Spilling Over

On Sunday, my children saw me for the first time in ten days. They ran to me with that amped-up fondness that the heart manufactures during a long absence. Into my arms they flung themselves and I received them with equal exuberance, only I held on a little too tight, a little too long, a little too fierce. Quickly they were wriggling to free themselves.

“Happy French Mother’s Day!” They sang this out in unison, prompted, I’m pretty sure, by De-facto who, having made very little of the American Mother’s Day earlier in the month, hoped to make good. Last week’s school art projects helped the cause: Buddy-roo proudly handed over a large blue envelope she’d made that read bonne fête maman! Inside, a picture of a flowerpot covered with sparkles, and a poem, copied meticulously, no doubt, at the behest of the teacher after she wrote it in perfect penmanship on the chalkboard.

Short-pants had crafted, in her class, a small box out of construction paper. Inside it there were tiny notes with micro-messages, mots doux as she called them. “Maman, mon coeur,” or “I love you night and day.” Sweet words, indeed, scratched out in her familiar pen. These hand-made gifts so precious, so heart-felt and so tear-inducing. Damn it.

“Why are you crying?” Buddy-roo asked. Before I could answer, Short-pants chimed in. “Because she’s happy and sad at the same time. Right maman?”

I guess I’ve said that before.

These days tears are everywhere. They reside barely below the surface, wherever I turn. A group of scientists discuss new ways of visualizing biology in order to better understand it, and I’m a little choked up. Thirty strangers sing happy birthday to me, I press the tears down. A liberated Alice returns from the Underland at the end of an in-flight movie and I’m hunting for Kleenex. My Pilates trainer urges me forward in grueling sets of 8 and 12, I’m concentrating to hold the tears in, at least until the workout is over and I’m on the stairs outside.

A taxi drove me to attend a meeting yesterday at an address that I, too, was unsure of. I was dropped at the wrong building, which – no surprise – put me on the brink of tears. Hold it together, I counseled myself. Running mascara has very little professional merit. The receptionist assured me it was only a ten-minute walk to the other #163 Quai-de-Whatever, where I wanted to be. So I walked. On the way, a man dressed in white painted an iron fence a shade even whiter. Does he still have a mother, I wondered, and does he think of her often? A hundred meters later, under a trestle, I passed a hooker wearing short black shorts and an ankle-length black leather coat that flew open behind her with every step of her stride. She smelled of liquor and hair spray as she went by. How about her mother?

Everybody had a mother, at some point. Every time I look at anyone I pass, I wonder, do they still?

Thoughts rush by on a train of remorse. Why didn’t I spend more time with her this last year? My week-long visits every-other month were a stretch to make happen at the time; they seem pathetic in retrospect. Now that my mother is gone, now that I can’t ever visit her again, isn’t it ludicrous that I didn’t go every month? Or that I didn’t just move in?

I run through the last week of her life, a string of images are frozen in my mind: watching her dress herself slowly and carefully, laughing because it was taking so long. How she sipped her special juice drinks with a straw, but elegantly. As she weakened, how she would regard herself in the mirror, as if she did not recognize the not-well person she had become. This image is especially strong because I, too, was in it, off to the side, watching myself watching her talk to her own reflection. “I don’t know how to do this,” she whispered. “Neither do I,” I’d said, unable to contain the tears. But she didn’t cry about it. Ever. At least not in front of me.

This morning my daughters’ longer-and-lankier-than-ever bodies were nearly impossible to stir, their jet lag, now a week old, as fierce as mine is after just returning a day ago. Buddy-roo grumbled and stretched and turned to the side, “scratch my back.” I caressed her, urging her, gently and then more rigorously, to wake up and rally for the day. I went to rouse Short-pants, who sweats in her sleep. I pulled the comforter off her shoulder and swept the damp hair off her forehead. Her sleep was deep, but when she saw it was me, she jerked her arm from under the covers and wrapped it around my neck, pulling my head right up to hers. It was a strong, firm grip, very deliberate.

“You can take your time letting go,” I told her. So she drew me in closer, even tighter.

Tears. Again. My emotions spilling out like an overfilled tank. Or to draw a truly sad and timely analogy, like an oil spill. No small trickling here. Rather a fountain of feelings gushing out because of some sloppy fissure; messy, embarrassing, uncontainable, washing up on the shore for everyone to see.
I have an odd and eccentric empathy for those BP engineers. Some spills are not so easily contained.

6 Responses to “Spilling Over”

  • Betty Shamas Says:

    What you are experiencing is so normal and so difficult. I don’t know if you have Hospice or equivalent in Paris, but my sister and I went to
    grievance counseling and it was a big help to us. We were able to share feelings in a safe environment with wonderful feedback.
    Love to you, Betty

  • Caroline Fraley Says:

    The narrative of your tears brought tears to my own eyes. This kind of emotional ‘spilling’ is good and healthy and only makes you truly human. No shame in it. As you know, it is all part of the process of change. And I wonder: can you feel your mother smiling over you and still wiping those tears?

  • Ruth Says:

    Yes, you are in a good place with wonderful support, your girls and De-facto. Let it flow, don’t keep it in. Time makes it a little less painful, but you will always have those times of tears. I send hugs and look forward to giving them to you in person. It is going on 18 years for mr and it feels like yesterday.

  • Marinera Says:

    god (or goddess) bless the tears! your post brings up my worst torment. i chose to live in italy (10 ys ago) and my mom & dad are far away in buenos aires. I get to see my mom once a year if I’m lucky and every time I’m shocked to see her looking more like my nonna. which always makes me think “I want to be close to her.” and every time i leave or she leaves there’s a voice i try to ignore “is this the last time you see her?” aaaaagh… god only knows! i still have to figure out how to deal with it.

    • MDBlogs Says:

      Marinera, I can’t contain the feelings of did I do enough? Was I there enough? These are real and natural questions. But I also know this: my mother didn’t want me to stop living my life to tend to her. She loved that I lived abroad and that I was following my dream to be here. She would have felt worse if I’d given it all up to take care of her. So don’t beat yourself up. Just write home a lot, and get your mom on Skype if she isn’t already…

  • Jon Sinton Says:

    So sorry for your loss. So grateful for your gift. Thanks for sharing the tearful moments.

    I was thirty-four when my mom died. She was in Arizona, I was in Atlanta. The Big Conversations I desired never happened. She didn’t want to talk about life’s meaning or death since she was using all her energy staying alive. We had a three year old and another on the way, so between travel for work and my own family, I was not physically present as much as I would like to have been. In retrospect, the fact that I was there every couple of weeks for eight months seems like it should have been enough. I’ve had a long time to think about it and I’m convinced there is no such time as “enough.” I suspect she felt your emotional presence regardless of physical distance. Even if you had been there everyday, these tears would not abate. You’ll let yourself grieve and she’ll maintain her rightful place in your life.

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