Episode 23 Call Your Mother

February 22, 2023

This event that happened a few years ago is rolling through my head today, and I thought I’d share it. About four or five years ago, I went to dinner with a friend on a Friday night. It was in a loud restaurant, and it was me and two other people. After we ordered, my friend said In my home country (which is Iran) when someone passes, we share stories and photographs of their life. Sure enough, he pulled out an envelope and started showing us all of these photos of his mother from when she was a baby up until much later in life. He was telling us stories about her and her family and her siblings. It was really sweet and wholly unexpected, especially coming from a person who is so reserved and private and cautious about the information he shares.  It was a really special thing to bear witness to and partake in.

If any of you listen to episode 12, it was called ‘Letter to Peter (Part II) and Brief Thoughts on Grief. I speak a little bit to the fact that, in the United States, we don’t have a lot of traditions around death and dying, and speaking very broadly death is a subject that makes us a little bit uncomfortable. We tend to of fumble our way through it. Anyway, it was very sweet to learn about my friend’s mother through his eyes and his words. I remember thinking to myself, I could never speak about my mother without crying. But that was some years ago. Today I’d like to tell you a little bit about my mother because today is February 22nd, 2023, and she would have been 94 years old.

I’ve made reference to my mother before. She was very, very sweet. She was second fiddle to my father. My father had this big gregarious personality, and my mother was the lead supporting actress in what was largely his show. Don’t get me wrong, she had her own personality, but she was demure  and didn’t want to take up too much space. Her name was Anna Mae Klein. She was born Anna Mae Mustang, and she was called Penny most of her life. Then, in her forties, she took her real name.

Anna Mae was the youngest of seven children and she was raised by her aunts. Growing up, I knew her mother and father. It was something that was talked about – the fact that she was raised by her aunts – but no one dug into the why behind that. I think it was partly poverty and partly mental health related issues with her mother. I suspect she was not a wanted child, given their financial circumstances. They were farmers.

Anyway, after my father died – he died in a car accident – my mother was incredibly graceful at the end of her life.  As much as she didn’t want to be fussed over, I think she understood that given the shocking and unexpected circumstances of our father’s loss, we needed to heal by taking care of her. I’m the youngest of four, by the way, so all four of us were there in Montana looking after our mother, and it was a very sweet ending, full of laughter and stories. Real quality time together. I could say a lot about my mother, but I won’t except to say this.  I was very, very close with her and we had very candid conversation the last years of her life. I got to address things that had transpired when I was a teenage which left me upset for years, and we had a lot of closure. But here’s the thing, interestingly I never thought to ask her the questions about what happened to her as a child nor to ask why she was raised by her aunts and how she felt about that.

My father always controlled the narrative, and he told stories and would laugh and whatever, but we never got to hear it from her exactly what happened and how it felt to have been raised by the aunts, what her relationship was with her mother and many other things. So I think I’m sharing this to remind those of you who still have your parents. I know it can be hard, especially if your parents are ailing or perhaps you don’t have a great relationship with one or the other. It’s really good to ask questions, to think through the things you never asked.

It can be a doorway to really great conversation. My doorway to great conversation was really about therapy.  I was in therapy at the time, for the first time really after my father died,  and the conversations I was having in therapy were so rich and so interesting I would bring and tell her what I was talking to my therapist about. It was a real catalyst for quality conversation with my mother, but like I said I forgot to ask her some of the most basic questions.

I want to end with this little story. My friend Sara was telling me that her sister was visiting from Berlin and they had lunch with their mother. So it was the two girls and their mother, and they read a daily offering from the Mark Nepo book called ‘The Book of Awakening’. My friend Sara used that as a portal to quality conversation and connection with her mother. You know, old people can get really grumpy, and they’re always very set in their ways trying to control their environment. It can be really difficult to have quality conversation and to get into that heart space. I’ll end by saying that even the biggest curmudgeons tend to soften at the end of life. If you can show up with the courage or some creative way to have a quality conversation, it can be so incredibly satisfying.

For those of you lucky enough to have one or both of your parents, I strongly encourage you to make the very most out of the opportunity to get questions answered, to connect through touch, and to do anything you can to get into that heart space with your parents because trust me when they’re no longer here, it really stinks.

I’m going to leave it at that. That’s all for now. Until next time, from my heart to yours.

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Friends say I live my life out loud. That’s because I’m a curious, adventurous person and, as an appreciator, I simply love to share what lights me up. Consider this is your invitation into my fun, multi-faceted world.

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