An Unconventional Mother’s Day Tribute to an Unconventional Mom

This lovely memorial is by Diane D’Angelo.

Diane E. D’Angelo, MS, worked as Gestalt therapist for many years before leaving the profession in 2001. She now works in communications and public affairs. She writes for Voices of Arizona and Divine Caroline, and is a passionate advocate for alternatives to conventional psychiatric treatment.

My mother, Eliese Jeanette LaMirand D’Angelo, died in January, 2001. She was 70. I learned of her death a few years ago through a state records search. I saw her grave for the first time just recently, and it was hard. We’d had no contact since 1994, when she returned a letter I wrote. She’d marked the envelope, “Will Not Accept.” Those words pretty much summed up our relationship from 1984 on.

It’s complicated. I could easily blame homophobia for her behavior, but it wasn’t just that. I always knew somehow that there was going to be a severance between us. We were just inherently different. And I loved her dearly, and I’ve never stopped missing her. Over the years well-meaning folks have tried to demonize her to make me feel better, and God knows, I played along sometimes, but I could never hate her. She was my Mom. She had demons beyond comprehension, survived horrors that garner other people uniforms full of medals and accolades for bravery. I’ve always found it ironic that we honor former prisoners of war, but victims of abuse are pathologized at best, demonized at worst.

So I forgive her and I remember the things I loved about her.

My mom was beautiful. French, Scottish and Native American, she had high cheekbones, perfect teeth and blue eyes that changed with her moods. The woman did not tan; she bronzed. She and my father (one of those Italian dreamboat guys) made a striking couple back in the day.

She had a fine aesthetic and gave me a love for fashion and the arts that I appreciate more as the years go on. When I was a kid, she encouraged truancy so she wouldn’t have to be home alone. We’d sit there, watching movies from the 30’s and 40’s. Instead of the usual curriculum, I got intensive schooling in the differences between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. From time to time, I find myself humming the theme from “Now Voyager” and smiling at the drama of it all.

I can cook because my mom hated to. In 1974, she agreed to wash the dishes if I made dinner. What a deal! I was also given carte blanche at the grocery store. Of course, my middle-class, midwestern dad was confounded at finding quiche on his dinner plate instead of meatloaf, but so what? I could create!

Mom had a great, twisted sense of humor and loved to laugh. Our rag-tag family (no one was blood-related) would occasionally stop fighting long enough to note some quirky-ass thing and we’d laugh hysterically — my mom most of all. She’d stop, and then start again, in between drags off a Salem. I treasured those moments.

She also taught me that no one is better than anyone else, and imbued me with a ferocity for fairness that shapes so much of who I am today. Before succumbing to her internal struggles, she had genuine compassion for people treated badly by society. Thank you, Mom.

The conventional wisdom about “closure” is a myth, I think. Life is messy. So Mother’s Day and the rest of the holidays leave me wistful and wishing things could have been different. However, in stillness, I do get a sense of peace and gratitude for it all. I talk to my mom sometimes, and hope she’s at rest somewhere. Through the door that remains open, I wish her and all moms a Happy Mother’s Day.