Years ago, during a rough patch of strained communication between my mother and me, I had a conversation with my late Aunt Phyllis, my mom’s beloved sister and partner-in-crime. While visiting my aunt one day, I told her that I thought my mother didn’t love me. She paused for a moment, then broke her silence and said, “That’s interesting, Marla, because your mother told me that she doesn’t think you love her.”
Up until that point I had never thought that my mother had the same feelings of vulnerability that I did. It astonished and pained me to hear this news. I had never wanted to hurt my mother. I hadn’t realized that she needed to be loved by me too. I had believed it was a parent’s duty to love their children, never giving it a thought that it would be nice for them if those feelings were reciprocated.
A similar realization occurred years later, when my mother came to Los Angeles to help take care of me during my cancer struggle. We had spent lots of time together doing errands like shopping, banking, walking—all the necessities of life and living. Most of the time we didn’t talk much, except for the obvious things that needed to be discussed. But one day while at my apartment, we had an argument that caused a silence between us. It was hard to distinguish a silence between us when we hardly spoke.
Feeling uncomfortable with our discourse, I went to my room, lay on my bed and stayed there for a while to be alone with my thoughts. My mother stayed out in the living room and sat in the tanned vinyl chair near the window, reading the newspaper. I called my sister Elaine, and told her of the disagreement that left my mom and I in separate rooms in silence. I told Elaine that I was afraid my mom was mad at me. She told me that she had spoken to my mother a moment earlier and my mother had said the exact same thing, that she was afraid I was mad at her.
Once again it struck me that she too was as vulnerable as I. She was not superhuman after all. I went out to the living room and sat on the floor by her side. She remained in the tanned vinyl chair, still reading the newspaper. I placed my bald head on her lap. She took her hand and caressed my head with such securing tenderness. I told her that I thought she was mad at me. She told me that she thought I was mad at her, that she was so afraid of making me more sick when all she wanted to do was be there to help me. We grabbed each other and cried. I told her that I loved her. She told me that she loved me.
“I’m sorry that I am so sick and such a burden to you and everyone,” I confessed.
“You are not a burden at all, Marla, and this too shall pass. This too shall pass,” she assured me.
We held each other for a while longer, rocking in each other’s arms.
Yes, my mother and I had our problems. Ours was not a perfect relationship. And as much as I thought we were very different, my father often said that we were more alike than not. He said it was our similarities that got us into trouble with each other, not our differences. I still don’t know which similarities he was referring to. What I do know for certain is that she was a dutiful mother, a mother who cared deeply for her children and wanted everything to be fair and equal among my two older sisters and me. If we were ever in trouble emotionally, physically, or financially, she was there for us in a heartbeat.
What I needed from her (like more hugs, kisses and praise) was not often something she was capable of giving. She’d say to me, “It’s just not my way, Marla.”
Later on in life, I decided not to stand on ceremony waiting for her to hug me. Instead, I would make the effort and hug her first. At first she was taken aback but I never let go and she warmed into it and eventually started to laugh. That’s how I got this most amazing picture of me and my mom together with me kissing her and she laughing.
Now she has passed away and I can’t take things back or make anything better. I hope she knew that I loved her before she died. Oddly, out of the three Lukofsky girls, it is I who struggles the most without her, even though I was not the closest to her. What I learned from all of these memories is that she was human too.
My mother was human too.
By: Marla Lukofsky
Date: February 9, 2010
My mother died February 9, 2006
Four years ago.