John Michael continues his series Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise, reflecting on life and people encountered, with a story about the recent passing of his mom.
There were a couple of times I almost crawled into the window at Royal Plaza so I could comfort my mom. I was leaving one night and she was searching around her bed looking for her call button for the nurses. When she found it, she clung to it like Linus with his blanket.
Mom met my dad at the University of Idaho. Dad was handsome, charismatic, and, like all his friends (and later, me) in college, hard drinking. I have only seen a couple of pictures of my paternal grandfather and assumed he was tough like my dad. But, after talking to my dad last Christmas, that wasn’t the case at all.
He said, “My dad was my best friend, he was very kind to me.”
My grandfather died in my father’s presence when Dad was 18. Dad’s mom was cold, and I imagine cruel, he never connected with her his whole life. So, I imagine he felt secretly abandoned and adrift that year he spent at Idaho.
I’ve always had a hard time pulling stories out of my mom, but her relationship with Dad was tumultuous. Not long before she died, she told me about a time they were at a ballgame and Dad started acting out and being loud. She secretly gave him the finger behind his back which got some of my dad’s friends laughing pretty hard.
Mom made a bunch of lifelong friends with the wives of my dad’s friends and I know the ones who are still around will miss her dearly. Dad was able to quit drinking a few years after the divorce, but that really didn’t end the tension between them. I remember mom shooting eye daggers at him at the rehearsal dinner when I was getting married.
Mom started having what I called “lucid dreams” even before she went into the care facilities. She later started calling them her “hallucinations,” and was even maybe having them while awake. This is fairly common for the dying and it didn’t affect her mind, she was mentally very sharp right up until the end.
Once, during one of her dreams when she was still at home, my dad showed up and put a blanket over her in a comforting manner. That leads me to believe there is a deep love between us all, even as we play out our small roles in the great mystery.
There is a deep love between us all, even as we play out our small roles in the great mystery.
Mom certainly had some abandonment issues and panicked in her last years if she didn’t know where I was or was unable to get a hold of me. True confession: this bothered me at times, and I regret letting her know it bothered me.
I was a little tough on her taking up my time. But I was also very hard on myself, up until several months ago, for not having any kind of career at my age. But I was finally able to give myself a break when I looked around and discovered how many very good friends I had from the outreach I had been doing, including my mom. My need for belonging was being met, and for this lifelong outsider that means more than a lot.
I mentioned how our childhoods can shape our psyches for the rest of our lives in an earlier remembrance. When my mom was very young, maybe four or five, she found herself far from home in a Spokane hospital with some childhood disease they considered contagious. They wouldn’t even let her parents see her for a month or two. Can you imagine the young girl’s terror and the abandonment she felt?
Mom wouldn’t visit with her friends who were dying. I remember going to see Ann Mattoon in the hospital and reporting back. She hated to see people, especially her friends, suffer. Mom had some frozen tears like the rest of us. She told me, because I asked one time, that she really didn’t cry much anymore.
The second time I almost crawled through the window and into my mom’s room was shortly before she died. She called me in a panic and her tears must have found a way through, because she was crying as well. When I got to the window, I had the thought, Cry with your mom. So, I did. She had a very kind young aide in the room and I walked her through how to comfort my mom and to put her hand on her brow like I was aching to do. After a short time, she fell asleep.
Mom didn’t reach out to her friends much after she went into care. For a minute, I thought she was tired of having to keep up the manners and chit chat. But, honestly, I think she understood she was dying and wanted to work through some things from this lifetime on her own before she passed.
At some point, I asked her if she had any regrets. She calmly said that she did but that she wouldn’t be sharing them. She seemed at peace with them, whatever they may have been, and at peace with herself before she died.