Published: Nov 03, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Nov 03, 2012 10:40 AM
For my mothers birthday, I traveled 700 miles north to her grave.
The cemeterys vivid October foliage gave warmth to an otherwise gloomy day. I made jovial small-talk and set a fresh red rose on her tombstone. Hey Mom, its the 50th anniversary of the British Invasion.
In life she was a trivia buff and devoted Beatles fan. She read history books and National Geographic magazines. She did all kinds of puzzles and penned witty rhymes and jokes. Did you hear about the couple that broke up over religion? He thought he was God. She didnt. Ba-da-bum.
Moms last birthday was celebrated at the Hock Family Pavilion (Duke Hospice). Party decorations, gifts and the Morphine Happy Button made way for an easy disposition. I cherish the memory of that day and the glow on Moms face as she took it all in. Four days later she was gone.
Knife-edged on death, she held out for one more birthday cake and decided thats it, Ive had enough, Im out of here.
Moms final years were an odyssey through the devastation of emphysema, a smoking-related disease. Never mind the TV commercials with oxygen tank wielding seniors blissfully playing with children in the park. Ravages include weight loss, shortness of breath and limited mobility. Long-term side effects include depression and isolation.
Where once she enjoyed catching-up with relatives, she ignored incoming phone calls. She sat next to the answering machine as the caller coaxed, Hello? Are you there?
Maybe she thought, Ill call you back later, when I feel more like talking. But she didnt.
My feelings of loss run parallel to a sense of relief. Death means she is no longer around to suffer. The disease robbed her of more than a decade in quality-of-life years. To me that is the most profound heartbreak.
Mom was addicted as a teenager when cigarettes were deceitfully mass-marketed by powerful corporations. According to the American Journal of Public Health, ad campaigns of the 1940s and 50s had physician endorsements! Case in point: the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. slogan, More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette. Its no wonder everybody was doing it.
Once she was hooked, it would be 20 years before advertising was officially banned from TV and radio.
They say anticipatory grief happens when the death is expected (ironic since all of us are waiting in line to meet the grim reaper). My mom lingered at the end stage of disease for 15 months. As the only adult child within 2,000 miles of Durham, I took on the role of caretaker.
Yet nothing prepared me for this void.
Mothers shape a womans life like no one else can. You internalize what it means to be a woman based on what mother does (or doesnt do) and what she says (or does not say). Whether she is your best friend or whether she drives you nuts, Mother is an iconic figure.
She held the key to my past and the missing pieces of childhood memories. Mom is the link that connects my ancestors to my grandbabies.
Just when I think Im adjusting to the new normal something wonderful happens a baby is born, and my impulse is to share it with Mom. In that sobering moment Im reminded that being motherless feels dreadfully strange.
My mom never attended college but worked as a secretary in university administration. She was exacting without the crutch of Microsoft spelling and grammar check.
She was compelled to keep a record of all things.
At home shed squirrel away news clippings, greeting cards and old calendars. She liked to doodle and jot down ideas on index cards, sticky pads and newspaper margins. I have a hundred handwritten lists, categories ranging from the named planets of the universe to Snow Whites seven dwarfs in alphabetical order. Its as if she was staving off senility by testing her recall of random facts.
Moms been gone a year. I still find notes from her some intended for me to read after her death. Those are my favorite. As I read them she comes alive.