Because packing has brought the inevitable sifting and sorting, which entails opening boxes, containers, and drawers that have sat unopened for a while. And I’ve come across a lot of memories in the process and the tears that they are just memories now have fallen quite frequently.
While some who read this blog knew my mama, most of you don’t. So in honor of Mother’s Day 2014, I would like to briefly introduce you to this wonderful and beautiful lady that I’m honored to have known as “Mama.”
Mama was one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever known. Though beset by a hearing loss – that worsened with time – all her life, she was an excellent student and she loved learning.
Although Mama had completed medical technology training shortly after she and Daddy married, she yearned to go back to college and get more education. At 48, she did just that, ending up with a bachelors of science degree in biology and a bachelor of arts degree in English. Her cumulative GPA was 3.5, despite the fact that she struggled through two required, but dreaded, math courses. We – she and I – worked together and got her through both of them with a C.
Almost right up until the time of her triple-dementia – vascular dementia, Lewy Body dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease – diagnosis, Mama was taking classes of some kind. Her last formal classes were sign language classes, which Mama persuaded me to join so that we could learn and practice together.
Mama was also a voracious reader. When Mama was in elementary school, she’d spend every Saturday at the public library in Greenville, SC where she made the pronouncement to the librarians there that she was going to “read every book in the world.” They laughed, but Mama never gave up on that unattainable goal.
Mama, in spite of all the odds against her, was, as an adult, hopeful and optimistic about life. She enjoyed life and made the most of her time on this earth.
Mama had a whole lot of love and she generously poured it out on everybody who intersected with her life and who responded to it. I’m not sure Mama ever met a stranger; of the five of us, she was, even more so than Daddy, the most likely to introduce herself to someone and make them feel welcome in any setting.
Mama cared very deeply about humanity and often cried tears for the most vulnerable among us – children and the elderly – when she learned of hurts, sorrows, and oppressions that had befallen them.
Mama also loved all the four-legged friends that accompanied her and us as a family throughout her lifetime. She also cried tears for them when it was time for her and us to say goodbye to them.
Mama was the enthusiastic cheerleader in our family. Whenever any of us expressed a desire to do or try something, Mama was right behind us encouraging us to go for it, assuring us that she’d be with us all the way.
Sometimes if we were too reluctant or refused to do something and Mama believed it was something we needed to do, she’d give us an “or else” ultimatum. My only jump ever, tear-laden though it was, off a diving board into the deep end of a swimming pool when I was 9 was the result of one of Mama’s ultimatums. 🙂
Mama had a fantastic sense of humor that always had the edge of mischief around it. She laughed easily and often and her blue eyes sparkled with joy most of the time, although dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease took more than their fair share of that away as they progressed.
Mama was always up for adventures with her family and her friends. When she and I were both in college at the same time, we arranged our schedules so that our Tuesday and Thursday classes were done by noon.
At least once a week, we’d go to lunch together, then go to Baskin-Robbin’s and get three-scoop sundaes to take to the movie theater to eat while we caught the afternoon matinee of whatever new movie was out.
On days we didn’t go to the movies, we’d either spend the afternoon walking and talking out at Wrightsville Beach (North Carolina) or Fort Fisher or in downtown Wilmington or we would go bowling or go to shoot pool (Mama never quite mastered the technique of shooting pool, but she was a pretty decent bowler back in the day).
I cannot tell you how much I treasure those memories, nor how much I miss those times. When we traveled together in subsequent years, we’d always spend a lot of time exploring together, until the last few years, when Mama’s energy and heart was winding down and she simply couldn’t manage long exploratory walks and strolls.
It broke my heart when it happened. I guess I believed she’d be enthusiastically keeping pace with me, taking two steps to every one of mine (her legs were shorter), until the day she died.
Mama was also a talented writer and storyteller. One of the memories I’ve encountered as I’ve been packing is the reminder of how much she wrote over the years of her life.
One of those pieces of writing reminded me, though, that Mama experienced a lot of grief during her life, including the worst grief, I believe, of her life after Daddy’s death in October 1998.
She wrote these words six months after Daddy had died:
“This is the eve of the sixth month since my husband’s death. I have come a long way since that fatal day in October. I need to pause and take stock of where I’ve been and what I’ve learned since that time…
…At first the pain of my loss was indescribable and unrelenting. I was locked into my grief, unable to think or act on anything. When everyone [us kids] returned to their daily routine, I was in an abyss of hopelessness. The pain had even paralyzed my tear ducts…
…While sharing activities with others or hearing some interesting information, I could hardly wait to tell my husband and had the shock of realizing that would never again happen. When writing, I kept expecting him to knock on the office door and I’d look up and see that crooked grin and hear him say: ‘Just checking on you.’
I found myself talking to him about my problems and asking him how I’d ever solve them without him. I’d fuss at him for keeping every key he had ever possessed and I had no idea what they fit. Or I’d rage at him for saving every rubber band, paper clip, and ad infinitum.
I’d tell him he was right, I was the messiest person alive and I had to change, but I’d show him that I could. At night, I’d reach over to touch him, but only felt his robe that I left on his pillow. Those were the times the flood gates opened.”
Reading Mama’s words about her grief after Daddy’s death reminded me both of my grief after he died and my grief since her death. Somehow Mama’s words reflected much of what I’ve experienced since her death. It’s not in my face all the time, but it still hits me like a ton of bricks out of the blue more often than not.
This Mother’s Day will be bittersweet like last year’s was and all the ones in the future will be until I see you again. For you now, it is just the blink of an eye. For me, it’s a little bit longer than that.
I love you, Mama! Until we see other again, sleep well.