It’s Mother’s Day. Don’t Tell Daddy That Mom Is Dead.

I made the executive decision, back when my mom died in December. “We’re not telling him,” I said, regarding my dad. Some people thought that was weird. They weren’t divorced, or estranged, or anything that might explain why a man wouldn’t need to know that his partner of 53 years was gone. That he was now a widower. My parents were still married. He still liked her. He still asks for her, sometimes.

“She’s sleeping,” is what I tell him, every time.

During the funeral, I kept thinking of him, sitting there in a nursing home, completely unaware of the death of his wife. Of the fact that we were sitting in a church, crying as the priest said nice words about her. Of the fact that his daughters had lost their mother. Of anything. Maybe that’s a good thing about Alzheimer’s Disease – you can let them believe whatever seems best.

“Mummy’s sleeping,” I say.

The other day, I was sitting with him in the dementia unit lounge and he said to me, “Where’s Mummy? Is she still sleeping? Wake her up, she was supposed to bring me something to eat.”

I said, “Oh, let’s let her sleep. She’s tired. Your lunch will be here soon.”

I wasn’t lying about the lunch. It was there, within minutes. He ate most of it, and did not ask about Mummy again.


This Mother’s Day, I wonder what she would think of all this. If there’s one thing I know about my mother, it’s that she sometimes enjoyed seeing people suffer. She loved the show American Ninja Warrior and one of my kids once said, “That’s because she likes to see people get hurt.” We had a good laugh about that. I even told it to my mother, and she laughed about it, too. Now, when it rains, we say that Grandma is in Heaven competing on the show. And just fell in the pool because obviously, you never make it through the course on your first try.

I don’t think she’d want us to cry and sob and be overwhelmed by grief forever, about her death. I do, however, believe she’d want the full impact of it to be felt. Especially by her spouse, who by rights should miss her at least as much as the rest of us do.

Instead, where Daddy is concerned, her death was a non-event. Nothing to see here. Mummy’s sleeping.

So on that note, I’m composing a little note to her, to take the place of the Hallmark card I’d have normally given her for Mother’s Day. Here it is.

Dear Mom:

First of all, happy Mother’s Day. You did a good job. I learned from the things you did wrong, and the things you did right were so eerily, perfectly right that I still can’t quite get my head around how you did it. Allowing me to read at the dinner table, for example, my book propped up around my plate and maybe even hiding half my face, when I was younger. This is a habit that has served me well, particularly when I choose to eat alone in public with my book propped up around my plate. Not many mothers would permit this type of behavior. You told me you figured that at least I wasn’t doing drugs at the dinner table. This is a logical leap that I still can’t follow, but thank you for it, and for all the other exactly right mothering you did.

Second: no. We have not told Daddy about you and we’re not going to. But the nurses have said they think he knows, anyway. He gets teary-eyed when he hears certain songs, and when he asks, “Where’s Mummy?” you can see a little more than just your average-level curiosity in his face. Also, the fact that he asks “Where’s Mummy?” at all is a pretty good testament to your legacy. He doesn’t ask about anyone else. He still expects you to deliver his meals. I like to think you are still taking care of him, from wherever you are, and so I let him think it, too.

Also, I like to imagine the reunion, when he joins you in the afterlife. “Jesus Christ, Maureen,” he’ll say. “When did you die?” And then you’ll laugh, and tell him how it happened, and then he’ll say, “But why didn’t those assholes tell me?”

Then you will both laugh, and then you’ll probably go to get him something to eat.

The only bad news is that I’m pretty sure he will beat you at American Ninja Warrior. But on the bright side, no one ever completes the course on their first try, so surely you’ll get to see him fall a few times. That will be fun.

Third: I love you. We all do. Rest in peace.

And happy Mother’s Day.


An Adopted Kid Thanks Her Mother(s)

Mom ocean“What’s it like, being adopted?”

Not a ton of people have asked me this question, but maybe more than you’d think , and it’s really never bothered me because the answer, for me, was easy.  “I don’t know,” I’d always tell people.  “What’s it like not being adopted?”

I guess this is kind of a non-answer, but the fact is there didn’t seem to be much else I could say.  How do you know what something’s like, when you have no concept of the alternative?  My parents told me I was adopted as soon as I could understand words, maybe sooner.  I’m sure I had no idea what they were talking about, and by the time I did understand, it was old news.  I’m adopted, other people are not.  Soon we would adopt a new baby.  Good.  I’d always wanted a sister.

Listen, baby. We need to have a talk.
Listen, baby. We need to have a talk.

Fast forward to 2008, when I gave birth to my first son.  My second came along in 2009.  As they’ve grown, I’ve found myself sort of fixated on the question of whether or not They Are Like Me.  “Did I used to do that?” I ask my mother, frequently.  “Do you think he looks like me?  Look at him squinting, does that remind you of how I used to squint all the time?”  And so on.

I ask my mother these things all the time, and yet it does not escape my attention that she didn’t have the luxury of wondering the same kinds of things.  If I looked like her or acted like her, it would be entirely coincidental.  She had her DNA and my dad had his, and never the twain shall meet.  They didn’t get to blame each other for passing along bad traits, or congratulate each other for the good ones; they could only take me for what I was, and go with it.  Which is exactly what they did.  The fact that I never noticed it is a testament to their success.

My renegade DNA.
My renegade DNA.

And so on Mother’s Day – even though I’m not really into Mother’s Day – I’d like to give some thanks.

To my own mother:  For never once making me feel even the slightest bit guilty for all my six million questions.

For giving me my fabulous debate skills by allowing me to argue everything, all the time.

For not being mad at me when I said, “I am pretty sure Stevie Nicks is my biological mother and so from now on I’d like to call her ‘Mom,’ and I will call you ‘Mrs. Murzyn.’  Okay?”

This would be my instrument when Stevie asked me to join the tour.
This would be my instrument when Stevie asked me to join the tour.

For sending Get Well cards to people she believed were mentally ill.

For saying, “Of course you’re curious about your biological mother, it’s natural and no, it doesn’t hurt my feelings at all.”

For allowing me to hang a nude photo of David Hasselhoff on her bedroom wall as a joke, and then leaving it there for people to see, and then laughing when I did meet my biological mother and found a framed photo of David Hasselhoff in her living room.

Apparently they both loved the Knight Rider.
Apparently they both loved the Knight Rider.

For never trying to make me be anything other than what I was like.

For making me feel not like I’d been given away, but like I’d been sought out.

To my mother-in-law:  For raising a kid who really likes and respects his mother and has the capacity to like and respect his wife.

For liking me, or else spending years doing a superior job of acting like she likes me.

For being an excellent example of a mother of all boys, and for never making me feel like I’m doing it wrong.

To my biological mother:  For being brave enough to say, “She will have a better life if I let someone else take her.”

For the years of sadness that I now know she lived through.

For the renegade DNA that made me the way I am.

And, back to my own mother for one more thing:  For making me belong.  Because I’ve come to realize that being adopted is always kind of knowing that you actually don’t belong, whether to a gene pool or a nationality or a race.  My mother showed me that “belonging” is a very subjective concept, and that if you do it right, anyone can belong wherever they happen to be.

Thank you all.  And happy Mother’s Day.