I love to write but I hate to write. I am often paralyzed by my past and by my pain and my self doubt.
I often use my local movie theater to unlock that paralysis. Seeing a well-done movie is instant inspiration. It makes me say, “That was awesome, but I could have done it even better.” Soon, I’m typing away.
“Enough Said” did that for me. It is a tale of finding unexpected joy at a dreaded time of loss. The masterful writing is brought to life beautifully by Julia Louis Dreyfuss and James Gandolfini, two middling middle-aged divorcees shocked to find love as they struggle to let their only children go off to college.
There is a sequence in the movie where Dreyfuss’ character is sitting in her daughter’s room, soaking in the memories before packing the final suitcases. Her daughter comes in, sits on the bed with her mom and they sit silent, water welling in their eyes.
Soon after, Dreyfuss is at the airport, stealing every last moment she can with her baby girl before she heads through the terminal gate. The connection is so real, the music is so perfectly scored, it left me in tears and flooded with memories.
My mom passed away from lung cancer on March 28, 2012. I am still struggling to accept a world in which she’s not a presence in my life. So while I think of her everyday, I keep a lot of the emotions bottled up because it is still too difficult to truly deal with.
It takes me to a dark place that isn’t the memorial she deserves. She was taken too soon, dammit. There’s so many shitty people left in this world, but yet this wonderful, caring woman was taken from us at 71. Why the hell could she never stop smoking?
If I let myself stay in that moment for too long, soon I am fixed on her last moments. I was the only one there as she passed away. My dad and I had gone into her hospice room earlier that morning. They had told us that the time had come. So I watched him battle for the third straight day to say goodbye to his 55-year soulmate.
My sister Dede was unable to come to Phoenix but she had left a voicemail on my phone that she wanted me to play for Mom. I was singularly focused on keeping my dad together, so I left the phone at the house.
So my dad reluctantly drove me back to the hospice but asked to stay in the car. When I returned, my mom was laboring intensely to catch a breath. I sat down next to her, held her hand and stroked her hair just as she had done to me so many times to put me to sleep instantly as a child.
I put the phone to her eye and played the message. While I tried not to listen, I could hear my sister crying and telling Mom that it was OK to let go, that we would find our way from here and try to honor her everyday.
I then played a song for her, “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.” Dede said it was a song she loved and though Mom had never mentioned it, I wasn’t about to argue or disobey a wish in this moment.
Then it happened. The nurses who I’d heard respectfully standing in the doorway moved in as the flatline monitor noise took over the room.
My dad soon came in and grabbed me as I sobbed uncontrollably for 90 seconds. Though he apologized profusely, I was glad that I was the one there. He had cared for her for 18 months, through the chemo and radiation, as hope turned to the realization we couldn’t beat this.
He should not have been the one to see that. He had seen his one true love deteriorate enough.
To actually get those words and thoughts out of me, it doesn’t seem so dark now. And it takes me to a wonderful memory that “Enough Said” unlocked.
I was the first of four children to go away to college. So while my parents had dealt with their daughters leaving home, they were still close enough to monitor and help see through the transition.
I was hell bent on going to New York to pursue journalism. It had been my focus since sixth grade. In high school, it became equal parts career ambition and a mission to get out of Maine and see the world.
That dream was realized when Fordham accepted me.
My parents could have objected on countless fronts – the financial commitment and the idea that their Mama’s Boy homebody son was going to The Bronx being at the top of the list.
I remember at least 10 different times when I know my Mom was about to say, “Please, don’t do this.” But instead she just stared at me and hugged me.
All that tension finally came out when we got lost in The Bronx trying to find Fordham. We got off at an exit near Yankee Stadium to get our bearings about us and were greeting at the end of the exit ramp by a homeless man with a squeegee.
The normal person would lock the doors and keep on rolling. My Dad rolled down the windows and struck up a conversation with the man.
It set my mom off. “What the hell are you doing, Barry? You’re going to get us all killed and I don’t want to die in this shithole!”
There was very little talk over the next hour as we found our way to the Fordham campus. The bags were emptied from the trunk, pleasantries were exchanged with my residential advisor.
I don’t remember much other than trying to hide my fear. The reality of a Dickies-wearing, far-from-worldly hick being dropped in an ethnic melting pot, it flooded me. But I knew I couldn’t let my Mom see that.
She too was less reserved than she had been back in Maine. She was looking for any reason to stuff me in the car and return to our white bread bubble in South Portland, where she could protect me forever.
I just remember pride, handshakes and hugs from my dad. My Mom was tearing up but there was a calm in her eyes just as my expression had turned to panic.
There were no words, just emotion and love.
“You can do this.” That’s what I saw. I didn’t believe her and I wanted to jump in that car as bad as she wanted me in it.
But the look just kept getting stronger. The tears were flowing, the hugs were suffocating but when we made eye contact, her look just kept getting more resolute.
“You were born for this. Go get ‘em.” All communicated without a word and in the moment, I believed her.
My parents got in their car. It was minutes before the car started. I was simultaneously talking to my R.A. about my room assignment and waiting for them to come get me.
It never happened. Soon, they started rolling slowly down the cobblestone path leading away from the dorm. My dad would later tell me Mom told him five times in that slow roll to stop. What the hell are we doing leaving our son here?
That’s the beauty of a good film. That instant on-screen unlocked a wonderful memory, one that I much prefer to focus on when thinking of the beauty of my mother.
Sitting by her side in the hospital, I wasn’t so brave. I begged God to not take her. I didn’t show the restraint and grace my sister had on her message or that my mom had letting her youngest child and only son become a man.
Over the last 18 months, I have often wished I could have been braver for her. I just didn’t want to let go. Still don’t.
I know a similar moment is coming down the road with my 10-year-old and four-year-old sons. I see the brilliance already, I know they were born to see the world.
I only hope I’ll find the courage to share that message the right way like my mom did that day in the Bronx.