I Don’t Know How to Start This
This is probably not the most attention grabbing title, but it’s both not knowing where to start or even what this will be about. It’s complicated. Maybe it’s for me to put some things right in my mind, maybe it will connect out here in the ether when and if I hit the magic Publish button. I simply don’t know.
My mother passed away yesterday, a few days after turning 90. It was the same age her mother lived to and there is some irony in that. People automatically say, I’m sorry for your loss but the fact is, the sentiment is over 30 years too late.
The heroic part of her life was managing, as a single mother, to keep a roof over the heads of her and the 4 brothers growing up. We lived in the projects, we lived in subsidized housing, I remember going with her to carry food from a government distribution program. My brother Peter and I joke now about what food was in the house, nut look, if you have been out working all day, cooking is not a priority. So there were plenty of frozen, boil in a bag meals that happened along the way.
It must have been even harder to do this with what I realized were the many demons inside. The details are not important. A few weeks ago, after my uncle’s funeral and we were gathered together talking about all sorts of family things and when we were talking about my mother I said, back then, no one thought about getting help for people having mental health issues. This is back in the 70s and no one talked about these things.
Even if someone had, I am sure she would never have listened or done anything about it. It was probably that same, deal with it mindset that had a major impact on my life. The phone rang in the middle of the night in May 1971 and it woke me. My dad was gone.
It was already tough only seeing him on occasion or talking on the phone. I found out years later that when we lived in Mattapan, he lived not far and I was so angry about that, what were people keeping from me, thinking they were protecting me? He was the one that told my mother, don’t worry about that C in conduct from Hebrew School, everything else is an A 😄. I needed that protector and now he was gone.
I was in Boston Latin School at the time. And immediately, I started to spiral. Adult me would look back and think, why didn’t anyone DO anything? But like I said, these things were not spoken of, if someone needed help it was a sign of weakness. Let me go on record and say the opposite of true, it takes great strength to get support you need for any mental health situation. The solution of pulling me out of Latin into what my mother wanted, all of us in a Jewish school, was not a solution.
That’s one of a hundred things I wish were different, but today is whatever it was meant to be, I’m not too interested in “if only”.
So yes, those demons were there throughout, but what really started the darkest part takes us into the 90s. My older brother was getting married, we were all so happy for them, except my mother. Though or maybe because she came from a “mixed marriage”, not marrying someone of the faith was a place she would not cross. She would not go to the wedding. And it was when she started isolating herself from the family. If you were not on her side, did not agree with her, you were gone.
And then the same thing happened with me. I put it off as long as I could, but rightfully so, my better half said — you have to tell her. And that was it, I was cast to the void with everyone else. She never came to any weddings, holidays or funerals. Not her mother, not her oldest son. She never met my daughters.
So while I did not know how to start this, I know how to end it. When you have the chance to help people around you, do not stay silent. I think we are all more aware of that by now. It doesn’t mean it will help, but you have to try.
Sorry for my loss? No, the sadness is much more sorry for her loss. Thanks for what you could do, I do not blame you for what you could not. May there be peace where your spirit has gone.