There are many things in my life that have been difficult, have backlash, left me bereft. There are even more things in my life that have brought me joy, a sense of wonder and love. My mom and I were never really all that close. But when I was a little kid, during the height of the ‘sexual revolution’, people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I would always say that I wanted to be a mom. A mom like mine. They would look at me funny and say something to the effect of “that’s all? just a mom?” So after a while, fearing to disappoint my peers, I would say things like… ‘oh a nurse’ or ‘a teacher’. But in reality, all I wanted to be was a mom. Mom raised us as little kids. Dad spent his entire young adult life making a life for the rest of us while he worked himself into nervous heart palpitations and a few trips to the ER. But Mom was also cruel in some things.
When we moved half the country away from home at 2 months before my 12th birthday to start over things changed for us all. Mom became a heavy drinker. She still smoked and for a while it was up to 3 packs of cigarettes a day. She couldn’t get out of bed without her hangover coffee and 3-4 cigarettes most of the time. More than once I cleaned up after her. I never had friends over to the house. Mom rarely showed for swim meets, came to my plays and I’d worry, came to my band concerts and I’d worry. I moved away when I went to college because I couldn’t handle it. I learned through her that I would never be pretty, smart or amount to anything. Almost always when she was drunk.
For her own reasons this would get better or worse, she’d disappear and reappear at important occasions. Dad would be furious but do nothing. My brother Rick would be left to pick up the pieces. I just couldn’t it. I couldn’t deal with it. My own self loathing was such that I married a man who began to beat me within 6 months of our wedding, then married a second man years later who cheated on me for 7 years…… It took me a long time to figure out that I could make choices that didn’t hurt me or mean I was worthless. I’m honestly still dealing with that every day.
12 years ago my mother had esophageal cancer. That is a horrible type of cancer typically because it moves quickly, mets out extremely fast and generally doesn’t have a decent survival rate. Mom opted for high dose radiation rather than chemo because she didn’t want to lose her hair. 1 year later, then 5 then 8 and then 10 she was pronounced cancer free. In December of 2010, mom fell and cracked her hip on the ice. the tests, scans and battery of other hospital crap over a period of about 8 weeks brought forth the diagnosis of lung cancer in her left lung. Again, she opted for high dose radiation rather than chemo and it went well. She handled this radiation better than the one years before and bounced back with renewed vigor. Mom and Dad made plans to travel again.
Then at Thanksgiving of 2011, mom fell again and snapped her femur in two. Surgery placed a pin and two screws to give her more stability than she’d had on that side in literally over a decade. She went to a live-in rehab facility in Denver for 3-6 weeks. 3 weeks into it, she felt faint. Her )2 sats were 75% and her heart rate had plummeted to 35. They rushed her to the ER, she was admitted to the ICU ward at St Anthony’s in Denver and was there two nights. Once they figured out that due to her bilateral subclavial stenosis, her hands had little to no decent circulation, and placed the pulse oxometer on the right area, things got better. She went back to the facility in 2 more days and was eventually released to go home within another 10. She wsa again in good spirits and bitching at people in the way someone does when they’d had enough fawning over them. Though the latest news was not good for the long run. Tests run during her stint in the ICU revealed liver cancer. My mind said that the lung cancer had metted out faster than they thought and we would lose her before July of this coming summer. I made plans to spend the week with my family and parents and brother in the early summer.
About a week after that, Mom fell in the house. She didn’t know how it happened, when it happened or anything. She was confused and upset. The ambulance again arrived and she went to the hospital. This time she had a compression fracture of a vertebra in her back. Into a back brace and back to the center she went.
On Monday, Janurary 23, 2012 my brother called me at about 8am his time. My first reaction was that something bad had happened to either mom again or to dad. “I don’t know how to say this, but I’m just going to…. Mom died last night.”
Stunned, my mouth dropped open. “WHAT? THIS ISN”T FUNNY”
“I’m not kidding. It happened sometime in the middle of the night. They don’t know how exactly.”
20 minutes of conversation and all I can say is… ‘ok, ok, ok.’ To everything my brother tells me. My guilt at not being there through dad’s stroke, mom’s illnesses and to help him came full force to hit me in the face. The coroner wouldn’t be releasing the body for a couple days due to the fact that she didn’t die at home. They had to make sure it wasn’t due to neglect or whatever at the facility. That she wanted to be cremated gave me time thankfully to tell my employer, arrange my schedule, have the younger children looked after and booked flights out to Denver. I call my oldest cousin to tell him because my mom’s brother is his father. I couldn’t call Unc myself. I couldn’t hold it together to do it.
I loved my mom. I always will. Whatever differences we had, what ever cruel and mean things were said and done pale in the wake of losing someone who loved me in a way no other will on this earth. The ground is so frozen where my folks live that we opted to not bury the ashes until this summer. So we had a celebration of life or *wake* for her instead and I think 300 people came. Some I knew. Most I didn’t. I hadn’t been home to visit in a very long time over 30 years. Maybe 3 times in all. For me it was just too hard, too heartbreaking and sad. I was never what mom wanted for a daughter, never enough for Dad to truly be proud of what I do. But that doesn’t detract from the love I felt and will miss every day.
So I looked at all the boards they put up with pictures of her through college, HS, my brother and I as kids, mom and dad’s travels, their 50th wedding anniversary 2 years ago where I surprised them and brought the entire family out including 1 grand child they had not met yet. Named after my dad. I realized I had missed out on a lot. My young kids had missed out even more in not getting to know them. The guilt I feel will probably last forever because, well, I’m like that. I have a big heart, I am hurt easily and I hold a grudge with the best of my Scot ancestors. (Sound familiar Mom?)
Over the years I have made a point to tell my parents, my brother, friends and other relatives that I love them and mean it from the heart. I still do that every day. My husband and I went out, I spent days going through Mom’s things she left me. Sorting, crying, marveling at all the stuff she collected over the years. We came home on Sunday, Feb. 5th. I went back to work. The kids came home, life resumed it’s relatively normal pace.
I am more careful now. I do things for people I care about not because I feel obligated but because I don’t know how long they will be in my life and I want to make it count. I can’t make up for the lost time with mom, but I will damn sure make use of the time I have now with those I have in my life.
I miss you Mom. Every day. I know that now you don’t hurt, you don’t hate yourself so much and you don’t spend every waking hour worried or in pain. I know you loved us all very much. I hope that you know we loved you too. Watch over Dad ok? He doesn’t know it, but he needs you still. I hope someday, I can be the kind of mom that would make you proud.