It’s been 10 years since my mother died on Sept. 22 — nine since I stood by her graveside at the unveiling. Since then, I have visited her grave in New Jersey on many occasions and have diligently observed days of mourning and lit memorial candles.
I loved her dearly. But have I missed her? The answer is, of course, yes. But death does strange things: it restores our loved ones to their best selves — as we would most like to remember them — before the ravages of disease or age fully took their toll.
So I have spent the last 10 years forgetting the more than 20 years before that during which my mother suffered from severe recurring depression, her multiple suicide attempts, hospitalizations, outpatient ECT treatments, her cycle of dazed, better, fine, too good, bitter, worse, bad, crazy, immobilized and unwilling, and needing to go to the hospital. Even writing this paragraph causes tension to course through me in a way that I had almost forgotten.
Since her death, my mother’s smile is with me. Her wicked sense of humor, dark and cutting as it was, which in later years could turn just mean, is once again clever, witty, even insightful.
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My mother had a love of culture, high and low. She had a better understanding of Shakespeare than any of my teachers ever did, but she also delighted in gossip, tabloid papers and, increasingly over the years, TV shows. How often we discussed what was on TV that night, what old movies there were to enjoy, what new sitcoms delighted, what shows in rerun she relished.
So I miss her when I watch a sitcom, or a particularly good mystery. Sometimes I’ll be watching something old-fashioned, say a Masterpiece Theatre Hercule Poirot, and I will savor each detail, knowing that no one would have found it more delicious than my mother. Sometimes on the weekend, I’ll turn on the classic movie channel and indulge in a communion we would have shared.
My mother was also quite glamorous. In Budapest, in her youth, my mother was what today we would call an M/A/W (model/actress/whatever) with the stage name Eva Somogyi. She cared little for her career, enjoying it as much for the social mobility it provided as the income. Since her death, with benefit of the Internet, I’ve been to accumulate, scan and retrieve images of her from those days. She was indeed beautiful. I have seen two of the three films that she appeared in, and I agree with her assessment that she “was not a great actress, but was cute on screen.”
As I came to know her, my mother was vain, narcissistic, critical and demanding. Looks: Hers, mine, other people’s — all mattered to her. The way a person was dressed, the way a table was set, manners, the paintings in a person’s home, the cups that the coffee were served in at a home or a restaurant (she was against coffee served in paper cups) — nothing went unnoticed.
I miss neither the scrutiny nor the weight of such constant judgments. But I do cherish my mother’s appreciation for the good, the worthy and the beautiful in all things. I often find my head filled with arcane knowledge she instilled in me about subjects — artists, dancers, long-forgotten European writers; or in thrall about movies, art exhibits or cultural events that few others seem interested in — and I miss being able to share or tell her about them. Less and less, there seem to be people I know who care as much about the things she cared about.
Just the other day, while my wife and daughter were away, I brought home dinner. I placed the takeout containers on the dining table — and stared at them. Although plastic utensils were provided and the containers were made so that I could eat right out of them, I couldn’t bring myself to do so. I set the table using the best of our dishwasher-safe plates, placed the silverware with the fork laid upon the cloth napkin, placed the glass in front and served myself dinner, placing the containers away on the counter. Did the food taste better that way? I can’t say. Did I appreciate it more? Perhaps. But did doing so make me think of my mother? Certainly.
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