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53 years with my Mom

60 Weeks of Gratitude - Week 14

I am grateful that I had my mom for fifty-three years of my life. She passed away on March 30, 2023,

and today is her funeral. I have spent this week trying to process who she was to me, who she was without me, and how to proceed without her always being available on the other end of a phone call.

So much of who I am was shaped by having her in my life. She was complex, a person with big emotions and strong convictions. She was often a study of contradictions. She was both stubborn and flexible. She was independent of thought but frightened of action. She was a woman but also a child. My mother valued the people from her childhood with fierce loyalty and unquestioning devotion. In her last few weeks, we talked several times bout her frustration at not being able to recollect the name of her second-grade teacher, or some other person that impacted her life before the age of ten. I could never quite make sense of how important the people from her childhood were to her, because I am a person who leaves each chapter of my life behind without great fanfare.

One of the greatest tragedies of her life was that her father left the family when she was ten. For the rest of her life, she longed for the father who had left her. It shaped the way she related to the world. She never perceived that his leaving was about his failure as a grown man and always felt that she, her sister, and her mother somehow failed him. His leaving caused her trauma throughout her adult life and filtered into our family’s story. Her fear of being left made her always in some stage of preparation for tragedy. She was always waiting for the inevitable, an incessant worrier.

Her father’s abandonment of the family did not only bring tragedy, but it also brought her connections with half-siblings and step-siblings in her adult life that she cherished. I don’t think she ever recognized that her dad wasn’t the greatest man in the world. She always remembered him as a fun-loving, jovial man and her half-siblings loved her enough not to take those memories from her.

When her mother passed away in 2002, my mom dropped into a deep depression that took her months, if not years to climb out of. She felt like an orphan even though she was a grown woman with adult children.

Now, my siblings and I are also orphans. We are now the parent generation in our family. It does not yet feel real. I don’t think it will feel real until I reach for my phone to call her and realize that she is not there. It won’t be real until I decide to ask her how to make her never-fail pie crust or Mulligan Stew.

Is it wrong that I feel a strange sense of peace at her passing? After my father died in 2009, she felt that she was left behind and didn’t understand why. She was lonely even though my sister and brother made efforts to visit and stay present in her life. I called every day, or at least most days, as, it seems, did my other brother. I don't know that she ever fully understood how devoted to her my father was. Through the years it has been a running joke that in photographs, more often than not my dad would be looking at her as she looked at the camera. He was always paying attention to her, in his quiet, non-attention-seeking way.

After she broke her hip in 2021, everything got more difficult. She never got back on her feet. She tried, but the fear of falling overwhelmed her efforts, and she stayed seated. She had to let go of her house and move into an apartment that would accommodate a wheelchair. Many of the items that had made the trip from Bushton to Pawnee were donated or dispersed to make the move and until the end, she wondered what had happened to certain things.

The last two years have been hard for her. She was by turns angry, downhearted, resigned, and confused. Why was she left to struggle? What was God trying to teach her? Why was she still here when she felt there was nothing left for her to live for? Had He forgotten her? Every day, it was a struggle. I would call and she would tell me she was “Just doing,” which I understood to mean that she was just going through the motions. Sometimes her friends would visit, sometimes her sisters would visit, and sometimes her daughter or her son would visit. But most of the time she was alone. She was alone with her thoughts, her fears, and her regrets.

As part of my journey this week, I sat down and walked slowly through her photo albums and I encountered pictures I had never seen. I found pictures of her in kitchens that belonged in homes from the era before I was born. I found pictures of her laughing in a carefree way when they were young and newly married. She was thirty when I met her and had lived a whole life before that. I was the last of their four children and they were beginning to tire of raising kids. The budget was stretched tight and there were personal worries that she kept hidden. She was never carefree in my memory. She did still laugh, but it was not the carefree laughter I saw in those photos.

Life is hard. I can see now that the move to Bushton was not good for her. She didn’t drive at that point and Bushton was seven miles outside of town. She was isolated. I think about how long her days were when we left on the bus. I think about how hard she worked to keep our clothes up. I think about the weekly shopping trip and how she planned and budgeted for everything.

I do not feel the level of grief my mother felt at my grandmother’s passing and I’m uncertain if that says something about me or something about her. I feel that I will see her again. I feel that we are somehow still connected. I do not feel that her death is finite.

I wish I had known her outside of being my mother. What would we have thought of each other if we met when she was curb hopping at the Town Talk drive-in diner? I would like to think we would have been friends. I know we would have been friends.


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