John Michael continues his series Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise, reflecting on life and people encountered, shares about his mother’s passing and saying goodbye with love.
I slipped into my cowboy boots recently. I got them in New Mexico in the late ’90s. After my adventure on the streets, they are one of the few relics from my past that are still around. They are comfortable and comforting; I stand a little straighter in them and glide a little smoother.
Nothing but male country legends in the CD player lately too: Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and Willie Nelson. All three of them were raised in extreme poverty, struggled with themselves and with the world. Yet, they were sensitive enough to reflect on themselves and write in such a way that helped others understand their own struggles. Haggard’s voice especially is full of compassion and humanity. Each are father figures, I guess; they’re certainly men I idolize. My own dad is a cowboy type who hid his sensitivity for years.
My mom worked as a social worker here in the valley for many years. She started out working with youth and ended her career caring for the elderly. Mostly old loggers, ranchers, and farm hands from the surrounding area who spent their last years drinking away their Social Security checks. Men who were Haggard songs personified. Mom helped them manage their money and affairs and worked hard at keeping them off the streets.
Many became her friends. She liked to tell the story of one man, Al Miller, who was rubbing on her leg in a romantic fashion once while driving across Memorial bridge. Mom befriended Al and I got to know him during my junior high years. Very kind man. I was surprised to see how much anxiety he had when he came to a family dinner one night. He couldn’t control his shaking as you would hand him a dish, barely said a word and disappeared right after dinner.
I remember another old logger who lived to be age 101. Mom would bring him cigarettes and sneak in a bottle of whiskey now and again.
I had a little vision right before falling asleep one night of these five cowboy types looking down on me from heaven for some reason, like Obi-Wan did with Luke Skywalker. They were lean and handsome and maybe there was a guitar or two.
They were either there to let me know everything was going to be alright or they were there to welcome my mamma into the sky. I then got a call a little after midnight, telling me my mom passed away in her sleep.
My mom worked as a social worker here in the valley for many years. … I remember a logger who lived to 101. Mom would bring him cigarettes and sneak in a bottle of whiskey now and again.
It had been a rough couple of months for her. She had skipped her dialysis a couple of times just before Christmas. After her first skip, I ran up to talk to her.
“I’m tired of it,” she said.
I knew what she meant and asked in a kind way if she was wanting to live or die. She said she wasn’t sure. She then asked me if I thought she was ready to die. I told her I didn’t know but that I would be alright and that I would support any decision she made.
And I am alright and I am going to be just fine. I’m sad, of course, but peaceful and just sort of letting the memories pour in. She was a very affectionate mom, read to Sam and I in bed every night, one of us on either side of her. If she was late or distracted at times, I remember yelling out, “Mom! Come tuck us in!”
She also let us roam and at an early age, even for the late ’60s. A neighborhood mom called her one day shocked to see Sam wandering through the college campus coming back from 24 Flavors Ice Cream Shop at age three.
I’m not going to bitch about COVID, but I am especially sad that she died alone. Although, Mom did always have a way of making other folks comfortable and took a keen interest in people. She got to know the staff by name and very well. The staff were often a topic of conversation for us whenever I came by her window to visit.
After skipping dialysis the second time in a row, she filled up with enough fluids that they had to take her over to Tri-State for a few days a little before Christmas. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I was able to come in and sit by her, hold her hand, and talk without us having to mishear each other through her window at Royal Plaza. I sang her a couple of folk songs she used to sing us when we were kids. “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain” and “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”
I foreshadowed her death. Several weeks before, I had the thought, Cherish time with your mother, which was the same sentiment I had about my dog Totes not long before he died.
Several months ago, as I was relaxing into a whiskey at the Alibi, another heaven-like thought snuck in there: She wanted to say goodbye with love in her heart. Those seven years I spent in the streets, I very rarely called home. I regret that now because it was especially hard on her. In my defense, I wasn’t really talking to anyone at all during that time, just too much anxiety.
I have acknowledged some of my struggles with my mom and family on here throughout the last several years. But these past several months I have had nothing but love and mercy in my heart for her. So, I say goodbye for now, my lovely mamma, with all the love in my heart.