Joan's Blog

"Watch Me Pull A Rabbit Out Of My Hat"
DECEMBER 30, 2011 5:52AM

December 30

Rate: 56 Flag

It happens the same way every year. I don't remember the day my mother died until I look at the calendar. I am writing, "6:00 dinner reservations," and see that the date is December 30. One year I wrote, "Dumplings, 2:00." I was unsure whether to keep the date with friends, because of the date on the calendar.

It happens the same way every year. It is not a date I remember until I am making plans for the day. Writing on the kitchen calendar. Frozen for the tiniest second.

The day my mother died.

I was not there.  At her insistence, I was not there. I wish I didn't know that. But my brother felt I should know.

When Mom was dying, I asked her if we should call you. She said "no."

She didn't die that day. She died a couple of weeks later, alone. The doctor from the nursing home called. My brother had added me as an emergency contact. I would have been the last person they would have called if they had known how my mother felt about me. In fact, I was the last person they called, but the first to pick up the phone. 

I had the flu that year. Maybe it was the fever that made me think the doctor on the phone had a Swedish accent. I pictured him tall and blonde and capable.  It won't be long now. I thanked him. 

When the Swedish doctor finally tracked down my brother, it was too late. She was gone. I comfort myself by imagining that the Swedish doctor stayed with her until she took her last breath. That he spoke to her in his thick accent, maybe telling her a story as she passed over to the other side.

It has been fifteen years.

I write about my mother to unravel the tangles. To separate the woman who barred me from her life and her death, from the woman who had warm brownies waiting after school. No matter how hard I pull at the tangles, I end up with a bigger knot. My mother didn't let people in, and I was no exception. Sometimes I think I have untangled one of the threads and I find myself with a tiny bit of understanding. For the most part, now, as when she was alive, my mother remains a mystery to me. 

It happens the same way every year.  I am writing on the kitchen calendar. This year, a dinner reservation at 6 with my own beloved daughter. I will think about my mother today, but there will be no answers. I will put the tangled knots and the loose ends away for another year.





Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
Very poignant, Joan. Tall, blonde, capable, Swedish.
She didn't have the answers, either. With less support in her long life than you've known in your short one, she didn't have the tools to figure it out. What is most certainly true (now I sound like Martin Luther), is that you are surrounded by love. Your husband, daughter, friends, and extended family cherish you dearly. Count me in.
Strikes home for me, Joanie. Thank you. And I mean that...Thank You.

It's pretty rough having that sense of irresolution Joan. I was inclined to say something like at some point one has to accept that there aren't answers for everything, but I realize that's easier said than done.
This is a touching piece. Some knots you just can't untie. Putting them in a drawer is okay.
Wrenching. So honest it hurts.
Figuring out that we can't figure everything out still counts, as well, figuring it out. Well done Joanie, Happy New Year.
While reading I was reminded of those hair brushing sessions with my mom where conquering one strand of knotted up hair just led to a snarl elsewhere...So complicated.
Very sad. How can you not even remember such a date until it comes up?
Maybe you should put those loose ends and tangled knots out at the curb to be hauled away. Peace to you Joan.
I love the metaphor of the knots and the loose ends - and what is left unsaid about the ties that bind us. I hope you have a great dinner. I'd order a nice glass of wine and toast to lifes mysteries and to improving upon our childhood experiences with our own children.
Nobody has all the answers to the many questions pondered during our lives.

Just know you are loved by many and save those memories close to your heart.

I've come to realize mothers and daughters can be the most difficult relationship to understand and when either passes on, their spirits stay behind to remind us of their purpose was more than can be defined by their existence.
Rated. Reality really is stranger than fiction.
"I write about my mother to unravel the tangles. To separate the woman who barred me from her life and her death, from the woman who had warm brownies waiting after school. No matter how hard I pull at the tangles, I end up with a bigger knot. "

This is such beautiful writing and a poignant, heartfelt, lovely piece.
I hope you find some peaceful pleasures today. Your words and ability to write about your family helps all of us in ways you may not even know. R
I wish you could find the right thread, Joanie. This so strikes home for me; my mom is changing every day and the woman who made the cookies for my kindergarten class is coming out from the behind the woman who cut me off when I dated the "wrong" kind of guy and spoke to me only in put-downs. At least you know your beautiful daughter will never face this dilemma. Never. And maybe, in the end, that's at least partially due to your mom.
Sometimes you just don't get answers but if you're lucky, you'll get some peace.
Beautiful metaphor for a complicated relationship! Well done.
Happy New Year to you~
My date is October 1. I never forget. Happy Holidays, Joan.
Sometimes, I feel the same way about my mom who died. Conflicted. I agree with dianaani, my mom, like yours, probably didn't have all the tools to figure it out. Still, I miss her terribly.
Thoughts and memories never go away my friend. Years do..:(
Happy New year and huggggggggggg
The important thing is that you honor her, Joan, which is no small feat. Happy New Year! r.
All that we can do is learn how to love our tangled up ball. Lots of daughters, maybe even all daughters, have them. I'm learning from you and others that all daughters are indelibly etched with the date their mother died. Mine was June 30th, the morning after my birthday. Ten hours earlier, and the remainder of my birthdays would be the Day My Mother Died. Five days earlier for yours, and it would be Christmas. We can thank them for that small courtesy.

I wish you and the Hs a warm and healthy New Years.
Beautiful in its raw pain; I was in tears as I read on.
I had this type of relationship with my father.
My experience has been that regardless of how I pulled at the threads no wisdom came from it only more knots with no answers.
The only recourse is that I not foster that type of relationship with my own children.
Six years later on the anniversary of my father’s death I tell myself that a cycle has been broken and I can get past that moment without falling apart.
How poignant, Joan. Sad, really. Someday we should talk of our mothers.
beautifully brutal.

"to unravel the tangles"

A beautiful piece, Joan. I'm so sorry for the knots your mother caused in your life. I'm glad you have the courage to live a different life.
Mothers are sometimes quite enigmatic, aren't they?

I know my mom would love us to have one of those heartwarming Hallmark television relationships, but that's never going to happen. And it's never going to happen because she's an emotional minefield, driven by fear and full of rage, which has all too often been directed at me. It's in my best interest to keep a safe distance. What's sad is, she seriously does not understand how destructive she is. She is, in a word, narcissistic.

In a way, I'm fortunate, because therapy helped me understand my mom's erratic behavior and helped me figure out a way to manage some sense of a relationship. For you, your mother will always remain a mystery. As much as my relationship with my mom pushes me to the edge sometimes, I still have one. I imagine not knowing exactly why your mom cut you out of her life without explanation must have been (and still is, maybe) very hurtful.

My relationship with my mom has made me work that much harder at developing a healthy, loving relationship with my own daughter. It seems to me you're doing the same thing. What we can't have with our own moms, we build and nurture and create with our own daughters.

You'll be in my thoughts today, Joan.
Lovely post. I relate so well with this. r
It occurred to me as I read this powerful piece that it is an explanation for why you are having so much difficulty letting go of Julia. My mother is still alive, but the tangled web endures. I have accepted that, however I would have preferred for things to be, she did the best she could with the tools she had.

You have come so far, Joan. Your legacy is so very different than hers...
dang. you always find a way to get me teary eyed. moms have a way of putting us in knots, despite our own efforts to prevent that. hope you and the girl have a nice dinner tonight :)
Oh, if we only had the answers. I know writing about it helps and that, you do so well.
Strikes home for me too. Can't always be where we should have been or where we think we should have been.
I bet you could write a great short story from your mother's point of view. Trying to imagine what her thoughts were, and why.... It's just an idea-- but it's a story I would love to read & it could be very healing for you.
Beautifully written. I hope that taking those occasional moments to meditate on the tangles in some way will eventually help you to make more sense of it all, or simply make peace with what you've got.

It's been 21 years since my mother died, and I have similar moments. I felt like I had few answers until my uncle uncovered the clues that led to this story, which didn't fully come to light until his research of the last two years. Sometimes mothers want to remain a mystery, whatever the reason.

I hope that you keep that dinner reservation. Whatever little bits you can untangle today, my wish is that you'll find some additional measure of understanding and gain some peace from that. May your mother's mysteries be more innocuous than my mother's and grandmother's.
We need closure so much, we humans, yet life is seldom tidy.

When I think of your writing, Joan, the word "grace" comes to mind, in every possible sense of the word.
I am glad you have your daughter today. I believe you are a very good mother, wife, friend and person.
"tangled knots" are something I understand.
Enjoy your dinner.
Here's to honesty and open arms in 2012. And more lovely words from Joan H. HNY
Gorgeous, powerful, painfully honest, heartbreaking and brave. All you need do is look at The Amazing Julia to know she will have no such knots... and you surely untangled more than a few of your own to give her that gift. Which is your gift too, for all who know and love you. xoxo
The way you relate your relationship with your mother to a tangled knot is so, I'm not sure what but....I find myself nodding along.
I so wish your Mom had been brave enough to be happy, let go of enough to be happy...
What a wonderful daughter she missed too much of -- I'm just glad you keep writing, it's such a gift to read your stories.
Happy New Year's, Joan, to you and yours : )
A tough anniversary, I'm sure. So, enjoy the dinner with your girl savouring the moments. I'm sorry you missed out with your own mother but you get to do it the right way, this time around. Best of the New Year to both of you, Joanie.
We tell ourselves they did the best they could. Maybe. I don't know. It's been six years for me. I think about her on her birthday. And I am sad. I miss her. I miss who she could have been.
Much, much love to you, Joanie.
A big hug, Joan.

And what Jaime says. I hope you had a wonderful dinner!
I second what Jaime said. Use the dinner as an opportunity to celebrate your relationship with your daughter and the fact that you will never repeat your mother's mistake.
Fabulous writing that breaks my heart.
Joan your posts are so touching, and so personal. I find myself making comparisons, almost inevitably.

I don't know when my dad died, exactly. It was in the spring. I remember because of all the azaleas. But the date wasn't important. Just the spring.
gratuitous cruelty (your brother) set against the possibility of a story-telling doctor who cared for his dying patient are very effective bits of this piece, joanie. i smiled at the swedish part, being partly that myself, and felt the warmth of tears behind my eyes at the 15 years, almost the same as when my wonderful dad died. i'm glad you had the girl home especially today. xo
There are so many difficult memories that come with a life fully lived. We cannot be the person who others feel we must. We cannot change who we are in the past, the present or the future, we should not. We are. Life is retrospection in the present and acceptance in the future. We cannot change people, we can only prevent them from changing us. While we look forward with hope surrounded by those who love us, we can feel that warmth and our vision is tempered by that clear acceptance and deep understanding, all else, we cast away to live our own lives.
August 28, 1985 for my mom. A nasty brain tumor. I miss her, am haunted by her memory, and 26 years later, have really begun to accentuate the positive. You'll work out the knots.
Tangled. Yes! My friend told me that my mother probably doesn't want to see me anymore than I want to see her. That made sense to me and yet here we are entwined in a life and death drama. Life is complicated. I like how everyone pointed out that our relationships with our daughters are better because of the pain. I hope so. Thank you for this heartfelt post.
I miss my mother so much and you have made this feeling easier to deal with. Thanks again and HNY"
sometimes those knots are there for a reason...focus on tying bows with your family...bows can be opened and hold only good surprises..
Incredible writing, you tug at my heart, unraveling marvel at your ability to remain with the open question despite the pain of it. So gently you write about this, all the power going into the love for your daughter that you let in as surely as your mother shut you out.
The knot is a wonderful, albeit sad, metaphor. Perhaps you'll never be able to unravel it entirely, but I hope the enduring vexation of the undoable knots will ameliorate. Wishing you much happiness, self discovery, and composure for the new year, Joan! Sorry I haven't been around OS as much.
You always write about sorrow so beautifully, that I have to read you on two levels, I always tell myself: on one level to purely appreciate your craft, and on another, as someone reading about a person she's come to care about very much. But you are so effective, that in the end, there's no divide: I admire how you write, but the sadness seeps through. I'm so sorry that you still have so many questions about your mother's death. It's interesting - many wise animals, including cats, and, I've heard, elephants, tend to prefer to wander off alone to die. It may be something we, the living, won't understand until our time comes. Whatever the case, and whatever the answer may be, I hope you do find peace about this one day.
Beautiful! I hope you enjoyed your last few days with Julia. :)
Some of those knots never come undone; your capacity for recognizing it for what it is is part of why your writing is so compelling.