My mother died on this day, one year ago.
I have not written much about this before. It is too personal, too fresh, too painful. It is my pain, not for upvoting, downvoting, C!ing or whatever. But Mother's death is what eventually led me here, so I felt I should write it.
Mother spent her entire life moving around this big state. She reached the end of her life at the age of 76 in a cozy little home near where she grew up. She was a lady of surprising inner strength. While she could be judgmental, bigoted and sometimes cruel, she was also strangely loving and sweet. As an adult, I carefully learned to befriend the woman who had given birth to me as the strange and complex little person that she was.
You see, I was not too fond of my mother until I was in my teenage years. My parents had a great deal of strife and I always wound up on my Dad's side. It was only much later, when I began to reason more like an adult, that I realized that a lot of what I had thought about my mom was erroneous.
My father, who was 24 years her senior, died in 1995. Soon thereafter, Mom moved out of Dallas and back to her miniscule hometown of Brownwood. I went to visit her almost every month, despite the eight hours of driving.
As the years ran on, the Marlboro cigarettes mother had smoked since the age of 15 began to catch up with her. Her breathing sounded more and more like a gurgling steam engine. When she walked from her tidy little kitchen to her cigarette-scented, but neat-as-a-pin den, she would huff and puff and wheeze and groan. This was what inspired me to quit smoking cigarettes. It took three tries, but I haven't had one in over two years. Emphysema eventually claimed her life.
Friday (September 3), Suzi and I had gone to Mother's home. Mom had been in the hospital for a long time, and was finally home, in the care of her handyman and friend, Clayton. It had been sad to see her in that sterile hospital, a weak, frail old lady with tubes in her nose and mouth and a horrifying collection of catheters and IV tubes. At home, she was peaceful, quiet, serene. A lifelong Christian, Mom felt that Jesus was coming for her, to re-unite her with her long-lost parents and friends. I kissed her head as she lay sleeping. She awoke briefly and told me not to fear, she seemed to finally have been at peace.
Saturday night (Sunday AM, actually), mother slipped away peacefully, she went gentle into that good night at about 4:00 in the morning. Clayton called me, awakening me from a deep sleep. It is funny how certain moments in a life are blasted into the mind in high relief. They are packed into long-term memory forever, while others fade. The neuroscience nerds call this "consolidation," if I remember my neuroscience nerd days correctly. The funeral was held on that Monday.
I never wanted to be one of those people who regret all the things they never told their dead parent. Over the last few years of her life, I made sure to tell my mom everything that I wanted her to know. I harassed her into making peace with her feelings for my significant other, I told her the regrets and joys of my youth and I told her that I love her ... many times.
I held it together, there was some grief, some crying, but nothing cataclysmic. Then, one night, as I was driving around, doing my part-time delivery job, I heard an old favourite, the song Purple Heather, Rod Stewart's version, on a CD. The dam burst within me. All the pain, all that loss, it all blew out like a floor that could not hold another gram when a heavy item is thrown upon it. I discovered that, as an adult, crying doesn't go "boo hoo" or "wah" ... Crying is a shouted gale of profanity and curses, expletives and so forth. Scattered among this torrent of invective, a stream of incoherent nonsense and a thunderstorm of tears. It hurt like hell. It felt good.
Sometimes, I thought I heard her comforting whispers in the dark as I was in that weird liminal state between sleep and waking ... the hypnogogic state, I think they call it. Auditory hallucinations? Probably. One time I awoke and smelled her perfume—it was that weird Chanel smell that always was in her home. Another time, I dreamt that mother and my deceased cats and ferrets were with me. Mom did not like animals much, but there she was—cuddling them and saying comforting words.
A month or so later, our little ferret Indiana died. It was not an easy year for us.
After my dad's death, I changed my career. He had spent 92 years on earth doing some very prestigious jobs, but he told me that he was never happy with them. I knocked around until I found a career I could truly love. When Mom died, I wanted to make another change, but I could not afford an around-the-world vacation, and I lack the grit to do something drastic like run away to a foreign land.
I have wanted to be a writer since I was a child. I wrote short stories and attempted to write a science fiction novel in high school. Writing did not come easy for me, though. I had a rough time mustering the spirit to write for some reason. I knew of a place on the Weird Wide Web which I'd been visiting for years. A place that I might be able to pass muster, even if it meant taking a few lumps.
And that is how the death of my mother brought me to this magical place where I am writing a lot every day, improving and enjoying the hell out of it.