Sunday, September 13, 2015

In Memory of Mom—1921-2005

Aunt Vera (L) at 3 and Mom (R) at 18 mos.

"The hardest part is not talking to someone you used to talk everyday." ~ Sum Nan

Some day in the ext two days is the 10th anniversary of my mother's passing. I really do not know the exact date  Every once in a long while, I'll look up the date on the internet, but I promptly forget it again. I am trying in someway to protect myself from acknowledging the day. It's too painful.

Mom was the eighth of eleven children, the youngest girl, and the weakest child.   Prior to Mom's birth in 1921, my grandparents lost three of their young children to scarlet fever, TB, the flu.  My grandfather, like all unskilled laborers, worked twelve-hour shifts in horrible conditions to earn less than $2 per day — barely enough to feed and house his growing family. The deaths of his three young children, increased debt, long hours working under miserable conditions and a still-growing family stressed my grandfather, and he started spending some of his meager pay on liquor. Grams, however, was more concerned with the welfare of her children, and she met my grandfather at the mill gate on paydays in order to get at least some money before he spent it all on booze.  She also baked and sold bread to neighbors in order to have money to buy necessities for the children.

Mom, age 12, with cousin Joe

 Growing up under those conditions was not easy, and my mother, who was a sickly and sensitive child, was especially affected.  She suffered several bouts of pneumonia and bronchitis as a baby and child, and ended up graduating from high school a little late due to her health problems.  She was engaged two or three times before she met my father.  Her first boyfriend died during World War II.   The next guy broke off their engagement because Mom was always babysitting or playing with her older sisters’ children.  The third guy was electrocuted on the job.  The man she eventually married, my father, was an abusive drunk.  

The difficult childhood. The broken engagements. The lost boyfriends. The rotten husband. Her sensitive nature. They all contributed to her chronic depression.

Mom with Uncle Joe (Aunt Vera's husband) and someone

 I'll tell you a secret:  My mother drove me absolutely bat crazy.  It took me years to realize how all of those conditions combined to form the woman who was my mother.  For years I was angry that she didn’t have the strength to leave my father; to protect my brother and me from his wrath; to be happy when his death loosened the noose he was around our collective neck.  I became more understanding and sympathetic over time, but a bit of anger still bubbled beneath the surface every time she complained or grumbled—which she did a lot. 

Aunt Marge (L) at 28 and Mom (R) at 17
I don't want to go into our relationship here because it is far too complicated to cover in this short blog. Suffice to say that I eventually realized how my father had so squashed Mom's self-confidence and identity that she was unable to recover and became a bitter, sad, and scared woman. Knowing how emotionally fragile she was, I fought to keep my emotions in check when talking to her on the phone or when she was visiting us. In private, I took my frustrations out on pillows and mattresses.

Mom on her wedding day with Betty (my cousin)
 One September evening in 2005, the phone started ringing just as I walked through our house door.  I knew it was my mother because we usually talked at the same time every evening. Tired from having worked almost 12 hours that day, I considered letting it go to voicemail. On the last ring, I picked up the phone and talked to my mother for ten or twelve minutes.  She sounded exhausted, and she told me she still had that horrible pain in the back of her head.  "Did you tell the doctor yesterday?" I asked her. She didn't directly answer the question but assured me he had doubled the amount of Paxil she was taking.  After we hung up, I stomped around the house and said some not-so-nice things about that doctor.

Mom with Mike (18 mos) and me (age 4)

Mom, on the other hand, walked her dog, Oscar, after our conversation. Her neighbors watched her bend down and pet him just before they walked back up the driveway to her house.  She sat down to watch television and while reading a magazine, fell asleep.  With her head resting in an unnatural position on her shoulder, she passed quietly and gently from this world sometime during the night. 

Mike broke the news to me over the phone as I started my workday.  “There’s no easy way to tell you this.  Chris, your mother passed away.”  He told me that the neighbors found her early that morning, a frantic Oscar keeping guard at her feet . . . that my brother tried to call me for over two hours . . . that my cell phone had been off . . . that everything was going to be okay.

My husband's words plunged me into a sadness the depths of which I never knew existed.  I felt guilty that I didn’t want to listen to her.  I felt grateful that I answered that phone that last night.  I felt selfish for my gratitude.  I felt anger that she dared to die so suddenly, that she gave me no warning.   I felt guilty for being angry.  I grieved for more time with her.  I felt lost and orphaned.  I ran wildly in circles enveloped by a haze of shock and fear, anger and grief. 

Jason with Mom (1985)

My cousin, Loree, talked to me for a long time after we buried Mom.  Aunt Ann, Loree's mother and one of my mom's older sisters, had passed away 18 months before. Loree has always had the ability to calm me at times.

"I know it's hard," she said that afternoon, "but I like to think that they're all together again with Grandma, and they're young and beautiful and playing together."  It's a wonderful image to consider.

Mom and Goofy.... Our favorite photo because she's smiling

It's been ten years, and I still miss talking to her on the phone. There are still times that I think, "Oh, I have to call Mom and tell her XXXXX." When I realize I can't call her, I look up and think, "You already know it though, don't you?"  It's been ten years, and I still miss her greatly even though she drove me bat crazy.  It's been ten years, and I still feel guilty that she didn't know how much I loved her. 

I hope she knows now.

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