The two most traumatic events I’ve experienced in a life that has seen its fair share of traumatic events are the deaths of my parents. When Daddy died on October 15, 1998, I went into protection and taking-care-of mode for Mama, suppressing the real nuts and bolts of my own grieving process over Daddy’s death so that I could give Mama my full support, help, comfort, and care.
I didn’t realize, at the time, that’s what I had done, because it seemed natural to me and I didn’t know how to do things any differently.Continue reading →
Today is the second anniversary of my mama’s death.
I miss her. But my love, care, and concern for her well-being outweighs my own pain and loss. Because her journey through vascular dementia, Lewy Body dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, and congestive heart failure is over and she sleeps peacefully, awaiting the promise of total healing in the resurrection.
Today is the second Mother’s Day since Mama’s death. Grief still lingers and hovers over me, punctuated even more by packing up for the impending sale of my house and subsequent move.
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.
I miss you, Mama, just like I miss Daddy. I’m a little lost at times with both of you gone and I’m often struggling with the idea of being all alone in the world, humanly-speaking.
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.
Mom didn’t know who I was most of that last week, but she knew I was someone she could trust. At least after she cried out to God as I put her into bed the Monday of the week before she died and said the words that cut me to the very inner recesses of my heart: “Oh, God, she’s trying to kill me!”
Mom’s mobility was so limited after the major heart attack she suffered on August 2, 2012, that it took all my strength and effort for everything that required movement for her and with her. I was as gentle as I could be with her, and, in some ways, sacrificed my own body, to ensure that Mom was okay, safe, and not taxed any more physically than was necessary. Mom was worth it.
Early in the morning the Tuesday a week before Mom died, she was in the hospital bed I’d had delivered on Monday and I was in the recliner where she’d slept since we’d come home from visiting my twin sister in May (sleeping in a reclining position eased what I now realized were chest pains from her congestive heart failure).
I was in my usual half-awake/half-asleep nightly ritual when a severe leg cramp forced me out of the chair and onto my feet. As I stood up, I saw that Mom was awake, but the leg cramp was so bad, I knew I had to deal with it first before I could deal with her.
I have an old ankle injury (from a serious car accident when I was in college in which my foot got wrapped around the brake) in the leg that was cramping – which is also the leg that I’ve had three reconstructive, repair, and replacement surgeries on my knee – so I’ve learned over the years that I have to be careful not to pop the ankle when I’m trying to walk out leg cramps in that leg.
Walking wasn’t helping, so I sat in a chair and tried to massage the cramp out. It took about 15 minutes, but I was finally able to stop the cramping enough to go to Mom.
I walked over to Mom and took her into my arms and leaned down to talk into her good ear and ask if she was okay. She took me in her arms and held me close to her, returning my embrace fully, and said “I know I’m not going to get out of here, but you can, so as soon as you get well, promise me you’ll leave.”
I promised Mom that I would and we held each other, for me, as mother and daughter, tightly for several minutes. I kissed Mom and told her I loved her always and unconditionally, and she pulled me closer and squeezed me tighter to her chest and then fell asleep.
Other than Mom’s rally the following Saturday, this is one of the most precious memories I have of my last days with Mom. Even if she didn’t know who I was in a conscious way, somewhere deep inside she knew. She remembered. She loved me. She was looking out for me.
In Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, there’s not a lot left for us to take away as the diseases destroy our connections to our loved ones. I’m thankful for each one that I have, no matter how thin, how temporary, how distant. Because I know behind each of those is my mom and our bond.
It promises me that some things can’t be broken. Ever. For that I’m grateful and thankful.
Another Father’s Day is upon me and I’m missing my daddy. As the years have unfurled since his death in 1998, I’ve learned more about the man he was, the character he had, and the many lives he powerfully and positively impacted in the years he lived.
Age, memories, and experience have helped me understand how precious he was and how important in my life he was. I don’t think we, as children of great parents, can fully appreciate who and what they were to us and others, until we have enough life behind us to really comprehend all that they left to us, for us, both in example and in legacy.
It’s as though one day you wake up to a full understanding of what big footsteps – and both Daddy’s and Mama’s were big – you’re walking in. That’s the most humbling thing I’ve come to realize as I’ve walked through Mother’s Day and Father’s Day this year. I’m not half the person either my daddy or my mama was, but, God willing, my intent and my determination is to aim for the standard they left for me.
Both my parents were capable of, willing to, and showed deep and abiding love, care, and concern all their lives. It was a part of who they were inside. I hear, and am reminded of, stories of their generosity, their open doors, their willingness to give to and serve others. All others. Their home, their hearts, and their service were open to anyone and everyone.
I remember, of course, the many times during my childhood when our houses were full, whether for a meal or for an overnight stay, of whoever needed a family and place to call their own.
I remember each Sabbath and holy day, as long as we attended in Greensboro, NC, Daddy and/or Mama (when Daddy was out of town during the hog cholera outbreaks in the 1970’s) going a bit out of their way to take an older lady to church who didn’t have any other way to get there.
My parents did this because that’s who they were. They were always about taking care of others, no matter what or where or how that presented itself.
They did it with us kids. All of us were adopted. They wanted children, but after Mama suffered several miscarriages, the last of which almost killed her, they decided to adopt. Daddy and Mama knew they had enough love between them to adopt and cherish as their own. And they did. We were theirs. We still are. That will never change.
I’ve thought a lot over the past several months since Mama died about how they parented us. In many ways, it was, at least for me, exactly what I needed. It made the person I am today. I will never be the social hosts they were because of my INTJ temperament, but I am and will always be looking for behind-the-scenes, anonymous, and hidden ways to give and serve like they did.
Mama was the disciplinarian in the family. Consequences for wrong-doing were swift – except in my case, when often I heard “I’m so angry with you I have to get calmed down before I punish you, so go to your room, and I’ll come for you” (I pushed all her buttons and then some – she often told me when I was older that she prayed that I was less stubborn than her, because she never quite believed it) – and physical.
Daddy, on the other hand, hated physical discipline. On the rare occasions that he meted it out, I could always tell that it hurt him way more than it did us. It just wasn’t how he did things.
I’ve said before that with Mama and me, growing up, everything seemed to be a contest of our wills. I was convinced (where in the world I came up with this God only knows!) that physical punishment ended up being about who won. Which meant if Mama made me cry, then she won. If I didn’t cry, then I won. So that was always my goal when Mama was punishing me. To outlast her and not cry. Then I won.
Most of the time, in my mind, I won. I knew I could outlast the licks of a paddle, a belt, or a switch. But, looking back, I realize that “winning” reinforced a stubbornness that I often have to fight when it really matters to this day. So, in the long run, I didn’t win. I just made things harder for myself.
Daddy, though he never really knew it because I never told him, was a much more effective influence for change in my life.
Daddy’s preferred method of dealing with us kids was to talk to us, to reason, to explain why what we did was either not the best way or simply wrong. The first words out of his mouth were always “I’m disappointed with what you did (or said).” That was always a crushing blow to me because it hit my conscience and my heart and my relationship with Daddy.
Then Daddy would explain what was wrong about it and what the right way should have been. This reinforced, even though I often stared at the wall above his head as he talked and tried to maintain my best poker face throughout his explanation so he wouldn’t know I was listening or cared about what he said (I always was and I always did – a lot), my sense of letting Daddy down.
He’d believed in me, trusted me, depended on me, and I failed him. And that was unacceptable to me and it prodded a lot of change in my growing up years. Even though Daddy didn’t know it because I didn’t let him know, he was often the catalyst for real changes in me growing up.
Daddy was my conscience and Mama was the enforcer. Together, I hope and pray, they raised three kids who look, act, walk, talk, and are like them. They followed God and Jesus Christ to the best of their ability and they raised us to do the same. They didn’t preach it. They lived it. That is and was the best example of the Christian walk.
Today, I’m trying to live it too, as they did, following in the same footsteps of God the Father and Jesus Christ. I fall short way more than I succeed some days, but I’m not quitting, just like they never quit.
I am grateful for their examples, flawed like mine, but on the balance more positive and right than negative and wrong, and I can’t wait until we all see each other again completely healed physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.