I’ve already written her eulogy. Is that weird? Probably. But I did it because I needed to organize my thoughts; because writing it down is easier than saying it directly to her. And, frankly, I’ve been avoiding that since she was diagnosed last year. I’ve always hated dealing with realness and this is about as real as it gets. I guess I thought if I never said goodbye, maybe her demise wouldn’t come. I was wrong.
I take a deep breath and gently take her hand, being mindful of the IV line.
“Mom,” I begin, making eye contact with the drab hospital wall. “I’m not good at this stuff. Never have been. But you know that. You raised me. All by yourself. Even after your parents and my father abandoned you and you were left with nothing. But me.
“And what did I give you in return? I can’t even tell you now how I really feel. I guess that’s why I became a comedian.” I laugh, because it’s what we do when we’re uncomfortable.
“Anyway, I was thinking about it; because, well, I’ve had some time here to think, and I came up with a great idea. There should be mandatory life reviews. You know, like the kind of review they do at an office job? Quarterly, I think Moms and daughters should be forced to do that too. If we’d been doing that, we’d be all up to date and instead of talking now, I could just tell you to read through your file.”
Mom doesn’t laugh.
“Seriously, though,” I continue. “This is not a joke. For once in my life, I can’t spin this into something funny. I really don’t even know what I’m going to do after…you know. I have no idea what I’m going to write for my act because, well, there is really no punchline here. Trust me, I’ve tried to come up with one. If I used this stuff in my show, the people at the club would mob the stage with pitchforks and torches and throw me straight out on my ass.
“Do you remember the first time you came to see my show? I was so pumped because I’d had a great set. The club booker had just told me they wanted me as a regular. It was huge for me. I found you after and asked what you thought. You had this puzzled expression on your face.
“You said, ‘I guess I didn’t get it, Josie. You made us sound like lunatics.’
‘Those were jokes, Mom. That’s what a comic does.’
‘Mmm. Does it pay well?’
‘I don’t get it,’ you said again.
“I know you wanted me to be normal. I know I’ve disappointed you. But I’m happy with comedy, Mom. Really. If I had to work in an office, that’s when you’d find out what a true lunatic is. I mean, without comedy, there’s a dark cloud floating around inside my brain and beneath it sharks swim freely waiting to gobble me up. Plus, I can’t wear nice pant suits like you, Mom. It’s just not me.
“Remember that time in middle school when I went to my first dance with a boy? I wore that hideous dress that was too big. I knew it was ill fitting. Christ, even the dog was aware. I was so awkward. I was just trying to hide it in all those layers of neon tulle. It looked like someone vomited fluorescent clouds all over me. It was so obvious I was uncomfortable, but you were oblivious as ever. That is until my date, Nate something-or-other, was there standing next to me in front of the banister while you took like a million pictures. That’s when you chose to mention it. Couldn’t let it go. Couldn’t just say I looked nice. You said, ‘We really should have gotten that dress taken in, Josie. It’s too saggy in your chest area.’
“I remember my arm flying across the front of my dress in an attempt to beat out Nate something-or-other from inspecting the area in question. He looked anyway. So to break the tension, I said, ‘Actually, Mom, I’m planning to wear this dress again next year and by then my boobs are definitely gonna be huge.’
“It was my first foray into comedy. The first time I figured out that laughs distracted from reality. I’ve told that bit now a dozen times in my act. It always gets a big response.”
I clear my throat.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do without you. I might be forced to grow up and find someone to commit to. I mean, you aren’t gonna be here to disapprove of everyone I bring over for you to meet. You won’t tell me they aren’t right for me. And I won’t see exactly what you were talking about a few weeks later and be forced to dump them. I might even have to get married one day, maybe even be forced to have my own children who will torture me just to avenge your death.”
I look down at my mother for the first time since I started talking. Her eyes are closed. I’m sure she hasn’t heard a word I said. I softly rub the top of her hand. It feels dry and delicate, so different from what I remember it feeling like when I was a kid, which was probably the last time I held it. The faint beeping of the monitor is the only thing letting me know she’s still with me.
I feel sick. The nurses gave me ample warnings. I had, in turn, made up excuses to put this off: Mom was tired, she was too drugged to hear me, the doctor was coming soon. Instead of confronting it, I’d spent the last several days crying in the hospital bathroom, in front of the vending machines, in the private waiting room with the bad coffee.
I can see it all playing out. My mother is going to die in front of me without knowing how I feel. And I’ll regret it and spend the rest of my life telling my therapist the story over and over again.
I touch my mother’s cheek grasping for something concrete, knowing I may never have it again. She slowly opens her eyes. A weak smile appears on her face.
I take a deep breath and start over. “Mom,” I say.
“I need to tell you something, honey,” she says.
“Mom, you don’t have to…”
“Stop it now, Josie, let me talk.”
I wipe an errant tear from my cheek.
“Remember that trip we took to the Grand Canyon?”
“Yeah. You hated that trip,” I say.
“It keeps coming back to me now. I didn’t want to go initially, that’s true. I thought, of all the vacations we could possibly take, why on earth would we go see a big hole in the ground? I wanted to go someplace warm, to relax on a beach in the sun. You were only, what? Twelve, thirteen. But you were adamant about it. So I thought, okay. Let’s do it. I was curious just what you were expecting to find there. I figured once we got there, you’d see the canyon and say, ‘You were right, Mom. We should have gone somewhere else.’”
She stops and I help her take a sip of water.
“But that’s not what happened at all. When I looked out over that canyon, and then I saw your face looking at it, I realized a very important thing. You, my child, were in awe. And, that feeling, the one where it finally dawned on me that I actually brought this amazing person into the world, someone who could be deeply moved by a natural landmass, taken by the simple beauty of it, I understood then and there that it was all worth it. You were worth it. When your child teaches you something about yourself in the context to the world, that’s the moment you know you did it right.”
“You never told me that,” I say.
“You wouldn’t have listened. You’d have just turned it into a joke.”
“You’re right. I probably would have.”
“I want you to know that I don’t regret it. I know you think I held some kind of grudge. Maybe if I wouldn’t have had you at sixteen my life would have been better, but that’s not the case. No. You were the one who made my life better. You don’t have to say anything now. You said it all standing there looking out at the Grand Canyon.”
“Mom…” is all I manage to get out.
“Jos. One more thing. That shirt is a little loose. You do realize those big boobs never came in, right?”
With that, Mom closes her eyes.
And with that I want to say thanks for coming out tonight, everyone. Drive safe.