My Mother passed away on April 2nd. I was away from home (my home – not hers) at the time, vacationing with my sister and her wife when the call came. It was a surreal moment in time. We were at a friend’s house, in Napa Valley, prepping a celebratory dinner, drinking wine, and in an instant – I was orphaned.
It’s complicated; many end-of-life seasons can be. Family of origin relationship dynamics within families: mother/daughter, father/son, sibling/sibling all add to the quagmire. I suspect my personal situation is not unique. In sharing, I hope to selfishly exorcise a few demons and maybe, just maybe, someone else may find comfort in knowing they are not alone.
My Mother was 83 at the time of her death; her physical death. But, honestly I lost my Mother almost ten years ago. She started down the Alzheimer/Parkinson’s path shortly after my Father died in 2004. At first, it was mild and almost imperceptible. For many years prior, she and I had already switched roles; leaving me more to ‘parent’ than ‘be parented’. The combination, of being ‘parentified’ and living 3,000 miles away in San Francisco, only further helped hide the transition from me.
Luckily, and this I recommend to ALL – my sister and I had purchased a long-term care insurance for both of our parents. At the time, they suggested a seven year policy due to the fact women outlive most men and there would be a higher probability that she would need assistance longer than my Dad. Turns out that was not marketing fluff – she not only outlived my Dad, she outlived the insurance coverage by several years.
I stopped phoning my Mother years ago…maybe as long ago as five. Sadly, I cannot remember. She couldn’t really ‘talk’ anymore and whether or not she recognized who was on the other line or, even if there was someone on the other line, was unclear to me. I stopped visiting my Mother shortly thereafter. Visually seeing her; 70 pounds, chair or bedridden, in and out of sleep was killing me. And, self-centered or not, I made the decision that my emotional health won over the societal pressure and expectations that I physically be ‘in front’ of the person that used to be my Mother.
To further convolute the ‘parent-end-of-life era’ for me, my relationship or lack-there-of with my other sibling, (I may be the only one in the world with an estranged sibling relationship) added to the distance I passively accepted. This sibling took on the sole responsibility for my Mother’s care. The reasons why are irrelevant. The fact still remains that this sibling handled the full-load; alone. I disagreed with many of the choices made; as a matter of fact – practically every choice at the end, but that does not take away from the fact that I was absent and they were present. For good or bad.
Since my Mother’s actual death, my emotions sneak up on me, seemingly out of nowhere. A wash of relief; I had been wishing for her passing for years. Welled-up tears of ‘i-miss-my-mommy’. Swaths of anger – anger at her for ‘giving up’, anger at the disease that took her mind. Piercings of fear; “Will that happen to me?” “How do I spare my son from these feelings that are ripping through me, leaving me crying at random times during the day?” And, of course, not to be left out; Guilt. Pangs of “Should I have visited regardless?” “Did she know I was absent but couldn’t ask for me?” “Was I too selfish?” The list of Guilt’s cross-examination questions seems endless and I find myself completely unprepared in my defense.
I am day five into this new orphan status. I am finally back home, in my familiar surroundings. My sister and I chat on the phone daily; we don’t live in the same town. We check-in with one another on where we are on the grieving rollercoaster.
Each day that goes by, the I ‘no-longer-have-a-mother’ acceptance level rises. Each day that goes by: relief, ‘i-miss-my-mommy’, anger, and guilt visit less and less. Each day that goes by, my life resembles more and more….well, My Life. Whether or not I’d like to admit it, my day-to-day relationship with my mother ended so long ago that her corporeal absence is not something I can ‘feel’. I suspect her theoretical absence is something that will linger with me; become part of the fabric of my being,
I loved my Mother. We may not have agreed on much; our life viewfinders lined with very divergent filters. I have chosen to parent differently than I was parented. On all fronts except one. The one I truly believe matters most. I was loved and I knew it. And, as I wrap-up this musing, Ms.’i miss my mommy’ is reminding me that she’s still there… lurking….at the ready. I haven’t ‘missed my mommy’ in almost a decade and I am happy to report that it feels strangely comforting. In a perverse way, my mother’s physical death, has brought her back. I never expected to feel like her little girl again – and, I can tell you that it feels good.
My Mom and Dad, Fort Lauderdale Christmas Boat Parade, Circa 1970s.
My Mom at work – I believe Merck, Sharpe, and Dome. How a native Spanish-speaker says that in English is wet your pants funny, by the way. Circa early 60s.