On behalf of my family, I’d like to thank everyone who commented on this blog, who sent emails, made phone calls, who gave us hugs, cried and laughed with us. We felt embraced by your love … and Mom was probably watching, wondering what all the fuss was about.
I was not there when my mother died. I was instead, on a plane probably somewhere over New Jersey. Earlier, while waiting at an airport in Charlotte, NC, my brothers, Carl and Bruce called me so I could talk to my mom. They put the phone to her ear and at that point, though she was unable to speak, they said, she would hear me.
What do you say? Over these past many years, I’ve tried to find the humor, the light in our relationship … if not, it would have too easy to cry. So I said something like, “Quit scaring everyone, Mom. You are not going anywhere.”
And then I said, “I love you.” Knowing how much I wanted to hear her say it back, my brother, Carl responded for her and said, “I love you too.” It was quiet for a minute and then I heard my mother say, “I love you three.”
Last summer I was sitting on her bed, rubbing Bengay on her back.
“What do you think happens when we die?” I asked her.
She turned and gave me ‘the look’. “Well, if you’re lucky you go to happy-happy land, I guess. At least … I hope so.”
We were brought up Catholic, complete with catechism and holy days of obligation. “You mean, like Heaven?”
“I don’t believe in Heaven,” she said.
I was stunned. “What’s happy-happy land then?”
“It’s where … if you were good … you’re never sad,” she said. “But, if you were bad, you turn into a rock and someone kicks you down the street.”
“Do you believe in God?” I asked.
She paused before answering, “I believe in something bigger.”
“You pray though,” I said. “I’ve seen you,”
“Yeah, but really I’m just talking … like I talk to you or your brothers.”
“What do you talk about?”
“Well, you know, mostly I ask to keep you all safe and sometimes we talk about recipes.”
My mother and I NEVER had conversations like this and I was loving it.
Then she added, “And usually I say something about you all being happy, because it is hard being happy. You know? “
“Yeah,” I said, wanting to hold her … and cry (knowing she’d probably sock me one if I did), yet so glad that I had not been in a rush that day or needed to be somewhere else. Happy I was there to have that conversation with her. Especially now.
Unlike my brothers, I don’t have a clear vision of Heaven. I believe in a God, but Heaven is a bit out of focus. So, if we stick with my mom’s idea of Happy Happy Land, here is what I think it looked like … last Tuesday afternoon.
My dad would be kicked back in a cushy recliner (not because he cannot stand on his own, but because it is the most comfortable seat in the house). His amazing smile lights up his face as he turns and says, “Hey Joe. Go get your mother.”
And this is a good thing since, for those of you who knew her well, she is probably lost … and Joey can’t wait to go find her.
There is so much I could say about my mom, but you all knew her. You knew that though she wasn’t quick with a hug, her heart was large, her apple pie … delicious. The wonderful staff from hospice would tell me how ‘delightful’ she was to be with. I could not quite imagine Mom as ‘delightful’. Snarky, yes. Delightful, not so much. Her GP for many years said she was a medical miracle and listed her as 1 of his top 5 favorite patients. She was feisty and funny and I can only hope that as I age, my own kids will say the same about me.
Wherever you are, Mom … I love you … four.
I’m going to end with a poem. The first time Mom heard me do it, she gave me ‘the look’ and said, “Who the hell are you talking about?” I wrote it a few years before her last aneurysm when she and my dad lived independently and well. Today, it means so much more…
I stand quietly
and watch her from the open doorway.
She sits alone at the kitchen table,
hair pulled back
into curlers and bobby pins.
The fishnet bonnet I have known
all my life,
keeps her in place.
In one hand, a cup of coffee
while the other taps a beat
on the scratched Formica tabletop.
What song can she be thinking of?
It has been many years
since music has played in this house.
As I watch
her eyes close
and her head begins to sway from side to side.
A slight smile,
a deep breath
and she pushes herself away from the chair,
wraps her arms around her narrow body
and weaves across the kitchen floor.
I am stunned
as I watch her dance
to this music I cannot hear.
Then, for a moment
I am transported with her.
We glide together on sandy beaches,
water kisses our ankles and feet.
Handsome men stand in line.
She is young and beautiful
and they push their way to her.
She smiles and flirts,
plays the game well.
I have never known her this way
and wonder what she was like as a young girl.
A tomboy, I’m told –
all tough and tender,
more apt to whistle through her fingers
than whisper softly in your ear.
When she was young
her hair was loose,
wild, black curls of abandon and youth.
What did she expect out of life back then?
As I watch her dance around this cluttered kitchen,
hair pulled tightly into a fishnet bonnet,
I imagine she expected
more than this.
watching her turn,
watching this kaleidoscope of motion
who is my mother,
is my blood
and I am sad
never to have known her this way.
She sees me standing there
and stops in mid-sweep –
looks into my eyes,
sees the tears,
slowly shakes her head
and whispers “No, no”
Then this woman,
takes me into her arms
and together we dance
into a dazzling