My mother had 13 years from the time the youngest of her three sons—that would be me—went off to college and her passing in December 1998 at the age of 67.
We’d visit her on Long Island, as she continued to live in the house in which we’d grown up in Albertson, New York, sometimes for Thanksgiving or Christmas-Hanukkah, occasionally—more rarely—in summer or spring.
I remember being at home and hearing her in another part of the house, alone, engaged in conversation with herself. I thought, “How very sad to be so lonely, to have gotten so used to being all alone.”
Born in Manhattan as Rita Warmbrand and then, later, as Rita Hope Hemachandra as her married and widowed name, she was a true New Yorker—living in Manhattan and Queens and then on Long Island all her life. She went to school at City College and became a NYC public school teacher—a kindergarten teacher.
My mother was extraordinarily social and talkative—again, a true New Yorker, accent and all. She never met a stranger. In line at the bank or grocery store, at the beach, in a parking lot, she’d just start talking to people, vocalizing whatever conversation was going on in her head or whatever she was responding to in the world. She was friendly and smiling, so people usually responded and engaged in the conversation, out of context for them though it often was.
We’d be on the subway, and she’d be having a conversation with a woman sitting next to her on one train and then, changing lines, keep the conversation going uninterrupted with whatever guy happened to be standing next to her in the next subway car. New Yorkers, being New Yorkers, at least from that era, were usually more up for it than they were perplexed.
I’m approaching the age my mother was when I went to college. I don’t live alone yet. My son, Nicholas, who is 20 years old, autistic, and intellectually disabled, still lives with me, thank goodness.
When that changes, in a few years, and he starts to live on his own with supports, he’ll miss me.
I’ll miss him more.
This past year, because of COVID quarantine I’ve spent almost all of my time working from home. Some meetings will start to be in person again in the next couple of months. But I still haven’t gotten in the habit again of working—consulting work, work for committees and boards for nonprofits and government organizations, advocacy work—from anywhere but home.
Some days I catch myself, late in the day, realizing I haven’t left the apartment at all.
And some days I realize I’m talking to myself out loud—not the full conversations my mother had, but exclamations and occasional lines of commentary. Catching myself and living it, I no longer think how very sad for her, but maybe now just how sad—for me, for so many, the loneliness of this past year starting to pass by now, for some, but still lingering as part of us all.
A few other stories and vignettes you might enjoy:
- Women and Men and Autism: Love and Bathrooms
- Never Met a Stranger: Connection in the 21st Century
- Come Fly with Me
- Friendship, racism, loyalty, and love: Bowling in Chicago
- The Egg Chair
- A Little Sweet Bowling Vignette: So Old!
- Love in the Time of Segregation and Discrimination
- “Poppa, Do You Have Autism?”
- Remembering My Aunt Hattie