I am not sure how to begin.
My mother passed away yesterday, twenty days shy of her 90th birthday. I would like to say peacefully, but I think her poor old body just couldn’t handle anymore. I don’t know how to properly grieve, so I write. Her pain is gone, mine continues.
We didn’t always have the best relationship, but we did love each other. She wasn’t always easy to love, and I guess in my continued efforts at complete honesty, neither am I. Two divorces certainly seem to prove that.
She held some views that were difficult to accept, and I often feared that her bigotry would trickle down, in a leaking sink sort of way…. or rather like the Atlantic banging at the shore, sometimes slowly, or more dramatically at high tide, forever changing its landscape. Do I teach my children to wade through her ideas to sort out those old fashioned ideas of value and worth, or do I continue to focus on our inconsistencies in the hopes that they will see where she and I failed to have a meeting of the minds?
For all that she hated, or judged, she loved with the same passion. I could see in those milky blue eyes, the seemingly bottomless depth of love that she had for my children. And for me.
As she drifted in and out of lucidity, screaming at nurses to get away, failing to recognize her surroundings, she never failed to look through me with recognition, asking me if she was safe. Is this nurse nice? Should I trust her? And in more lucid times, reminding me of her love for me and the kids, and apologizing for any of the long forgotten arguments between us. “I should have done better…” she said.
Watching my kids grieve is hard. I have tried to prepare them for this imminent loss, tempering hope with the hard reality of life. They are strong, but they cry in bursts, and seem more focused on holding me up through this time.
I have cried far more than I thought I would. Maybe once again too hard on myself, I thought I might feel a sense of relief for all the things I would no longer have to do. No more doctor appointments, no more bed changing or screaming at the dinner table to accommodate her refusal to get a hearing aid. Overcome with guilt for all the times, she annoyed me, and somehow as a mother better understanding some of the choices that she made through my life, knowing I might handle it differently, but still having a better understanding why she did what she did. As always, she wanted to protect us from the world.
These tears don’t seem to want to stop. I am motherless. I am parentless. I am husbandless. In spite of being surrounded my the intense love of my children and a few precious friends, I feel so alone. Cemented in the surreal task of having to retrieve her earrings from her body… her special earrings…. her gold hoops, for my daughter. I cried like a baby, and begged the nurse to go in ahead of me to make sure that her eyes were closed before I pulled the sheet down to see her one last time. She was so cold, and all I could say over and over was “I am so sorry”.
For all the difficulties and all the arguing, it is her endless pride that I think I will remember most… pride in her family, pride in herself… a never-ending ideal of the way things SHOULD be, and of how we should present ourselves to the world. “Never let them see you sweat” comes to mind, but does not quite define her as clearly as ” A lady never leaves the house without her lipstick.” I struggled to keep her idea in mind over the years, as my marriage failed. Some days it was a struggle to just get out of bed, let alone put on my lipstick. But I did… she told me that I had to… and to this day, I never leave the house without my lipstick.
I hope as the years pass, and the image of her failing body are replaced with memories of her beauty, I will remember that dignity. Stoic and ever mindful that we are always “representing ourselves”, her gloves always matched her purse, and it contained her pink lipstick, reminiscent of days gone by.
I hope I listened closely enough, so that her stories of childhood, her history, my history are part of ours interwoven stories to be passed down again and again. I will continue to write about her. She was one of the most powerful women I have ever known… not worldly power, but straight backed, lesson teaching power…lipstick wearing, purse carrying lessons reminiscent of days gone by. Thank you for the lessons, and the love, and the never ending hope that someday, I will get it all right.
I love you Mom. Please rest in peace.