It was over chicken tikka at a neighborhood Indian restaurant that a friend shared she was still grappling with issues from her childhood. “I have a lot of anger toward my mother,” she confided.
I’ve heard this before from other friends and acquaintances and it always struck a soft spot within me, as my mother at age 67 – just two years older than my dear friend – had a massive stroke and was left completely paralyzed on the left side. I was just 34 at the time.
“It’s time you get over it,” I countered. I was blunt but was serious.
In my 20s and 30s, I was like my friend and fixated on what I perceived as my mother’s bad parenting. Granted, we never had that warm, toasty relationship that some girls and mothers have, but she certainly wasn’t the ogre I portrayed. Instead, he was a hard-working hustler who with no college education or formal training and zip emotional or financial support from my father, managed to build a business from scratch. And, in a community of stay-at-home moms, I resented that mine was an outlier. I wanted the one who baked homemade cookies, not the mom who worked and kept a business phone line in her bedroom.
Then overnight my life changed. In 1996, my mother had a massive stroke. It was only then that I could see that despite her Rock of Gibraltar persona she was vulnerable as us all and appreciate what I lost. Finally we would stop a lifetime of tap dancing around each other and do what we’ve been avoiding: talk.
For the next 13 years after the stroke, I would sit in the wheelchair parked next to her bed and we would swap stories into the night, gossiping about neighbors, rehashing family tales and watching her favorite shows – the View and Rosie.
“You have an issue with gay people!” she once snapped after I outed her beloved Rosie O’Donnell as a lesbian
While the stroke may have destroyed her body, her mind remained sharp, providing insight to the pressure she felt as a Catholic to stay in a so-so marriage and run a business. Our relationship, which always felt clinical, began to soften as she shared the stories of using her wedding silver to secure her first business loan, shady employees caught stealing and apartment tenants trashing units before leaving. I finally realized the horseback riding lessons, braces and college were because of her hard work and chutzpah. More so, I realized that growing up I was a handful.
When she died in April 2008, I felt our relationship had come full circle. During her last years of life, I finally had the conversations I wanted and got to express my love and gratitude to her for being such an incredible role model. The sad part is that it took a stroke to bring me to that point.