downs, it has provided me a quick recovery to keep moving forward.
There’s so much I want to talk with her about; so much to share. I wish we could meet for a drink.