It was a bittersweet occasion. She'd been ill for the last two years of her life: with a myelodysplasia, a disease that hinders the longevity of your red blood cells.
The downhill process was not pretty. She was not ready for the abyss of the great beyond, and fought to live until her dying breath.
I'm guessing I'll do the same.
It would be wonderful to say that she had been one of those moms who made every one of her children feel as if they were her favorites, but that wasn't the case. While growing up, winning her approval was a constant endeavor. Even as adults, her three kids tiptoed around any issue that might throw her into a tizzy, or have her worrying to the point that she'd call the other two siblings to espouse her views on the problem child du jour's issue at hand.
Eventually we trained ourselves not to do her bidding: that is, to reiterate her advice to the odd-kid-out—something that we knew she'd already expressed in her very direct manner.
I know her worries on our behalf was her way of staying close to her farflung children. And I have no doubt that it also gave her something to focus on, other than her own problems: specifically her bouts of depression.
Her mood swings were notorious. If one of us had the misfortune to be caught in the black maelstrom of one, all we could do was resign ourselves to wait it out.
Or to disappear from her life, sometimes for months at a time.
Eventually, each of us came to the decision to live our lives without worrying "What would Mom think?" about the careers we chose, our spouses, and most importantly of all, the way in which we raised our own children.
Our kids also had their learning curves with their grandma. Their attitudes toward her ran the gamut: one lived for her approval. Another realized quickly that there was no pleasing her, and tuned her out completely. The third saw that her love was unconditional no matter what, and learned to laugh through any discomfort her suggestions and declaration caused.
I'd wished we'd all been that smart at that young age.
I don't wish to leave you with an image of a woman who didn't love her children. On the contrary, she loved us all very much: unconditionally in fact, despite her actions that, at the time, had us doubting this. It is why she worked all her life at jobs that didn't give her professional satisfaction, but put food on the table, clothed us, and allowed us to be raised in tidy houses within safe neighborhoods. It's why we all appreciate the need for a good education, even if she couldn't pay for it for us.
It's why we've always felt as if we were "special": a cut above everyone else, despite having no financial legacy, or renowned surname, or obvious talents.
We are special because she told us so, from the very beginning.
And at the end, she realized that we all loved her unconditionally, too.
So yes, everything I am—driven beyond reason, loving every moment of life, prideful of my children, and able to recognize the true love of my husband, Martin—I owe to my mother, Maria, God rest her soul.
It is a parent's goal to teach their children the lessons they feel are important. What I don't think parents realize is that sometimes the most important things they teach us are what we've witnessed from their mistakes.
For the most part, parenting is often trial by error.
In that regard, my mother taught me a lot: that in truth, none of us are the embodiment of perfection. Rather, we endeavor to rise above our faults and fears in the hope of making ourselves the very best we can be.
[My mom, at nineteen]
Simon & Schuster/Downtown Press
In bookstores June 1, 2010. Order it
"Hollywood's got nothing on the cast of characters living in
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Collins, bestselling author of Hollywood Wives and Poor Little Bitch Girl