When an overly inquisitive teen, I asked my Mother why she called my father, “daddy” and her older sister, “sister.” She answered, “Your grandfather called my mother “wife,” and she called him, “husband,” So I guess it comes from what I heard growing up.”
Absent a reset button, I’m grateful for the privilege of honoring all mothers by sharing some memories of the woman whose life, was the voice I heard growing up: my Mother Margaret.
On my very first school day ever, I insisted on being allowed to walk alone several city blocks to Kindergarten. Mom finally acquiesced and off I went, at age four. Two decades later, she confessed she had followed me all the way, on the opposite side of the street.
Once driving age, only Mom could entice me to attend loud family gatherings, as she succeeded in doing one Thanksgiving by playing the trump card: my Grandmamma was in town. I went. Less than a week after, Mom made the call only she could make.It had been Grandmamma’s last Thanksgiving. The three of us were special to and with each other, but not Mom’s first trio. She, her older sister Virgie and Cousin Lillian were the best of friends their entire lives. Lillian from trio to duet, now solo.
Mom’s story is only half full without mentioning her partner for sixty-two years, for it was impossible for dad to walk past my Mom without a touch, kiss and “I love you.”Then the April 2008 call came, the one where a nurse, then doctor manage to avoid saying the word “died,” preferring “Your father’s not responding to us.” Given his age, I suggested ways to get him to respond that usually worked for me. Sensing their confusion, I ventured to ask, “Are you trying to say my father is dead?” “Yes,” the doctor replied, and then hit me with the phrase so overused it’s rendered meaningless, “sorry for your loss.”
I had just left his bedside nine hours earlier and now on the drive back I was transformed from POA to his funeral arranger. Then at 2:30am Wednesday February 29, 2012, my Mother let go and joined him.
Unlike wedding planning and child birth, funerals don’t prepare you for repeat performances. While I directed my father’s last years of life and first weeks of death, Mom’s absence still leaves me mentally scattered and tearlessly numb.
Calls continue, expressing great love for my parents, who seem to have served on every church board, committee and organization possible.
Dad never talked much; Mom rarely stopped. Both laughed heartily at old radio shows; both were quick witted, dedicated to the task at hand, and committed to God, family and community. Both loved singing, were Kennedy Democrats and retired federal government employees called many times by those who followed them, requesting help.
Both loved children. Even in later years of dementia, a child on television would evoke an immediate response from Mom, and when Mom’s live in caregiver’s grandchildren would come for a visit, Mom was Mom again.
Almost three months now, and I’m still waiting for the relief promised by “the ugly cry.” I thought I had it coming to me when asked to personally close the casket. What rituals we showcase attempting to honor the dead. Perhaps the dead are best honored when the living emulate the best in the life transcended.
At her funeral March 7, 2012, I asked that Mom be eulogized by those who knew her sharing their happy moments with her. People kept coming, stepping up to the mike with wonderfully moving reminisces of Mom as solo and duo with Dad. They spoke of how sacred she held every accepted responsibility as usher, choir singer, Communion preparer, Sunday School Teacher and church elder.
Through the years I’d hop in the car and surprise Mom with a visit. Using my key late one night, I heard the upstairs bed creak and before I could lock the door behind me, Mom was at the top of the stairs asking if I was alright. I was. “See you in the morning then,” and back to undisturbed dad she went. Next day I was awaken by her gentle touch, her voice hushed, she said, “Bobby’s been shot,” then turning on the television, went to make me coffee.
Once living in NYC, my visits numbered fewer, as she reminded when my surprise found her sitting by an open window, attending a meeting in someone’s home.Standing outside only a few seconds before she suddenly turned in my direction, quickly excused herself and joined me outside for a shared embrace so long and heartfelt, I asked how long it had been since we had seen one another. Tightening our embrace, she whispered, “next Tuesday, it will be five years.”
That was my Mother.