Friday, October 17, 2014

On This Side

When I walked into the orthodontist's office for an unscheduled appointment with my oldest son yesterday, an older gentleman followed me in the door. He was alone and looked a little bit lost. The receptionist asked him if he needed help.

He told her that he was waiting for his daughter and grandchildren. The kids had a consult and he was there to help his daughter make the decisions about their treatment plans. He said something about being in the industry.

The lump in my throat had already formed.

She walked in a few moments later with her children. She was frazzled in a way all too familiar to me as the mother of children that age at nine in the morning. She seemed annoyed with her father when he asked questions. Were the xrays really necessary, he wondered? That was a lot of radiation that might not be needed if there were films from the dentist available. He cautioned her about making decisions about treatment, particularly if the recommendations were aggressive ones.

I understand where the annoyance comes in, really I do. I know how frustrating it is to have a parent hovering over you, questioning every single choice you make about parenting.

And yet, there was a huge part of me that wanted to sit down beside her, this frazzled mother and frustrated daughter. I wanted to hold her hand and look into her eyes and tell her to be grateful that she has this moment. To be grateful not just that her father is still here, but that he cares enough to show up at an orthodontist's office at nine in the morning. To be grateful that her son and he had such an effortless banter about them, one that hurt me to watch because it is something that my own children will never have with my father. I wanted to tell her that I was so grateful for the wisdom my father shared with me when it came to these decisions about the kids and their teeth, and that even though he's been gone over three years now, his words are still guiding my choices.

I wanted to.

I didn't, of course.

I didn't because I know why I feel this way and I know why she felt the way it seemed she felt.


I know that the longing in my heart to be frustrated and annoyed with my parents exists only because I am on this side of it all now, in this life without either of them. What I wouldn't give to just share a waiting room with my father again, to see the sparkle in his eye when his grandkids walked into the room just one more time.

That was all yesterday.

Today, even harder. A year ago, my mother took her last breath, far away from all of us.

I don't write about how she died. I don't write about why she died. I don't write about why she was there and I wasn't. I don't write about the things that happened. I don't write about how I found out she was gone.

Maybe someday I will tell those stories. Maybe, but I know that I am no closer to being ready to tell them now than I was 365 days ago.

There is a part of me, a growing part of me, that longs for resolution. Not with her because it is an impossibility, but with the others left behind. The family that I haven't spoken to since then. I want to pick up the phone, and there are times that I have even started scrolling through my contacts in a half hearted attempt to dial a number. I want to, but I pause every time.

I pause because I know they won't answer.

The damage done is too great, and I was the fall guy.

The funny thing is that I understand. I get it. I know why they all needed to blame me, and I don't blame them for the way they feel. They certainly feel justified. The part they never understood is that there was another side to it all. Mine.

I didn't matter then, and I don't matter now. And I understand. It just hurts.

I didn't just lose her, I lost them.

Without paying attention to the date, I scheduled an appointment for the baby to have an ultrasound of his hips today. At the hospital. They hospital that she spent so much time at while she was here. The one where so much changed. The one that they wheeled her out of and into a helicopter when it threatened again. The one she went to time and again.

Oh, the things those halls have seen.

It was about the last place I should have been today.

Or maybe it was exactly where I needed to be.

Who knows. I've given up trying to figure it out anymore.

All I do know is that my mother and I, we had our share of problems. There were things about her that I am relieved that I never have to deal with again. There are other pieces of who she was that I miss every single day.

A few weeks ago, I came across the memorial piece the Robert Downey Jr. had written about his mother upon her death. I didn't have occasion to write anything for my mother because there were never any services. Even if there had been, I likely wouldn't have been given that opportunity.

What I did write here made me a marked woman for a while. So I stopped.

His words resonated so deeply with me, they were so simple and yet so profound. Although his experience with his mother was necessarily different than mine, the circumstances of her life and death and the circumstances of his were dissimilar to mine and hers, it was all so deeply relevant.

She had much in common with my mother.

I've told you all for years that RDJ is basically my spirit animal.

Here is a portion of what he wrote. You can read the entire post on his Facebook page here. 

Her doctors basically titled her a "Medical Incredible," said there was little they could do, and were frankly amazed she was up and walking....

Many fond memories of her in the last few years...holidays, kid-stuff, her strutting around with a walking stick. I knew it was difficult, and understood as the visits got shorter.

In March, she suffered another cardiac arrest and was put on life support.

Her wishes were to be left to die if there wasn't a reasonable chance of recovery, which for some time there was.

I returned from filming the "Avengers" sequel in June, went straight to see her.

To my amazement, she was completely lucid, interactive, mugging + pulling faces.

We couldn't speak 'cause she had a tracheal tube. I wondered if she might just beat the odds once more.

Another set of seizures answered that, and we brought her home for hospice.

She died @ 11 p.m., September 22nd, survived by her extremely loving and tolerant partner of 37 years, Jonas Kerr.

She was my role model as an actor, and as a woman who got sober and stayed that way.

She was also reclusive, self-deprecating, a stoic Scotch-German rural Pennsylvanian, a ball buster, stubborn, and happy to hold a grudge.

My ambition, tenacity, loyalty, "moods," grandiosity, occasional passive aggression, and my faith....

That's all her...and I wouldn't have it any other way.

If anyone out there has a mother, and she's not perfect, please call her and say you love her anyway...

Elsie Ann Downey. 1934-2014



My mother wasn't perfect. I loved her anyway.

If you have a mother and she's not perfect, please call her. There will come a time when you won't have the chance anymore.



Being on this side is hard.

I miss you, Mom. 

I love you.

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