Thursday, October 29, 2009

The 29th of October

I’ve been debating whether or not to blog today, about today, all week. Because after all, today is just a day: It’s two days before Halloween. It’s my day off. It’s Thursday.

But it’s also October 29th. And for the last seven years, I’ve cringed when I heard this date. My brow furrows when I see it on the calendar.

October 29th.

Seven years ago today, my mother died. So, yeah, it’s Thursday, it’s two days before Halloween. But for me, it is now and always will be the day my mother died.

Am I being a little dramatic? Maybe. I don’t know. Is it okay to be dramatic? Maybe. I don’t know.

The fact is, I think about my mom every day. I miss her every day. But on October 29th, each year, I think about her and I miss her more. This year marks the seventh year of missing my mother, and it brings up a lot of questions.

How would my life be different if she hadn’t died? What kind of person would I be? Would I live in Chicago? Would I live in Indy, New York, London … Knightstown, even? Would she have survived her heart and lung transplant? Would she still be sick? Would I have done this, would I have done that…You get the idea.

October 29, 2008. Year 6.
Last October 29th it was a Wednesday. I called in sick to my internship. (I frequently have been “sick” on October 29 since 2002. Is it a lie? I’m not sure.) I laid in my bed and stared at the ceiling for an hour. I paced around my apartment feeling angry that I didn’t feel like crying. I decided to make cookies, but couldn’t quite bear to make the chocolate chip recipe I always made with my mom. Our cookies. Instead, I looked up cookie recipes online and made M & M cookies. I wrote a poem, “Six Years Without You,” I called it. I went out to dinner with my boyfriend. He brought me a candle to light in her memory—a thoughtful, sincere gesture on his part—but I felt like a fraud as I lit it and didn’t feel all the feelings I thought I was supposed to. What else happened? I don’t remember. I mostly just remember feeling restless and irritable last year.

October 29, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004. Years 5, 4, 3, 2… Most of these October 29ths are fuzzy. Once I was home with my dad. Every other I was in Bloomington. Memory is a funny thing, because all I remember clearly is that each of these years, on this day, I mostly just missed my mom. Each year, around 11 a.m., I think about standing in a hospital watching my mom die. I think about staring outside her hospital room window as I ran my fingers through her hair and felt my heart break. I think about how, after they shut Mom's ventilator off, the nurse who had been crying stopped me in the ICU hallway to tell me Mom had been her aerobics instructor, years ago. I remember trying to smile back at the nurse, because I felt some weird need to comfort her. But I couldn’t, so I walked into the women’s bathroom and tried to throw up. But I couldn’t do that either, so I stood in front of the mirror and stared at my terrified reflection.

October 29, 2003. Year 1. People say that the first “anniversary” is the worst, and those people are right. (I’m putting anniversary in quotes, as anniversaries, in my mind, are supposed to denote positive events, not the date of your mom’s death.) I remember this year quite clearly. I was a sophomore at IU that year. I had a midterm in my microeconomics class that evening.  It was chilly and rainy, but even on chilly, rainy evenings, IU’s campus is still hauntingly gorgeous. The limestone buildings look dramatic and gothic (to me, at least). And everything felt dramatic. Mom was everywhere, and nowhere. After my midterm (or was it before?), I paced around outside the building, kicking piles of wet leaves, and talked to my sister-in-law on the phone. My roommates gave me sweet cards. I felt overwhelmingly, painfully sad.

I understand it’s the natural course of grief for me not to feel so overwhelmingly, painfully sad this year. I understand that all of these different emotions I’ve felt over the last seven years aren’t dramatic at all. They’re actually quite normal.

I understand all of that. And that’s why this year, I’m ready for a change. I’m going to blast Annie Lennox and Fleetwood Mac and Mary J Blige while I make our chocolate chip cookies and clean my apartment. I’m going to think about Saturday mornings as a kid when Jay and I would help Mom clean the house, and she’d play Eurythmics and Fleetwood Mac records and whatever else as we trudged through our chores. I’m going to think about pouring the flour in the cookie dough as Mom stirred it in. I’m going to think about Mom handing me her half-empty cups of tea, smiling, and asking, “Reheat it for 20 seconds for me?” I’m going to think of watching “When Harry Met Sally” with her for the umpteenth time on a Sunday afternoon. I’m going to think about watching her grade papers with her red pen.

And maybe I’ll cry. Maybe I won’t. But mostly, this year, I’m going to think about the beautiful, sassy, smart, courageous woman who was my mother. And I’ll be thankful that I had her as long as I did.

“I love you mama, you sweet.”


  1. I don't remember you having to do any chores. As I recall, being 19 months older meant being responsible for double the saturday chores.

    You might want to throw in a little Miami Sound Machine, Sade, or Jon Secada(!) for good measure today...

    Great post. Take what feelings come today and know that Mom is proud of her daughter, the writer.

  2. Your mom must have been an amazing woman. Clearly, I can see that the legacy continues with you, Alison.

  3. @Jay: That's I recall, since you were the genius child, you got out of your half of the chores.

    Miami Sound Machine! YES! Are we missing something? I feel like I'm forgetting about another record that was in heavy rotation during Saturday morning chores.

    @Lindsay: Thank you! And, she was. :)

  4. Billy Joel got a lot of spins.

    So did both Dirty Dancing records, Wham!, and Bert and Ernie's "Tiger Hunt", but I think that we may have been the driving force behind those.

  5. I'd kill for some Bert and Ernie "Tiger Hunt" right now. Or some video footage of Jay and Al in the music room pretending to run up the hill with Ernie.

    I guess I'll settle for some Eurythmics.

  6. I'm sorry about the rough anniversary day. You wrote about it well, and I think that, for a writer, that's the best thing to do. Even from a distance, I can tell that you carry your mom around with you everywhere, and that she's one of the lenses through which you see your life. I think that's pretty great.

  7. It seems like you're on the right track. I can't say, never having experienced the kind of loss you have. But it makes sense that after having felt the weight you should now celebrate the life that was. Celebration, after all, is what ushers in some level of acceptance. And to echo what others have said, I can't imagine your mother wouldn't be over joyed to see you wear your courage, intelligence and spirit as you do. Keep on truckin'.

  8. So, I feel bad for not calling you or anything on this day. However, I actually wrote you and am sending it today (late, I know...I've been slacking on getting the mail sent on time). Hopefully, you enjoy what you read.

    I never had the privilege of knowing your mother, but she lives through you and I think I know you pretty well. : ) So, I guess I know a little bit about her and I know that she would be very, very proud of her daughter. And so am I! : )

  9. Thanks to everyone for the sweet feedback. I'm glad you've all picked up on what a badass Rexanna Hamm was!

    And this year was one of the smoothest sailing October 29th's I've had in a long time. That's something.