My mom has been dead for forty years.
It is the way she confronted her death that I am thinking about this Mothers Day weekend.
I think of it as a gift she left me.
In 1963 Helen Klonsky was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma and faced an uncertain future. Today Hodgkin Lymphoma is treatable. In 1963 the doctors knew less and after 14 years of struggle, radiation and often experimental chemotherapy, my mom’s body gave out.
I’ve written before about Mom’s politics, her hatred of the ideas of male superiority and white chauvinism (as they called it in those days). I think the thing that may have made Dad most attractive to my mother was that he actually took up the gun in Spain to fight the fascists.
She was born to a rebel mother.
So was I.
And when she got ill she remained a rebel in the face of the disease. She was an atheist, but as far as I could tell, she didn’t fear death.
But she loved life too much to give it up easily.
About the time mom got sick, Jessica Mitford wrote a best-selling book about the scam that is the American funeral industry, called The American Way of Death. The book described how the industry took advantage of those who were at their most vulnerable. It gave rise in California to a consumer movement.
Naturally, my parents became members.
The night my mother died I received a phone call from my father and I flew from Chicago to Los Angeles, arriving too late to say my good-byes.
The doctors asked if they could do an autopsy to see what they could learn. Dad and I, of course, gave our permission.
And then we made the call to the Society to take care of her remains.
She was cremated and even now I don’t know where her remains are located. That was part of her plan, her wishes.
It is not for everyone, but that’s is what my mother wanted.
Not for everyone pretty much characterized my mom.
A week later a large crowd gathered in a friend’s sunny backyard and shared our memories.
A mother’s gift.