In Memory of Mom

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Exactly a year ago, on February 6th, 2013, I received the phone call that changed my life. My mother had passed away at the local Memory Care facility. She was found in her room, on the floor, alone. I am the only child left in our family so the burden of taking care of arrangements fell to me. What I was to find out  during the whole burial process (cremation, writing the obituary, making arrangements for the grave site ceremony, taking care of company) was that there was no time to grieve. The fact that my mother was no longer available to me, to listen to me, to hold my hand, to share our stupid, decades-old jokes, was a blow that continues to this day. Life does not prepare you for the loss of another, whether that loss is sudden or anticipated. I have lived through the loss of several beloved pets but there is no comparison to losing a loved family member.
One morning after the relatives and friends had left and life returned to normal, I walked out to the back deck and found a little nondescript brown bird sitting on the railing. The bird perched motionless while I ran inside the house to get my cell phone to take a picture. The bird and I looked at each other, a mere foot apart; neither of us moving. Finally I said, “Hi Mom.” Could it be a sign from my mother that she had passed on to another life? I’ll never know if that was her reincarnated as a dainty bird, giving me, as I want to believe, one last goodbye or an errant bird that was lost and just sat on the railing to rest.

Yesterday I asked my mom, out loud, to give me a sign that she and I were still connected in some spiritual way. During the night I woke up and the James Taylor song, Fire and Rain, played in my mind. The music is not of her generation but the words spoke exactly how I felt.

Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone
Susanne the plans they made put an end to you
I walked out this morning and I wrote down this song
I just can’t remember who to send it to

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again

Won’t you look down upon me, Jesus
You’ve got to help me make a stand
You’ve just got to see me through another day
My body’s aching and my time is at hand
And I won’t make it any other way

Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again

Been walking my mind to an easy time my back turned towards the sun
Lord knows when the cold wind blows it’ll turn your head around
Well, there’s hours of time on the telephone line to talk about things
To come
Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground

Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you, baby, one more time again, now

Thought I’d see you one more time again
There’s just a few things coming my way this time around, now
Thought I’d see you, thought I’d see you fire and rain, now.

My mother was a good person. She got angry but rarely yelled, rarely swore, rarely gossiped, but she could laugh at a raunchy joke, so she was no prude. Her hair was always permed and styled. Her makeup was always applied artfully and her beautiful, thin fingers had nails with red or pink polish she applied weekly.
Mom had a weight problem most of her adult life. She was born into hard-working but poor parents. Her mother was a fiery redhead and her dad a Canadian who slipped across the border in his youth and declared himself an American citizen. Both parents worked hard doing anything necessary to stay alive, whether it was raising chickens, selling melons out of a truck or making and selling handmade crafts. They were survivors. But they had old-fashioned standards for their daughter. One remaining grade school card shows mom was a straight A student yet she was pulled from school at a young age. Her parents told her they didn’t want her to become so educated that she took on “airs” and was too good for her parents; odd but that occasion stayed with my mom until her death, one of the few remaining events she remembered. Mom also revealed that her dad finally had to go on the “government dole” and receive money for the family to survive. They were proud people so mom was sworn to secrecy, only telling me this story the last year of her life. When mom met my dad, who lived with a grandmother that cooked huge and delicious meals and desserts, I’m sure she made up for lost time and ate heartily. Who can blame her?
Mom taught me to worry. She taught me to be afraid of life but to trust everyone. She taught me to be a good law-abiding citizen. She taught me to laugh but not how to cook, clean or sew. She taught me that men will be men and you never, ever, for any reason divorced them. I don’t think she ever forgave me for standing up for myself, divorcing and going out on my own but was proud and amazed that in the end I survived.
Mom loved decorating, pretty flowers, traveling, singing and animals. She had her cats and I had my dogs. We spent years exchanging long letters about our pets, until computers made it easy to send pictures over the Internet.
When I moved to Florida in 2008 my mom was showing the beginning signs of Alzheimer’s. Her doctor prescribed her various medications. It angers me that the only cure given for Alzheimer’s is a plethora of drugs. Drugs which tear the body down, drugs which only enrich the pharmaceutical companies, drugs which are only a panacea for the elderly. The drugs took my mom away from me as much as the disease did. She became angry, fell a lot and lost too much weight. Eventually she (and my dad) had to go into facilities which give the elderly even more drugs, a slippery path to the end. It’s a sad way for a formerly strong person to end her life, slowly and agonizingly dying a mental death.

This experience has given me ideas about my own life and how I hope it ends, quickly and with no drugs. Will I have a choice or will well-meaning people do what I thought I was doing, take me to a doctor who will offer the only thing he CAN offer: a panacea of chemicals to pave the way to the inevitable end.

But today I want to celebrate my mother who in her prime was my hero, my best friend and someone I loved more than anyone else in the world. If she is a bird flying in the beautiful blue sky I hope she sees that all is well and she will never be forgotten. Love you, Mom!

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