Mourning the loss of my mother
| It has been three months since my mother’s passing. The whole world has been altered in that time. In fact it was altered in only a moment but the permanence of the change has been proving true daily. I have not adjusted yet.
There are moments when I feel I’ve been in a bad dream, and I will wake up, and she’ll be there. Or she’ll come home from dialysis or shopping any minute now. Every where I turn there are memories. What she would have said to this, or how much she would have enjoyed that. As we gathered together for Dad’s birthday to celebrate what a great man he is and how much we love him, I wondered if anyone else, besides Dad, felt her absence as keenly as I did. (He didn’t have to say anything. I know he was feeling it.)
The books Mom loved, the jewelry that she took such pride in because someone gave it to her, her collectibles, her crafts, her sewing things. They’re all precious connections to my mother. I wear her clothes, even when they don’t fit me, because they are her gift to me, my legacy. I never realized she had such good taste. She’s made me rich in the material things she left behind, things that mean nothing to anyone else; things that may not have marketable value.
And she prepared for us. The freezers are full of things she made, vegetables she put up. The pantry is full of cans and boxes she bought. And fruit cake, zucchini bread in the freezer. We are well supplied. That was so typical of her nurturing nature. All we lack is her.
Mom loved us beyond a doubt. We will never have that again. She loved her brothers without question; they were both perfect to her. She loved her kids and knew no sacrifice she wouldn’t make on their behalf. Hers was a sacrificial love. Our illustrations are too numerous to cite.
She loved her husband and depended on him. That was evidenced more in her actions than in her words. I watched them in the nursing home as he prepared her for bed each night. She’d put her arms around his neck, and he would lift her out of her chair and onto the bed. She’d hold him extra long, not wanting to let go. Her trust in him to protect her and help her was complete. Later at home, the two of them would do each other’s feet and surgical stockings, two old cripples tending to each other with care and concern. There are people who look all their lives for that kind of love and never find it. “Through sickness and health” doesn’t really mean a lot to newlyweds. But over fifty years together builds true love.
The world moves on and we go about our jobs and routines. It doesn’t seem quite right. If the earth stopped in its revolution and people on the street were openly mourning, maybe I would feel better. Like the universe recognized its loss. Like mankind realized there was one less source of love and nurturing and mercy in its sordid existence.
Yeah, yeah, I know death is no respecter of persons. Others have gone through this. But my mother really was a wonderful person. My mother was exceptional. My mother was not your run-of-the-mill mother because she was mine. She was one of a kind to me.
My mother was full of encouragement and support. She was like a whole cheerleading squad in one. She reassured and encouraged strangers in a hospital who were apprehensive about a next day surgery. She encouraged the young mothers with whom she worked in the store. She encouraged her kids to keep working at things frustrating us. When I had a stroke, she had a natural sense of all the right things to say. She built me up emotionally and gave me positive reinforcement during my recovery. Without even reading all the pamphlets that she picked up on stroke by the American Heart Association, she exemplified perfectly all the advice they gave to family members of a stroke victim. Together with Dad, they made a great team for us when there was trouble.
And there almost always was trouble somewhere in the family: broken bones, football injuries, bicycle accidents, childhood trauma, and later car accidents. Sometimes the traumas called for discipline, and, yes, we fetched our own switches and they had better be good ones, or she used her hand, or maybe a belt. That was expected in those days. But other times she used her knowledge of first aid. She kept a cool head and stopped the bleeding in Jack’s knee before the rescue squad got there; they gave him a hundred stitches and said she saved his leg. She knew exactly what to do when each of us got cut from breaking windows. by accident of course, or sledding into the deep show beneath a layer of ice, or going head first over a bike and into a chain link fence, or cutting off the end of a thumb with a hatchet, oh, I have to stop, the list is too long.
Not only was she a good nurse, she could be patient but firm. When we were really sick, she took good care of us. Even as adults, we figured Mom would know what was wrong with us and we knew we’d survive with her present. For instance, Gary and I both had her visit us when we were married and sick and felt safer the moment we saw her. But she wouldn’t tolerate missing school for minor illnesses. She would try to make light of minor grievances or get us to laugh. That usually worked. The only time she missed it was when I was about 11 or 12 and I started having migraines. I would be absolutely miserable, but I didn’t know it was a migraine and didn’t show any signs of illness except looking unhappy and pouty. I couldn’t concentrate at school and felt like my vision was blurry. I knew there was no use asking if I could stay home, so I didn’t explain to her why I felt bad.
Mom made sacrifices. She passed up nice things for herself so that her kids could have things. She went back to work after 18 years of being a domestic engineer, so that her oldest child could go to college. She did everything within her power to give her kids the basics and the nicer things she wanted for us.
Christmas was always special. She and Dad would stage special things for us and we always felt rich on Christmas Day. (Only when we went back to school and heard from a few other kids did we realize that maybe we were poor.) There was the year she wanted me to have a little sewing machine and Santa apparently didn’t get it in time for Christmas. Two days later, she came into the house from the back porch all excited and calling us. She had “found” a package on the porch when she went out there. We all three (pre-Robert) ran outside ahead of her to look, and there on the far side of the porch was the little machine in its box. Santa must have been startled and left in a hurry when we woke up before he had finished his tasks. It must have been sitting out there ever since Christmas morning. And we all believed it. It wasn’t just about things; it was about joy and love.
Family gatherings were always special and they usually involved food. A cookout in the backyard or a dinner for 20 never left anyone hungry. Guests were always welcomed. Mom was a good cook. And she always served everyone else ahead of herself. Her cooking was her love offering to all of us. She aimed to please and always succeeded. She’d spend half a day preparing what would be erased from sight in half an hour. We probably never expressed adequately the praise and the appreciation she needed. Her labor wasn’t just to get a job done; it was to provide for her family and get their approval.
And sometimes those meals were followed by play. I remember the kitchen being crammed with people playing monopoly or rummy. When grandchildren came along, we’d all play Bingo, or hunt Easter Eggs: 2 little girls and 8 adults. Mom never missed coloring Easter eggs until this year. Backyard meals might be followed by badminton or croquet. Or the meals would be picnics when we were young, followed by fishing or hiking, just our family or uncles and cousins and grandparents.
Mom loved to play when she could get away from her chores. She taught the boys to play football. After all she’d been the toughest tomboy in her own neighborhood growing up. And she played softball with us. She had all the kids in the neighborhood doing finger painting on long rolls of white paper on the picnic table. She’d blow bubbles with us or spray us with the garden hose.
She loved sewing and crafts. Recently I came across an article of clothing she had sewed, and I marveled at the quality of it. She loved all kinds of crafts and homey arts. All of her kids like doing things with their hands, building, creating, and seeing their handiworks come to life.
Mom didn’t drive, so she walked us places. We walked to town (now “the downtown mall”) for back-to-school shopping, and we walked home in the heat down side streets, so that there wouldn’t be so much traffic for her and three grade school kids carrying packages. I remember walking to the Stop’ N Shop where Dad had a second job, and we visited briefly, letting him know where we’d be, then walking more to Grandma’s house and waiting until he got off to come and get us and drive us home.
One place she liked to walk us when we were very young was the library. She had worked there in high school and adored the library. She taught us all the love of books and reading. I was the oldest and could barely read, so she read to us the books that we picked out. I remember Black Beauty especially. It was a bigger book, so she read a chapter or two each day. We’d get on her bed with her, in the middle of the afternoon, and hung on every word. She read with animation and enthusiasm. She even read the National Geographic to us. We had the World Book Encyclopedia, which we used regularly, not just for school work but for anything that aroused our curiosity. She gave us a love for learning.
She read the Bible and sang hymns. She sent us to church, when she couldn’t go herself. She helped teach preschool Bible school and Sunday school until I was 12. Had she not supported me in all my church activities, I might never have found my faith, my greatest treasure. I’ve always felt she was responsible for putting me on the right track.
There were so many things she gave us, too numerous to mention, but most of all she gave us love and respect for our father. To her, he was a king, so we were expected to treat him as a king. Fortunately, he deserved the role. She wanted him to have the best of everything. To us, and to her, there wasn’t anything he couldn’t do. He was our rescuer, our shelter, our provider, our strength. And he loved our mother. They hardly ever spent a night apart in almost 58 years. They held hands throughout their marriage. They held the same values and work ethic and devotion. They weren’t perfect by any means, but they always acted as one in times of woe and times of joy.
I miss my mother so much. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t wish I could put my arms around her. In that last year or so when she was in a wheel chair, I would walk into the room and stand behind her. Old people like to be touched, so I’d lean over and hug her or put my hands on her shoulders and lean my cheek against hers. She’d incline her head towards me. Sometimes I’d give her a shoulder rub and she would go limp and sink into the chair indicating she liked it. Now I realize I wasn’t doing it for her. I did it for me. I hold on to the memory of the way it felt to hold her.
The rest of the world is not going to share my pain. But my family does. And we all have little Doris-shaped holes in our hearts. We’ll survive because of the strength and the courage she gave us. The encouragement she gave us when she lived is still with us. And we will always love her for that.