Teacher Professor

January 22, 2013

The Language of Mothers

Filed under: Home Things — Teacher Professor @ 9:51 am

Greek letters

“Who am I going to speak Greek to?” my husband asked last night in a quiet moment.

My husband’s mother died last week, and while it wasn’t a surprise, it was still a shock. After the hurry of getting her to Ohio to be buried next to her husband and the- hurry, hurry- driving 15 hours up and back and dealing with our car, which chose the day before the drive-hurry, hurry- to hit a pothole and bend the rim, which necessitated expensive car repairs just as we needed to hurry, hurry 600 miles- after the flurry, we were at home, quiet on a cold January night. And my husband realized that he had no one left who understood his language.

Losing a mother is… beyond words. You lose that connection to yourself- to your past- that tether of “Hey, remember the time that we…?” and “What was I like when I was…” and “Where were we when…?” Those questions remain unanswered now. This is the process of becoming an orphan in middle age as the world moves on, leaving you next in the line of succession. In the gradual decline of his mother- as she slipped farther and farther into dementia and into her old memories, he began that gradual grieving process. Her death solidified the beginning of the end of grieving. He expected to miss her. He did not expect to lose his language.

My husband, even though he was born at Camp Lejuene to a Marine father, had Greek as his first language because he and his immigrant mother talked together as he grew up- my husband learned Greek as his mother tongue. It was the language of home, of laughter, of shared jokes and love. They lived in North Carolina. They lived in Ohio. They lived in Massachusetts. And they lived in Greece for many years when she grew tired of being a stranger in a stranger land. But the language they spoke here was their own private communication that connected him to an island far away in the deep turquoise of the Greek sea- an island that was “home”.

It reminded me of the language that all mothers speak to our children- with or without autism, with or without second languages, with or without any discernible differences. We speak a language with our children- we shape their language, we build a language with them that is unique and distinctive from any other language structures around us, and our shared language connects us and our children to “home”.

I somehow think that when my mother-in-law was born in 1924 on an island in Greece, her family never anticipated that she would be buried in a small town in Ohio. She never expected the giant changes in her life that history and politics and love would create. But she endured and she thrived and she raised an amazing son.

I snuggled my own son last night, and he called me “Tom” because “Mommy” is too babyish and “Mom” is too ordinary, and it is our own private name between us and we have our language. Our words tether us to home and home is more than this place. It’s our love and our communication and our frustration and our guidance and the sum of the whole that is so much more than the parts. And although we don’t speak Greek, we speak “us”.

I held my husband last night as well as we cried for the woman who formed his “us”. For the woman with whom he spoke Greek.

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