I lost my mother two months ago. She was 83. At that age, she’d had a long life, filled with both good times and sad times, but heavily weighted toward the positive side. At least, that’s what I believe. In the process of cleaning up after the ones that have left, I believe we unearth new truths. We also re-evaluate what was important both to them, and to ourselves.
In my previous post, The Long Road to Book Three, I mentioned a family member had suffered a stroke. That was my mom. It made me face my own mortality. More importantly, it made me consider everything I needed to say to my mom. Conversations that needed to be had, and even though it was difficult, preparations that needed to be made. Everything that was put in place over the past year helped significantly with this transition. But even with these steps in place losing a parent will never be easy. But let me back up a bit.
A Life Well Lived
My mother was born at the end of the Great Depression. She was an only child, and her parents instilled in her strength and a desire for knowledge that she carried throughout her life. She was a teacher by profession, and spent her life honing her skills, getting a Masters degree and eventually a PhD. And my mom was part of the teacher’s union and fought for teacher’s rights and fair wages, leading one of the most successful strikes in our city’s history.
As a parent, she was kind and loving, adopting a mostly hands-off approach that allowed us children to live our lives. At the same time, she was there for anything we needed. Mostly though, she let us figure things out on our own, passing along those values of strength and truth-seeking to her kids.
My mom traveled when she could, seeing the pyramids of Egypt and Pavarotti in concert in Italy. And she spent her summers in her favorite place in the world, our cabin in Idaho, a beautiful place that inspired my writing. And despite her occasional scalding remarks, she loved unconditionally.
My father passed from cancer at a young age (he was 52), and my mother never re-married. He was her one true love. Sadly, this also led to depression in her life that she was never able to shake. It changed her in ways that were frustrating for us children. In hindsight, I believe that in her own way, she was trying to prevent any further pain for the family.
1993 – 2022 A.D. (After Dad)
My parents mostly acted as a single operating unit. They shared responsibilities, from cleaning and cooking, to bringing in finances and raising the children. And there were four of us kids, separated in age from youngest to oldest by 18 years. So when that operating unit got cut in half, things were bound to break.
I think it must be harder to lose a spouse than a parent. A person who is your other half. Who knows you in a way no one else does. It was impossible for any of us children to understand that then. But it’s something I think about now, when I consider my mom before and after my father’s passing.
She was a compassionate person, only wanting people to be happy. And so, she started hiding things. Keeping secrets that she felt might cause the rest of the family frustration or pain. Whether it was health, personal, and especially financial, she didn’t want us worrying about her. I understand now she tried her best, always presenting a happy face. Unfortunately, it often led to conflict and anger amongst the children, as we were kept in the dark about important things.
As we all grew up and moved away, I remained closest, geographically, to my mom. This meant it fell on me to help out, from simple things like going over to change a light bulb, to bigger things like helping her go buy a car. I lived a couple hours away, so it was inconvenient, but not impossible. Yet I began to feel some resentment toward my siblings for leaving me with this responsibility. I understand now, that was completely unfair and I’ve let that resentment go, fully recognizing the contributions they made in other ways. People need to be able to live their lives.
Preparing for the Best and the Worst
After my mom’s stroke, she needed to move out of her home and into assisted living. The hope was that this would be a temporary situation as she recovered. And she was recovering well. Her speech was good, she could walk, and she was regaining control of her right hand, which had developed a mind of its own. Things were looking positive!
This was also a time to start preparing for many potential outcomes. Will she be able to live at home again? If not, do we need to sell her house? And are her financial affairs in order? The answers to these questions were not easy, and I dealt with each in its own time.
The most difficult part was cleaning her house, preparing for either her coming home, or selling it. There was just so much stuff! She wasn’t exactly a hoarder, she just saved everything. Additionally, she wanted to make sure she never ran out of anything. Printer paper? She was set for life. Paperclips? Envelopes? Scrapbooking supplies? She could have opened her own Office Depot! And why she was hanging on to tax returns from the 1970’s, I’ll never know. But she was prepared for any possible audit. Good lord!
In this process, much of her financial situation came to light. A clearer picture of her life, and how she tried to protect her children, began to form. There were issues that needed fixing, and could have been fixed, if she’d only said something.
The Conclusion of a Life
The truth is, there is no conclusion when it comes to the life and death of a loved one. It goes on for the rest of your life. Oh sure, you can wrap up the finances and distribute belonging (I don’t know which task is bigger). But the memories will always be there and they’ll surface at the strangest times.
My mom left on her own terms. She was in the hospital and made the choice to forgo any further medical care. She called me to let me know it was time, and I called my siblings. If they wanted some last words with her, now was their last chance. You would think with that kind of heads-up, you would be able to have all the necessary conversations. You would be wrong in that thinking, and there will always be more conversations I wish I’d had.
I found that I had a lot of anger toward my mom in the past several years. Why didn’t she take better care of herself? Why didn’t she do the necessary physical therapy? I bought her new shoes recently that she wanted, and I was angry that she never wore them. I was angry that she let her finances get out of control and that now I had to clean up the mess she’d left behind. Those aren’t good feelings to have, and they aren’t helpful.
I’ve let all that go now. I just doesn’t matter.
I know everything my mom did in her life was to provide better lives for her children. I can’t feel anger over that. Even in dying, she felt that in some way, she was lifting her burden from us. Of course we would welcome that burden to still have her around, but I understand and respect her decision.
When she passed, I allowed myself an all too brief moment of grief. Then I took that grief, and tucked it away, up on a shelf. “I’ll deal with you later,” I said. “I’ve got other matters to take care of right now.” And with the help of my wife, my siblings, and my friends, that’s what I did.
The grief still comes in waves, but rather than the constant crashing of ocean breakers, it’s more of an occasional swell. I have yet to take it down from that shelf and fully deal with it, but I will. Someday.
Throughout my life, my mother was my biggest champion, and she inspired the message of my third book. That love truly is more powerful than hate. I wrote that as a tribute to her.
I love you, Mom.