Friday, September 23, 2016

Fame can blot out a lot of sunshine

Earlier this year I read that the three most recognizable men on the planet were Barack Obama, Muhammad Ali and Sir Paul. With The Champ's passing, I guess this means Paul moves up to #2. (I'm betting the Pope has cracked the big three, but I don't know for sure.)

That level of fame is inconceivable to me. It not only must be hard to be Paul McCartney, it's probably also very difficult to be tangentially connected to him. Your achievements very easily get lost in shadow cast by his light.

Take, for example, Dr. Richard Asher. Born in England in 1912, he began practicing medicine in London in the mid-1930s. He specialized in hematology and endocrinology. But beyond his chosen fields, he made discoveries and encouraged innovation that had impact all around the world.

•  In 1947, he began advocating for "early ambulation." Very (perhaps overly) simply put, in those days, complete and total bedrest was the prescription for just about everything. Dr. Asher insisted his hospitalized patients walk a bit every day. If you've been in a hospital lately, you know here in the States, doctors agree with him on this.

•  He proved that a body being too cold is as dangerous as being feverish, which is why hospitals now have thermometers that detect hypothermia.

• He defined Munchausen Syndrome in 1951. When a person repeatedly pretends to be sick to gain attention or sympathy, they have Munchausen Syndrome. Parents or caregivers who make those in their care ill for the same reason have Munchausen by proxy. And Dr. Richard Asher was the first to identify and write extensively about it.

Yet he's best known as the father of Jane Asher, the actress once engaged to Paul McCartney. I appreciate you, Dr. Asher, and I'm sorry that it's taken me so long to learn about you. Rest in peace.

... and so I cried a little

My mom died four years ago this month. She'd been very ill for a while, and I was exhausted by worry about her. And her death was just the beginning of a very ugly adventure with the legal system and banks and my sisters as we laid her to rest and dismantled her life.

I spent a lot of that time equal parts angry, disillusioned and bone tired. I was angry that my mom didn't really work at her rehab or cooperate with the doctors. I felt she died before she had to, and when I still needed her.

I was upset to learn that my mother never saw fit to maintain her life insurance, so we (and by "we" I mean "I") were facing a big bill for her funeral. I asked her not to make her executor but she did it anyway. This was like painting a target on my back for my sisters to aim at -- and my older sister is an especially lethal shot -- so to be honest, I'm still pissed.

Still, since my mother had no cash or stocks, no will and a reverse mortgage. I thought being her executor would be simple, at least legally. It was not. And don't think there's not a weight to opening your purse and seeing your mother's death certificate -- a necessity as I had to carry it with me when I did the rounds from one columned building to another.

I also had to revisit a lot of the fissures within my family, and to come to grips with the fact that my mother was at the fulcrum for much of it. Then there were the new revelations. My favorite was having to keep my face composed as I listened to my mom's best friend tell me my mother used to explain away the hostility between me and my older sister as "jealousy over your sister's great beauty."

This all came back to me Tuesday night. My friend Mindy's mother died over the weekend. I never did cotton to that woman. She was all about appearances. (It must be said that, for my part, I left Mrs. G. shaking her head, as well.)

She also very obviously favored Mindy over her older sister. I could see this damaged both of her daughters. Mindy felt tremendous pressure to be "the good girl," something that's traveled with her, and inhibited her, throughout her life. Now that she's over 60, she's still worried about putting a foot wrong. Her older sister, on the other hand, always felt frustrated and misunderstood. And here's the thing: BOTH women are people you'd be glad to know, and that their mother should have been proud of.

Yet the older sister posted the sweetest tribute to their mother. Photos taken throughout the woman's life -- with great emphasis on her early years as a fashion plate and a beautiful bride, which she would have wanted. But it was the song choice that made my throat close up. "For Good," from Wicked.

Like a comet pulled from orbit as it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder halfway through the wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good

It was such a beautiful, generous sentiment. And I started to cry. Sitting at my computer at my desk at work, I started to cry.

For Mrs. G.'s daughters, who didn't get the mother they deserved but got one they loved anyway. For Mrs. G., for not being able to appreciate her girls for who they are.

For me and my mother. I do love her and I do miss her. I am angry at her. And I know all these things can coexist.

I haven't genuinely mourned her because, I think, I was afraid I would fall apart. It was all too much. She was the parent I was closest to, depended on the most. To see her as less than perfect was scary.

On the other hand, I am what my shrink used to call "a truth teller." This photo always resonated with me. The solitary figure, howling at the moon. I was the one in my family who couldn't help yelling, "THIS IS ALL FUCKED UP!" Whereas my mother, the child of two alcoholics, was just as driven ... to keep it all together, to avoid conflict at all costs, to insist everything was fine (even, and especially, when it wasn't), to say, "There's nothing to see here."

So there was always destined to be friction between us.

And that's OK. 

Our parents love us, and they damage us because they aren't perfect. We love them, and we disappoint them, because we came from them but grew into autonomous human beings. It's the natural, albeit painful, order of things.

With the distance that comes from four years, I'm able to see that.

No, scratch that. I always SAW it.

With the safety that comes from four years, I'm able to feel that.