Mom has been on my mind more than usual lately, and I know it’s because a week from tomorrow will be the one year anniversary of her death. It doesn’t seem possible that a year has passed since that sad and difficult summer filled with nursing homes, hospitals, and worry. I dread that Saturday, afraid of the strong emotions and vivid memories that may bubble forth like they did on Mother’s Day. I am doing well, able to laugh and smile when I think of her, but I know that the deep well of grief can wash over you out of the blue on anniversaries and other significant days.
I finally reached the point where I could go back and read my posts from that time- I couldn’t for so long- and I’m grateful that I wrote about it all in such detail. I don’t want to focus on those last days, but I don’t want to forget them, either. The stories reminded me that we made the best of our time together, we still found reasons to laugh, and our love always shined through. I’m glad that my mind finally let go of replaying the scene of Mom’s death, and let the flood of a lifetime of memories come through instead. We all will die, but we are so much more than the moment of death. I never want to forget that; what we build during our lives, the investment we make in people through love and kindness, are what people will remember when we are gone. Mom was such a good example of that, and I still have people tell me how much they loved her, how sweet and kind she was, how she always had a smile on her face.
There was another side, of course. I heard her fears, her worries, and saw many tears. Mom was human with many flaws, just like me. I want to remember the good things, but I never want to whitewash my mother’s memory. Instead, I hope to learn from her flaws and avoid some of the mistakes she made…as I make enough of them on my own. I also want to respect the fact that even with her flaws and the many challenges she faced, my mother made a happy life and was loved by so many people. We don’t have to be perfect to be happy or loved…a good reminder for me.
I have not been able to go back to the Home for Wayward Seniors for many months now. I want to see my friends, but the thought of walking through those doors is still too difficult. I text regularly with Mom’s friend Linda, and she passes on hellos to the Rev and others for me. I will get there in time. It is funny how some things I can do with no problem, but other things will trigger an avalanche of emotion. Diane and I went to visit her mother during my trip to Lincoln, and when I turned to look at Mrs. Cawein, I realized she was sitting in a maroon lift chair with a crocheted white doily, just like Mom’s. All of the sudden, I felt the tears bubble up, and I barely made it out of the apartment before they spilled over. I guess it will always be that way, with little things bringing big memories and sometimes big emotions.
During this year, I have faced those tough “firsts”; her birthday, the first Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter without her, my first birthday without hearing her sing to me, Mother’s Day. Sometimes I still reach for the phone to call her and tell her something before I catch myself. I cried many tears, but was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love that flooded in during Mom’s illness and after her death. I was crippled for a while after she died, but I found my inner strength and grew stronger from what I had experienced. I was Mom’s caretaker in varying degrees for the last ten years of her life, and I am grateful for every moment I had with her- maybe even especially the tough ones. She taught me so much about real love and compassion, about the importance of being kind and being grateful.
In hindsight, would I have done anything differently? Yes…I would have been more present more of the time. Too often I was in a rush to get back to work, checking messages on my phone – or even writing about Mom- when I should have put the phone away and really, truly, paid attention. I saw a woman with her elderly mother out shopping today, and the woman was glued to her phone as her mother excitedly described what she saw in the store. My heart caught, and I wanted so badly to tap the woman’s shoulder and tell her “pay attention- these moments will be precious to you some day soon, and you can’t get them back”. I couldn’t do that, of course…we all have to learn lessons in our own way and time.
I will let myself feel what I need to feel next Saturday, and will find a way to mark the day in a meaningful way. I am grateful that my mother is at peace, grateful that she lived to see me happily married and working in a career that I love- one that I never could have pursued without the many sacrifices she made to help me along the way. I think of all the things she taught me, from the most humble to those that shaped the person I am today. She brought me into life, and I had the profound honor and privilege of helping her to leave life just the way she wanted to, with me by her side, knowing without a doubt that she was loved.
I feel her with me in so many ways, and hear her voice teaching me still. I see her in my eyes and my smile, notice more and more the many traits we shared. I still think of so many things I wished I had asked her- some of the silliest things. I am glad that my sister and I have each other, and I know that we will keep Mom’s memory alive as we laugh and cry and share our memories. A precious gift that Mom told us we would have, and she was so right. Dorothy’s girls to the end.
With each passing anniversary, I will gather more and more beautiful memories into my heart. I see them becoming a huge, colorful garden, blossoming at different times with the gifts of special memories as I need them. And from deep in that garden, I have no doubt I’ll hear a distinctive giggle. Yet another reason to smile when I think of my sweet Heavy D.