That’s how I’m doing it. Dealing with things bit by bit and trying not to dwell on them too much.
Mom passed away last Tuesday around noon. Mike and I were with her when she took her last breath. Little sister said she was getting pretty bad and I told her Mike and I would be over in a few minutes. When we arrived, her breathing was very gurlgy and little sister said she probably wouldn’t make it until the next day. I painted Mom’s nails. She always liked for me to do that and it made me feel like I was doing something she appreciated. Painted them a light pastel pink like she liked. It was obvious that she knew Mike and I were there. She opened her hands and rested them in my hand as I painted her nails. Her favorite CD was playing, Iz Kamakawiwo’ole’s What a Wonderful World, Little sister took her to Hawaii a few years ago and she fell in love with all things Hawaiian.
Little sister wanted to leave and pick up a Christian music CD that Mom liked and we told her we would stay with Mom until she got back. Donna hadn’t been gone more than five minutes when Mom’s breathing quieted down. She stopped that horrible gurgling sound and seemed to breath very easy and shallow. And Mike and I both knew. I don’t know how but we did. I looked at Mike and saw a reflection of my own face. Tears silently falling from his eyes onto his chest. We knew that she wouldn’t be struggling to breathe anymore. He stroked her forehead and held her left hand and I whispered to her and held her right. I told her to let it go. Told her to just rest and let us take it from here. And she did. She just stopped breathing. So gently and peacefully. She just took a gentle little breath, exhaled softly and didn’t take another. Mike and I just stood there, silently crying and holding her hands and he finally said, “She’s gone, Patty.” And he didn’t need to tell me. Even so, neither of us wanted to let go. We just held her hands and stroked her hair and let the tears fall. Finally, Mike removed the breathing tubes from her nose and turned off the machine. He picked up her Bible and we placed her hands on top of it and left the room to call Donna and my brother, David.
I felt bad that Donna had taken such good care of her; made so many sacrifices and cared for her so tenderly and Mom slipped away just five minutes after she left. But maybe that’s the way Mom wanted it. I don’t know. At any rate, Donna was okay with it. She’d already said her goodbyes. I think she may have wanted to give Mike and I some time alone with Mom.
I went to Mom’s house that evening. Went to find clothes for her to be buried in. I was shocked to find all her clothes were gone. They were there when I was caring for her last summer. I don’t know what happened to them. There were only about eight hangers in her closet and only one nice outfit. A beautiful rose pant suit with a white silk blouse. The collar was lace and the buttons were pearls. It was exactly what Mom would have chosen. I suppose she got rid of all her clothes at one point or another and I believe she saved that outfit for her funeral. I went to her jewelry box to find a brooch and earrings because Mom always wore a brooch but, again, there wasn’t anything there. Just a pair of pearl earrings and a necklace I bought her at least 25 years ago. It was a silver necklace with stick figure charms. One for each of her children. Mike, Me, David, Donna, and Dennis. Each silver charm held our birthstones. Mom was really hard to please. She’d act like she liked what we gave her but then it would disappear. She’d give it away or donate it. We learned not to ask what happened to the gifts we gave her.
It hit me like a sledgehammer to see that necklace in her jewelry box. I held that silly thing and just broke down. I didn’t even know she still had it. But there it was. The only surviving piece of jewelry in the box.
My little brother came in to find me sitting on the floor crying like a baby over that old necklace. I told him I couldn’t figure out why it was there. Did she want to be buried in it or did she leave it for us? He said he thought it would be appropriate for her to wear it in the casket but we’d remove it before she was buried and I could have it to remember her.
I never wanted anything of my mother’s. She never kept anything. I could look around her house and nothing held any significance for me. She never held on to things from the past but was always getting rid of old stuff and buying new. At some point, all her stuff became meaningless to me because it was like walking into Rooms to Go. It all looked nice but it didn’t hold any memories. I still don’t know why she held on to that necklace but it will come back to me and I’ll treasure it.
The funeral was yesterday. Mom and Dad must have done something right because my brothers and sister and I were all there for each other. We gave each other strength and stood together the way my parents would have wanted. We’ve always been there for each other and I guess we always will. When one would cry, the rest of us would be there to comfort.
Friends came from everywhere. I was surprised to see that the friends who came were for my siblings and I. Mom was the last of her family and there’s no one left of my father’s family. It’s just us kids, our children and a couple of scattered cousins. Mom could be very critical of others and she didn’t have a lot of close friends but there were plenty of visitors and friends in attendance at her funeral. Donna and I had worried that there would only be a couple of people at the visitation and funeral home. We were so grateful for the steady stream of friends who showed up to support us. I guess funerals really are for the living.
I learned how blessed I am to have so many wonderful friends. They sheltered me like a swaddled baby. I told them everyone was coming to my house after the funeral and they set to work. Surrounded me in my grief and wouldn’t take no for an answer when it came to helping out. Pam went in my house while I was at the funeral and set up two crock pots of soup she made for visitors after the funeral. Elsie brought enough fruit to feed an army. Jana bought a deli tray and others brought desserts, drinks, potato salad, chips, lasagna, a ham, and enough food to feed an army. One of my son’s friends, raised in a series of foster homes, who has always thought of us as his parents came every day to make himself available to run errands, clean house, and do anything he could to be helpful. I told him I needed to go get some shoes and get my nails done and then decided that I just didn’t have the energy. He made me get ready, drove me to the salon and waited until I was finished so he could take me home. He stayed at the house to make sure DH was okay and drove Andrew and Steven to the funeral home.
There were students. Kids I hadn’t seen in years. And yet they came. Not because they knew my mother but because they knew me. There were friends that I’d slighted and neglected. They were there for me. And I felt so blessed.
After the funeral, people filed past the coffin and I was so touched. It seemed like every other person came to give me a hug. I hadn’t realized how many of Mom’s visitors were my friends and acquaintances. I’d been worried. Mom hasn’t lived in Louisville for 35 years. My brothers and sister don’t live here. My sister and I were hoping someone would turn out and it did my heart so much good to see the outpouring of love and support that was generated.
It’s taken me most of the day to write this. I hadn’t really had time to grieve. I’ve been surrounded by so much love and support that I’ve been cocooned in a blanket of love. Writing this post has been the first time that I’ve been able to gather my thoughts and actually have a good long cry. I went outside a few minutes ago and sat in the rain and thought about my mother. I hope I made her proud. I think I did. She didn’t find a lot of happiness in this life. Most of what she had came from her children. I think she lived vicariously through us. Sometimes, we resented it. We’d get angry that she would steal our thunder and resentful that she’d make herself out to be such a martyr and refuse to accept any real Joy or Happiness. I forgave all that last summer and just decided to accept her for who she is and love her without reservation in what time she had left. And I did. I may have gotten a little gruff with her when she decided to give up but I came to realize that the choice was hers and I’d have to accept it.
I hope she’s happy now. I hope she can find all that Joy and Happiness that she denied herself on this earth. I hope she’s back on that farm where she grew up. Sitting beside the spring drinking crystal clear water.
Goodbye, Mama. I love you.