Debbie, Carrie, Mom and me

Carrie Fisher dedicated her final book, “The Princess Diarist,” to her mother, whom she thanked “for being too stubborn and thoughtful to die” after a health scare in 2012. “I love you, but that whole emergency, almost dying thing, wasn’t funny. Don’t even THINK about doing it again in any form,” Fisher wrote.

Now, of course, both of them are gone, dying within a day of each other just after Christmas.

Fisher, 60, and Reynolds, 84, had a complicated relationship that included a full decade of estrangement. Somehow they got past it and wound up as a close-knit pair, living next door to each other in mansions with a shared driveway.

Most of us don’t have famous mothers, but the trajectory of the Reynolds-Fisher bond feels familiar nonetheless. The women of the Greatest Generation are a formidable lot. And they were our moms.

My own mother and I lived separate lives for many years. After my father died, she remained in the family home in Rhode Island while I moved to Illinois, New York and finally, Pennsylvania. We saw each other several times a year and caught up weekly on the phone.

That changed when Mom was in her early 70s and began to have health problems. She wound up moving into a house my husband and I bought and renovated next door to our own. So there we were, side by side, like Debbie and Carrie—minus the mansions.

It was a tough transition and Mom didn’t like it here—not the house (too small), the town (too rural) or us, really. But over time she adapted. She made friends, found new doctors and resigned herself to Walmart as a poor substitute for the varied shopping options she had enjoyed “at home,” as she called Rhode Island during the entire decade she resided here.

We forged a new and different relationship. Mom’s health and cognitive issues put me in the caretaker role—the classic swap. I became the mother, doing her pills and bills, handling doctor’s appointments and emergencies.

One time I flew to Ohio to visit my brother. The phone rang. It was Mom. She had fallen off the side porch and was OK, but had broken her glasses.

I called my husband and told him to take her to Lens Lab. Unfortunately, he let her buy frames that were 20 years out of date—much like the ones Sophia wore in “The Golden Girls.” Mom had them for the rest of her life, and every time I saw them it was a reminder that I wasn’t there when she needed me.

Although Mom had many close scrapes, she always bounced back. I was pretty sure she would live forever. I know from other Boomer friends caring for aging parents that the fear of predeceasing them is a common worry.

In the end, I outlived my mother. And even with all the difficulties of having her next door, I’m grateful for the experience. I got to know her in a new way.

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  • Blog Author

    Jacqueline Damian

    Jacqueline Damian is a writer and editor living in Milford, PA. The author of "Sasha’s Tail: Lessons from a Life with Cats" (W.W. Norton), she has worked in newspapers, magazines, book publishing and technology journalism. Read Full
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