Today would have been your 80th birthday. I was wondering what I would say to you if you could be here for just one more birthday, one more Mother’s Day. Then I remembered a dream I had after you passed. I was at a family gathering looking for you. Disappointed I couldn’t find you I sat down at a table and when I looked up you were sitting right across from me. You looked so young and so healthy, you smiled and we got up and embraced. As we hugged I actually felt your hair brush gently against my cheek and it suddenly seemed I was no longer just dreaming, this was an opportunity. I quietly said, “You were a good mom” and I woke with tears in my eyes. I know what I would say to you now if you could somehow magically appear like that for just a few moments today. I would give you a big hug, and then, as I felt your hair brush gently against my cheek I would simply whisper in your ear, “You’re a good mom. Happy birthday, happy Mother’s Day.”
We’re raking up leaves here in Michigan, cutting back the withered flowers in our gardens and planter boxes and thinking about Thanksgiving Day recipes and holiday shopping. I love both summer and autumn in my home state but I’m looking forward to winter this year. For me it will be a time of rest and renewal. I plan to hibernate like a bear beneath a blanket of silent white snow, I want to meditate in front of a warm fire, I want to sew puzzle pieces of fabric into colorful whimsical quilts, I want to read books that inspire me to dream with my eyes open, I want to play with my grandchildren and watch old movies and drink hot chocolate and gain twenty pounds and remember who I am.
Listen . . .
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
See more (nearly) Wordless Wednesday folks here!
An old friend of the family made this music video in memory of my mother and just sent it to me. Frank DeLaMarre is a singer songwriter who wrote this song after John Denver passed away. Thank you Frank for creating this tribute, it’s beautiful! I think I’m going to take a break from blogging. I seem to have lost my writing/blogging/internet browsing mojo. While writing my blog and sharing my angst helped me get through the dark days of my mom’s long illness and passing, I feel like it’s time for me to step back and spend more time building my photography portfolio, actually doing yoga rather than just talking about it, and perhaps trying to rediscover my books and love for reading and writing. Thank you all for your support over the years and for showing an interest in my little life, I’ll still be around and checking in on your blogs from time to time, have a happy and healthy 2010!
The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly. ~Buddha
Pulitzer Prize winning author Frank McCourt died on Sunday. A former public school teacher, he came late to a writing career publishing one of my favorite memoirs, Angela’s Ashes, at the ripe old age of 66. Born in Brooklyn in 1930, his family returned to his parents’ native Ireland when he was four years old and his memoir chronicles his years growing up in poverty with a mostly absent alcoholic father in the slums of Limerick. He famously wrote: The happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood. People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests, bullying schoolmasters; the English and all the terrible things they did to us for 800 long years.
My mother had a similar childhood, but here in the states and with poor French Catholic parents, not Irish. Still, fourteen children, very little money, and an alcoholic father bring about like miseries whatever your demographics. It’s funny, but I catch myself sometimes feeling angry at my mother since she passed. For dying and leaving me. For loving my brother more. For her “You can’t take it with you!” attitude toward money which has cost me financially over the years and left my father vulnerable at the age of 80 with a large monthly mortgage payment. And yes, for not understanding me, that universal childhood lament that few of us escape – miserable childhood or not.
I know it’s childish to think these thoughts at my age, especially given that my childhood was a fantasyland compared to my mom’s and Mr. McCourt’s. But I also know that a part of us is always our mother’s child, no matter how old we grow in years. And whether we write an angst filled memoir and name it for her, or gaze into the eyes of our newborn granddaughter and miss her more than we ever thought possible, we know in our hearts that we’d forgive our mothers a thousand times over for the woes of our early years for just one more chance to tell them how much we love them.
When I was growing up, my mom often took on responsibility for two of her brothers who suffered from mental illness. My first trip to New York City was to visit one of those uncles on Staten Island in the hospital. I remember riding the subway in the city, taking cabs for the first time, and skimming across a blue-green New York Harbor on the Staten Island Ferry with my mother at my side. It was all a grand adventure as far as I was concerned and it never occurred to me that my mom was under any stress; wondering what kind of shape she would find her beloved big brother in, being forced to talk to strange doctors and make arrangements to get him back to Michigan. My grandmother always turned to her youngest daughter for help when the shit hit the fan because Carol was the “strong” one, the one who could get things done. I was surprised while talking with my mom in later years when she mentioned going to the doctor to get a prescription for Valium before she had to go to court to commit her other ill brother to a mental hospital. I suppose that was one of those eye opening moments when I really looked at my mother as a person, not as an all-powerful and all-knowing parent.
One of the characters in my latest book makes the following statement while talking to a friend, “…and the thing about strength is, nobody faces a potential heartache and thinks, Hey bring it on, I’m ready. It just doesn’t work like that Susie. We do what we have to do when the people we love need us and it’s damn hard sometimes. I don’t really buy into that idea some people have more strength than others.” So I’m wondering if you agree with her, are there people who are by nature stronger than others, or are some people simply more willing to act despite their fear? And do we pay a price by acting when we are afraid, or do we gain strength?
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I was thinking about Julie today and her husband’s sudden death and I remembered a post I did on my old blog. I had a tattered copy laying around and it being a lazy Sunday afternoon and all I decided to rerun it. I did the neat old movie animation on Mr. bookbabie’s photo at LunaPic.com, a fun online photo editor and animator…
On our way home from Whole Foods today, my husband and I saw an accident just minutes after it happened. A large SUV had run off the road, hit a ditch, and smashed into some trees. Several cars had already stopped to help but the police hadn’t yet arrived and we saw that someone had opened the driver-side door. Inside, a woman lay slumped and unmoving over the steering wheel. She had short blond hair like me and she was wearing a red coat with a fur collar. Maybe she was out running errands we said, or maybe she was on her way home from a holiday lunch. We tried to convince one another that she was “just” knocked out from the force of the airbag, that the front end of the car really didn’t look that bad.
As we drove, one, two, three police cars sped past us, lights flashing and sirens screaming. Then two ambulances and another police car passed us and we suddenly realized that she probably wasn’t alone in that big SUV, maybe she had a car full of friends – or children. As we opened the trunk at our house we could still hear the wail of sirens in the distance and I turned to my husband and said, “Every day when I hear you…” and that’s all I got out before the tears started and the words caught in my throat. But what I wanted to say was this, “Every day when I hear the door open and I hear your footsteps coming into the house, and I hear your tired voice call out ‘hello’, that’s the best part of my day, that’s the moment I would choose to have back one more time if anything ever happened to you.”
My mom’s dog Ellie on her perch keeping watch
For many months now my family has been struggling to understand why my seventy-four-year-old mother was so sick and what we could do to help make her better. She has a somewhat rare form of COPD called bronchietasis, the cause of this illness is not well understood and unfortunately the treatment for it has been limited and unsuccessful. For quite some time we have been walking that heartrending line that those with serious illness and their families must walk, that difficult path where hope and acceptance meet and retreat then meet again. My mother has grown weary of the dance. She has stepped over to acceptance and she is asking us to do the same and so we are going to begin hospice care.
I sit and talk with her about her death now. She wants to know how long it will take. I tell her I don’t know but we will do everything we can to keep her comfortable. She says there are things she wanted to do, get organized. I tell her that she is still here and we can still do them. She says she wanted to write each of her children a goodbye letter. I tell her that she can dictate the words and I’ll write them down for her. She says she wanted to clean out the desk and throw away old bills. I reassure her that my dad will take care of that. She told me that her little dog Ellie is going to miss her and I said, “Yes, you’re right mom, she really is going to miss you.”
I could add a few words of wisdom about now, something about it all being okay because it’s the natural cycle of life, or she’s crossing over to a better place, or she’s had a good long life. And sometimes that is how I feel. But the truth is, most of the time it’s not okay. My mom is dying and any way you look at it…it is simply unacceptable.
*I wrote this post the day before my mother passed away. It’s been two months now and I just came across it while cleaning up my draft files on WordPress. This Saturday we are having a big open house in honor of my mom and I really do look forward to seeing family and old friends we don’t often get to see anymore. I’m still searching for those words of wisdom that will make everthing okay, but the thing is I want to lay my head down on my mother’s lap, feel her stroke my hair gently, and hear them from her.