I always knew this Mother’s Day would come, but I never thought it would be this year, 2012, that she would no longer be with us. My mother passed away on March 7th after a month-long battle with pneumonia. Sometimes I can be perfectly rational when I speak of her, and other times I want to sit down and cry for a bit. I’m not one of those people who’s afraid to cry. I learned long ago that it’s OK to “power leak.”
My family and I were with Mom in her final hours, along with her priest and deacon and the medical staff who’d grown close to her during her stay. We were holding her hands and talking to her until her final breath. Afterward, driving away from the hospital I remarked to my sister that I felt like we’d just joined a club – the “Our Mothers Have Passed On Club.” Now that I’m a member of this club I see life a little differently, like the lens though which I see life got a little sharper. I have a better idea of what matters in life even more than I did before.
My mother struggled with mental illness for much of her life. Bipolar disorder and other issues really robbed her of the ability to be the mother and grandmother she always wanted to be. I knew that from early on and gave up expecting her to be different than what she was many years ago. A large part of my past has been defined by being with her in her day-to-day struggles. If there’s one thing I now live by it’s that life is much easier when we learn to love people not only for who they are, but also for who they are NOT. When I stop expecting people to fit into the boxes I try to put them in we are all much happier.
What I’m still not settled about is all the things Mom and I never got to do together. We always wanted to travel more. And it had to be travel involving delicious food. Although Mom was a little bird of a woman, she loved to eat. Heartburn be damned! That’s what Nexium is for! We were on the go together a lot when I would go home to Kentucky – trips to eat porkchops and flower pot bread at Patti’s 1880’s and wander around the petting zoo afterward, dinner with second cousin Maddie at the Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn in Owensboro…
We also walked our little legs off when she would visit me here in New York City – visits to The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Lombardi’s for the best thin crust pizza, Chelsea Market for Fat Witch blondies, two trips to the Empire State Building, Jacques Torres in Brooklyn for chocolate, Rockefeller Center for the Today Show to see handsome Matt Lauer. Mom was a big fan of Victoria Gotti’s reality TV series, so we made a trip out to Long Island to Victoria’s favorite market. Alas, no Vicky sighting. We did have a lot of fun out at the 1964 World’s Fair site. We had to go there because, well, because why does anyone still go there? Men In Black??? No! Because of that famous episode of McCloud with Dennis Weaver and a very young Jaclyn Smith, of course! Duh! ??? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fl-rtN_fCHg For me, New York City is now a city filled with places I either took Mom to, or wanted to take her to on “the next visit.” It’s hard to take in that there will be no more next visit. My phone will never ring from her number again. All there is now is silence.
The Sunday after her passing we had an incredibly lovely service at her church to honor her life, culminating with the internment of her ashes in the Memorial Garden. She had been out in that garden having a good time talking to people during coffee hour her last Sunday at church before she went home and started feeling sick. It was where we knew she’d want to rest. We were so humbled by the many childhood friends, extended family and church friends who came out to tell her one last goodbye. Being Southerners, during the reception afterward we sat around and ate Bad Bob’s barbecue, baked beans and potato salad and listened to her favorite music – classic Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers, Carole King, The Spinners… To Mom, music wasn’t fun if it didn’t have a rump-shakin’ beat. When I think of that day I automatically hear the horn section blasting from Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” We looked at pictures of her from all stages of her life and laughed at memories that came to us from the good times – the birthday parties, the Christmas dinners, the graduations… All that was missing from the party was her. She would have loved it.
My last trip with Mom was actually a week after her memorial service. It was my sister’s idea that I also take some of her cremains back with me to scatter someplace special in New York City. But where? I settled on New York Harbor. A week after the memorial service my partner Jaime and I met up with a group of our friends at the Staten Island Ferry. We got on the ferry, took off, found a quiet spot on the lowest level and once we got face to face with the Statue of Liberty I cut open the envelope and scattered her ashes into the swirling sea. You were finally completely at rest. Goodbye, Mama.
When I reflect back on the last month of my mother’s life, what gives me peace is remembering one of the last things she said to me while she could still speak. “I love your heart, sugar.” she said. I know you do, Mama. I know you do. Happy Mother’s Day. We miss you.
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