It’s been hard nearing the age of my mom’s death, especially since I have a disease similar to the one that killed her. I’ve felt the importance of life, duties, responsibilities, goals, wishes, losses, failures, and more- all with a loud countdown in the background.
Not to put that pressure on my mom, my life is just incredibly complicated and challenging to explain. Maybe I should’ve paid more attention in math class, maybe I could make some witty algebraic equation out of all this, but I can’t.
I know I’m going to die. I know I’m currently alive. I know I wish I was as good as my mom. I wish I could remember everything about my mom. Now I know what it was like to be my mom’s age and face death. I wish I’d had the ability or knowledge to bring her more comfort when she was here. Sometimes I remember having a better memory, focus, a shorter fuse. I wish I’d done more then- and recognized more then. Because now I realize my own abilities were starting to drift away too.
Today is my 18,189th day to be alive. This day, 18, 189, matches the day in my mom’s life on which she died. 18,189 days is a little more than 49.75 years. I know because I think a lot, even if you can’t tell (also, there’s an app that calculates time like that). I probably think more than I ever did, yet my thoughts go into production less and less. Now thoughts get stuck in the crevices of my memory where their purpose remains unfulfilled and their stress feeds, thrives, and attacks anything trying to get any work done.
That’s what I’m dealing with today, so please forgive my splotchy, all-over-the-place writing. How can I eloquently open 18,189 days of my life to reveal my thoughts of my mom, her life, my life, my plans going forward, and some sort of inspirational message to make this worth not only both of our lives, but for you to read and gain some purpose from too? What’s the word to describe that intensity of pressure on a “fucked up memory”? Difficult? Challenging? Strenuous? Maybe I’ll come up with the right word another time, for now, I have things inside I’m trying to get out, so please forgive my quick writing.
Ok-Back to my mom. She’s been in my thoughts numerous times recently and each time I started thinking about her, I immediately started thinking about something else. You might think I was being selfish, but NO, that was her. That’s what she does, and if you know her, you know what I’m talking about, “oh don’t worry about me, what do you need?”
She never made anything about herself, she was always giving to others- every cent, every minute, every duty, everything. So when I’m in the kitchen thinking of my mom and all of a sudden I finally decide on a remodeling project- how I want to widen one window and close off the other- that’s mom- congratulations, you just met her! She would take over your thoughts about her and turn them back on you. She was a caregiver. Unfortunately, though I try, I will never be anywhere near her there. I feel so lucky to have had her, yet so short on what I have to give others in comparison.
People would always say how my mom made them feel, and I heard plenty compliments like this as a child. It was something I admired and wanted to be like, but it felt like a faraway inspiration at the time. I began to understand it better as I got older, my brain more developed (some would say). As a youth and even young adult her ability to touch people so powerfully seemed like a special blessing or completely due to a personality trait, rather than involving the conscious and decisive way one speaks and acts toward others. Everyone she interacted with felt better to have been around her, everyone. It’s taken me too long to truly see that she chose that. Her heart and her wisdom were so great that she saw the kindness and empowerment she could give to others, and she gave it freely, and she never ran out.
My mom’s job was to manage a city housing complex for people with low income. Some of the places were for families and one for elderly individuals. She would often talk about conflicts and issues going on between others around her at work, and she would always talk about treating people with respect. Sometimes I would visit her at work, (often because I got in trouble at school and she couldn’t take off). The residents loved her and would always tell me how much they did and how lucky I was to have her as a mom. That meant so much to me, and as I write I realize how I did at least learn in that category- treat people with respect.
When I was teaching I preferred to work in inner-city neighborhoods or diverse alternative schools. I guess that was my mom and, you know what? She actually got to see that part of my life, for which I can stop in my sorrow and enjoy a moment of celebration with her. She taught me to look deeper into people, just because they’ve been through tougher times, or different experiences, didn’t mean that they lacked strengths or abilities, just that they may not trust me to be vulnerable around, or we may do things differently and need to find some middle ground. Those aren’t bad- just different, and trying something different helps me too. My mom gave me that gift, for which I’m grateful.
I’ve had some students with such big walls around them. I’ve consistently been kind, reassuring, and positive toward them. Over time, they finally let their walls down and open up to me about who they are and/or things they don’t know. Unfortunately many feel ashamed and embarrassed that they don’t know something we’re going over in school. Sometimes they’re afraid to be in more educated- like they won’t continue to be who they are or belong with their loved ones. Kids at a young age go through this for several reasons and I, with listening and patience, get the distinct honor of watching them learn, grow, decide, trust, and thrive. All it took was belief that there is greatness in everyone and people deserve kindness. What other gift could I ever ask for? Thank you, Mom.
So once again, I sense that this writing, which is supposed to be about my mom, is about me. Sometimes I think her spirit helps me process things, to search within to look for my answers. Well, Mom, I think you helped my find some. I’ve been feeling inadequate raising daughters of my own, daughters you’ve never gotten to meet in person. They would love you and, let’s be honest, I haven’t talked about any “weak links” of yours, but I KNOW you’d be spoiling them AND giving me a lesson or two in their regard here and there. I’d take any or all of that right now. Thinking of you interacting with them in life brings me comfort and joy. Yet knowing a lot of it has to come through me is challenging. You did everything just-right and I know how much it helped me. I was more confident before surgery, but with my changes, I’ve been afraid I’m not good enough lately…
So what’s hard about today, Day 18,189, and what’s been building up? Hmmm- there are too many answers to that question and after all this time, I’ve realized that my mind is the only thing I can’t design, organize well, or figure out. For me, writing is like running a marathon with the prize being a single sentence. What are the words that say why I should be able to live longer than my mom, or longer than children with cancer? How do I not only figure that out, but talk about it? Timing of death is only one perspective. What about quality of life? As a white woman, I’ve had some things significantly easier than people of color, people from the past, people with other challenges, and many more. What is my life purpose and why do I get to live this long? How can I make myself worthy in this world going forward? There are so many people that deserved an opportunity at life, yet I have one. I pray for guidance…
So all of the above upset me, yet I’d like to continue this so I’m going to move on. Back to my mom (she keeps interfering- ha ha “interfering” that’s what I thought when I was a teenager). I’d like to share a few memories of my mom now. I’m not sure why I chose these, but here you go:
One time when I was about upper elementary school age, my mom came into my room to vacuum and I was afraid because I had some things hidden. My dad had recently gotten on a healthy-food kick that was about 40 years before my time and I was rebellious. I’d started “collecting” junk food from school to bring home in case I wanted a snack. Sometimes when we sat at a table together at lunch, if anyone had anything they didn’t want, they put it in the middle of the table and said, “out for grabs,” and it was kind of like Hungry Hippos, except, rather than hippo heads, there were young, fast hands following young, fast glances and the fastest one got the prize. We learned quickly what foods no one liked and just threw those away, so “out for grabs” was always competitive like that. As you could guess, I brought home some good stuff over the last several weeks and was about to be DISCOVERED by a PARENT with a vacuum for a rule I thought was STUPID.
I mentioned before that I was previously good at organizing everything, well it started early. My bedroom had floor-length, heavy fabric curtains that had been hemmed about nine inches, forming a pocket big enough to be a well disguised snack compartment. I thought it was a great hiding place until my mom saw the curtains change shape, and felt a light impact as she hit them with the vacuum. “Hmm..” she said.
“Uh… that’s nothing. So what were you saying?” I muttered.
She went over, flipped the curtain around, reached in and pulled a handful or candy and Little Debbie’s and such… I held my breath as I waited for her facial expression and words. But she just laughed and we ended up talking about it as we ate a few together. She ended up telling me it was fine, and she wouldn’t tell my dad. See? She always made people feel better.
There was another time, either right before college or during that I got frustrated about finances and blurted out, “you guys couldn’t even save like five dollars a week or month or ANYTHING when I was born?”
I know I just talked about how she always made people feel and this was about the only exception. She looked me dead in the eye and it showed all over her face as she said, “No, we couldn’t. We couldn’t even save five dollars.” That’s when and how I realized how tough things were, yet how protected I’d been. I’d overheard some discussions, yet never felt financially unsafe, she had kept that part to herself.
Another memory that came to mind was when I was sixteen. This one occurred me, I think, because I can imagine relating to her as a mother. I’ve got two daughters, one older I’ve already experienced sixteen with and one there now.
So, back to when I was sixteen, I mentioned before that the residents at my mom’s complex thought the world of her. Well, one gentleman at the senior center had a car to sell and offered my mom a really good price. I had recently began driving and, given our place in the financial world, had no expectation whatsoever of having a car of my own. But (although I was surprised, you probably see this coming given how generous my mom was), my mom had been saving and bought the car. For me! It was a 1979 Mercury Monarch. I had never seen her look happier than when she gave me that car.
I remember seeing the car for the first time, and to be honest, I didn’t know what a Mercury Monarch was or what to expect. Luckily this time (which was before the college finance talk) I knew to be grateful and I was happier and more liberated to have a car of my own than self-centered enough to judge it (I actually gasped when I googled them because they look worse than I remembered- maybe God spoke to me and because I’m so grateful I was gracious and excited in front of my mom). If she had lived longer, I would’ve known to show her even more gratitude, but as a self-centered sixteen year old, it was a true gift to have had that perspective at that time.
So those are a few stories. There are so many more, yet these are the ones that came to mind right now, probably for some deeper reason that, even I don’t understand. Now that I reflect back over them, I can relate moments I’ve had with my own daughters that are special like that. I don’t want to share too much about my daughters out of respect for their privacy, especially in this digital age, but I’ll give very small descriptions of how each has done kind things for me in the last day. One was shopping for herself and spotted my favorite bottled coffee drink that is rarely available and bought several for me, just out of kindness. One invited me to join her in selecting digital images for a project and to go to the beach with her. I’m grateful for them both and wish I had more moments, more memories of that kind with my mom.
I know she’s setting this up, that’s what she does. Even from heaven. I hope she’s with us as I enter the part of life she never got, day 18,190 and beyond. I hope she’s here to watch the girls continue to grow, mature, and become adults. I know she’d love them both and be so proud. She’d have specific things she could relate to with each of them. Someday I’ll talk to them about that, but I’ll keep it private here.
As I live longer than my mom got to, please let my heart be open and less protective of myself so I can be more loving, supportive, and protective of others as she did. I never thought I’d be my mom’s age, yet today I am and every day forward I’ll be older. I love you, Mom. I miss you terribly. I hope to help your goodness live on.
My mom and me at my wedding.