This post is not about downsizing our home, or remodeling, or getting rid of stuff. It is about loss of a different kind.
It usually starts the first week of May. The Mother’s Day ads. You can’t watch TV or listen to the radio without seeing or hearing them. And the emails start. Promotional emails for finding the perfect Mother’s Day gift.
And that is when I start to miss her more. It happens every year when the ads start. Sure, I miss her all the time, but it intensifies this time of year. And the sadness lasts longer and the tears flow more.
I miss her on her birthday, but that is just one day and I am not constantly reminded of it. I miss her on the anniversary of her death, but it is private and I do not like to recall that day. It is not my day to remember and celebrate her. Mother’s Day is that day.
When I was younger, I spent the time leading up to Mother’s Day trying to find that special gift that would let her know how much I loved her. As I grew older and had children of my own, I began to realize that a present I purchased was not the best gift. I realized that the best gift I could give her was to be present. Give her my time. Be present and listen.
Mom lived 3 hours away and didn’t make the trip to visit us very often. And after my stepdad passed in 1991, she never made the drive alone. As a family, we drove to visit her every few months or so. But, as my kids got older and had more activities, those family visits didn’t happen as often. But I made it a point to see her, either over Mother’s Day weekend or the next. I don’t recall exactly when I bought her the half whiskey barrel, but every year when I visited, I would bring bedding plants to fill it. I would plant the flowers, and she would sit on the porch and watch and we would chat. We usually went to dinner and we would chat. We would sit around in the family room and we would chat. Lots of that time, I would listen. She would talk about how she missed my stepdad and catch me up on her siblings and my cousins.
She would also talk about her life growing up. Mom was born in Wheeling, West Virginia in 1931, the youngest of 5 children. Her family struggled there, and when she was still a young child, they moved to the suburbs of Detroit. She told tell me about the first Halloween after they moved to Michigan. Children came to the door and her dad thought they were begging for food, so he invited them in for a meal. He didn’t know they were wanting candy because trick or treating was not done in their previous neighborhood. She told how her dad would come home and ask what was for dinner. He would look in the pot on the stove and see potatoes and say, “Potatoes! My favorite.” When I asked her why that memory stuck with her she said they were poor and ate a lot of potatoes, but he made it fun. Her father died when she was 15 years old. He had been sick and was in his bed. Her mother asked her to go in and check on him to see if he wanted something to eat. He was dead when she found him. I heard this story many times growing up. When I had asked her more about it when I was an adult, she said she wasn’t sure what the illness was and never really wanted to talk about it, so I didn’t push. I always had the feeling she was Daddy’s little girl and his death was something she never really got over.
She would also talk about her mistakes and the family dirt. Mom was not perfect and I never pretended to believe she was. She gave birth to 9 children, said goodbye to 2 that never came home, and did her best with the rest. My parents divorced after 20 years of marriage. Mom had to go to work for the first time since she was married at age 18. She worked several jobs until she eventually went to school to learn key punch and did that job until she retired. She struggled with her addictions, but she eventually won. Mom was a recovering alcoholic and a longtime smoker.
Mom had poor health for as long as I can remember. But she always recovered, she always got better. She had emphysema. She had triple by-pass surgery in 1977. She had colon cancer that was discovered when she was having bowel resection surgery. In April 2003 she got pneumonia, and shortly before Easter she went into the hospital when she got worse.
When I talked to her, she said not to come, she would only be there a few days. Since Mother’s Day was 3 weeks away and I thought she would be going home soon, I decided to wait. My brother that lived in town called Monday after Easter and said she was getting worse and I should come sooner than later. After work that day, I drove down to see her. I wasn’t feeling rushed or worried. She had been in and out of hospitals for most of my life and it was something I was used to. I just felt certain that this was not her time, she would recover and life would go on as normal.
The traffic getting out of town was horrible. For some reason, I got lost finding the hospital when I got to town. It was after 9 PM when I arrived. She was hooked up to monitors and was sleeping. I talked to her and gave her a kiss but she didn’t respond. I called my brother to let him know I had arrived. He said he had just left a bit before I got there and that he would be over tomorrow. I pulled up a chair next to the bed and held her hand. I thought she would wake up. A nurse came in and checked on her. I watched TV and listened to her breath. Then it got quiet. I looked at her, got up and leaned over towards her face. Suddenly nurses came running into the room and I heard the Code Blue call over the intercom. CPR was started. They told me to leave.
The rest of the night, and into the next morning, she was on life support and we waited for all the family to come. Mom passed on the morning of April 22th, 2003. She was 72.
But, this post is not about her death. It is about Mother’s Day. It is about Mother’s Day without a mom to celebrate. Don’t get me wrong, I am a mother and I appreciate and love the time my children and grandchildren spend with me. But for me, Mother’s Day was my opportunity to celebrate my mom, not to be celebrated. I want to visit her and listen to her and hug her and not think about her being gone. She wasn’t perfect, but she was mine and she loved me unconditionally. And I still cry on the days leading up to Mother’s Day 14 years after her death.
Love you, Mom. This is for you.