Tag Archives: mourning

Garage Sale Memories

20180504_184339_previewNormally, on this particular Friday of the year, I would be out of the house by now, yet here it is, 10 o’clock in the morning, and I’m still in my pajamas, set to go nowhere, intent on doing nothing and not happy about the whole lot of it. This is a weekend of memories for me. I’m breaking tradition by staying home, but alas, I have no intention of polluting my church and my hometown with the nasty coughing meanies that have infested and infected my chest. Yes, I’m sick. Yes, this is our city-wide garage sale weekend that coincides with my church’s annual garage sale for missions. It’s the church garage sale that I’m missing. And my mother.

You see, I have lived away from my parents and brother for my entire married life. After we married, grad school took us to Nebraska, 1000 miles away from my Pennsylvania roots. Then a job took us 1500 miles from there to Connecticut. My mother and I were always close. Even as far away as we lived, we still kept in touch by phone. When national phone plans made calling even more accessible, Mum and I would burn up the phone lines, talking for at least an hour or more each time, often about nothing or about the same things rehashed each time. I loved our calls because vacations were far and few between.

Finally, we had the chance to move back to PA, only 80 miles away from my family and in the same town as my husband’s. At first, after being away for so long, weekend visits seemed almost surreal, but after we gave my parents their first and only grandchild, visits became an almost monthly thing. There was nothing like being in the same space with them. Daddy died too soon in 1994 when our daughter was 7. After Mum was widowed at 65, only 4 years older than I am now, she lived with and depended on my brother for the next 10 years. She had this philosophy that “Barbara has her own family now.” It led to some martyrdom and some misunderstandings, but by then, it was 2004, and we had to move again, this time to Wisconsin, 670 miles away. Back to communicating by phone. I missed her hugs.

My mother was aging by now. The first signs of her slowing down were showing up. Adult onset diabetes took a toll on her, although sometimes, I think the medications took a bigger toll. We had been in WI for two years, when our daughter decided to join the collegiate world by graduating from high school. It was decided that Mum was going to come and spend an entire month with us prior to Lauren’s graduation.

Looking back, it was a special time then and is a special memory to me now. We did what we could with Mum’s health in mind. She and I went to Door County and stayed overnight, then took the annual lighthouse tour. It was not without its challenges, since Mum had trouble with the rugged terrain. She ended up with a splinter in her hand from a large stick that I found to aid with walking. That meant a visit to the doctor’s office where a nice, white-haired doctor flirted gently with her. She batted her eyelashes at him and reminded me of a shy, young coquette. Having been widowed for 10 years by now, she reveled in the attention of this doctor who removed the splinter from her thumb and maybe a little from her heart. I melted too.

That special time with her, where I could talk to her any time I wanted, hug her whenever and wherever, remains rooted in my soul as one of the last times that I truly had my mother with me. That’s what makes this weekend of the year so special to me. My mother and I explored the church garage sale where she delighted in picking up small trinkets for her friends back home. She scoured the stationary area for unopened packs of pretty note cards. She had her eye out for tiny boxes in good shape that could hold sachets and the like. Her eye for jewelry led her to the hard-to-find clip earrings that she wore, a little something for her, too, after all. If she had been healthy enough and closer to home, I’m sure that she would have bargain-hunted for clothing and kitchen wares as well. We enjoyed the grilled brats at Dave’s Brat Stand together in the brisk spring air.

It was with great joy that every year thereafter, when I mentioned the church garage sale, that she would ask me to find similar items for her. I did. By this time, she was beginning to need in-home health visits as her legs were beginning to not cooperate with her. The Parkinson’s would hold off showing its ugly head for a few more years, but she was weakening. Her last visit to WI was in 2010 for Lauren’s college graduation. I found a candy apple red walker for her at a garage sale to use to navigate the campus. It was one of the last times that she could be without support of any kind.

Each year, when the garage sale rolled around, I would scour the aisles much like she did for nice notecards, mugs and trinket boxes and send them to her to give to her care workers. One year, she liked a crepe flower that I sent so much that she kept it for herself. It now sits on our piano, one of the things that I brought home with me when we closed the family homestead after she died. That flower that cost me all of fifty cents means more to me than a dozen bouquets of roses because it meant a lot to her and serves as a reminder of the garage sale weekend we spent together so long ago.

Mum has been gone for almost 4 years. No more phone calls. No more trinket hunting. For a long time, due to circumstances and responsibilities thrust upon me, I could not mourn. I can now. It’s the oddest things that bring up the tears, and the oddest things that make me smile, especially when I think of our time together that very special year.

I have gone to the church garage sale every year, perused the aisles, bought and donated to help our mission program, and ate those lovely brats. Dave has since retired from his brat stand, having turned it over to other capable grill masters, but it makes me a little sad. There’s probably no difference other than the name, but I don’t know. Maybe the little tug at my heart is because I remember eating the brats of Dave’s Brat Stand with my mom. Every year afterwards, I would buy half a dozen brats and put them in the freezer to pull out for lunches. No brats for me this year. Darn illness!

I can’t peruse the aisles, touch what others have touched before, scoff at the absurdities of other people’s taste, ooo and aah at others, wishing I had that much good taste. I can’t price out treasures and dig through the yarns and pattern books. I’m sick at home.

What makes me sadder is that even though my mother is gone, the church garage sale still means picking out little note cards and happy boxes. It still means the hazy vision in my mind of eating brats outside with her. It still means that she is here with me, full in body and mind.

That year was one of the last times that I truly had my mother. I mourned her passing long before death took her. The angers and resentments of settling her estate marred her memory for a time, but I am finally opening up to the exquisite pain of mourning. I am reliving the good times of the past more than the sorrows of her latter years when her mind kept slipping away faster than her body. I will sorely miss the garage sale this year. Not only am I bereft of brats at lunchtime, but this illness has left me bereft of revisiting one of my last, best memories with a woman who still means the world to me, an unreproducible moment in time with my beloved mother.

 

 

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Tell Me More

I wrote this piece several days ago. Most of this lament came out in one sitting as it appears here. The formal tone in this seemed fitting for the mood that I was in, even though I had a very warm and loving relationship with both my mum and dad. I had found out that my dear aunt will be celebrating her 90th birthday(!). I was in a reflective mood, thinking about mothers, mine in particular, and age and the thought that I would love to talk to her again. If I could place a phone call to Heaven, what would I tell her? What would she tell me? We get so caught up in the stories of our lives that we forget that the older generation that raised us has their own stories to tell. We think we know our parents, until they are gone and we can’t ask them questions any more. I thought I had listened to my mother’s stories, but I realized, as I was going through her possessions after she died, that I didn’t know much about many of them. Who gave her the hand-made metal ring with the X’s and O’s on it? Which of her older brothers gave her the bracelet from France during WWII? Why did she keep that particular ribbon that I found in her hope chest? I can no longer ask her, but how I wish she could tell me more.

Dear Mother, tell me more about your mud pies, your broken arm, your quarantine for measles in those Depression days. Tell me more about where you were raised, and your mother and coal miner father. About those irascible brothers of yours, my uncles who loved you and have been loved by me: The one who raised you, the one who teased you, the one who caught hell from your father for not protecting you. The one who left to go to war. The others who followed.

Tell me more about moving when the mine went dark. About leaving your best friend behind, finding new ones in your new school, and how you found the love of your life on the roller rink. Tell me more about these rings that I cherish, that I remember resting gracefully on your hand even after he passed into the arms of Jesus.

Tell me more about your life as a young newlywed couple, the lack of money, the abundance of love. About my brother, about me. Tell me how you rejoiced at his birth and cried because of me. Help me remember your nurturing hands and loving arms, your pride in all we did. Tell me. How did you feel? I want to know more.

Tell me about my wedding. Tell me about your happy tears as I walked down the aisle on the arm of your man and into the arms of mine. Tell me about the sad tears that fell as we moved across the country, away from you. Tell me how one survives the cleaving. As a parent, I need to know.

We kept you waiting, so tell me about your elation to hear of your new grandchild. Tell me. Tell me once again how happy you were to hear. I could see it. You love was visible, but I want you to tell me more. Tell me about that love that is so much more than a parent knows. Tell me about being a grandparent. I’m not sure that I will become one, so I need you to tell me more. Just in case.

Tell me about your last trip with him to where the country began, searching for family history, for roots. What did you find there? Tell me more about your thrill of discovery. A new ancestor. A new connection from long ago. Now that you know who we were, who are we now? I can only pick up the thread you left and hope that it leads me down the same path. We are family, but you are no more. Am I still a daughter without you? Tell me.

I desperately want you to tell me more. But you cannot; you are not here. You are my past, but such an ever-present notion in my head reminding me of the future you wanted for me. Telling me that there are more days to come. That I have more to live. You are no longer here, but you still exist in love, in my heart, in who I am. Even so, how I wish you could tell me more.  I would listen closer.

And remember it all.

Because I still have a lot of things I want to know.

How I wish I had asked you more.

Present

Through my tears, I see your gentle face,
I feel your tender arms, your loving heart,
In the middle of the night,
As my heart breaks once again.

Relief Comes at a Steep Price

I wrote this by hand as I sat by my mother’s bed on July 31st, 2014, watching her labored breathing as she slept, one day before she passed away. I make no apologies for the content. It is unedited. I stand by what I wrote on one of the most difficult days of my life.

By way of explanation, my family and I live a full day’s drive away from either of our families. We had just started our annual vacation back in our home state when my brother, our mother’s primary care giver, wound up in the hospital and Mum was placed in respite care until he returned to good health. Two days later, she came down with a fever of 103.5 axillary and passed away the next day. My brother remained in the hospital for one day shy of a month, unable to even attend her funeral. He told me later that he didn’t think he could have made the same decision as I did. For what it’s worth, I have no regrets even now two months later.

I’m publishing this because I need it to be out in the world rather than stuck on my computer. I keep obsessing over the things that I’ve written, both in pain and frustration, and it’s not healthy for me, so I’m letting them go. Where they end up is up to God for He is my hope in my mourning.

 

Relief comes in many different ways to those in the midst of pain. Mental realizations. Physical changes. The circumventing of certain circumstances. For me, relief has come through some hard decisions made from the heart.

 
I signed a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order for my beloved mother this morning. I don’t know if she is on her deathbed or not. There’s a possibility that she will recover.

 
I hope not.

 
Why would I say such a thing? More importantly, how can I say that and feel relieved? As I sit here, watching her labored breathing, I feel pain – heartache. This once vital woman is a skeleton, a shell of her former self. Is this living?

 
I wish the heavens would open up and God’s mighty hands would reach for her. I wish that she would reach back, knowing that my daddy is waiting for her.

 
It’s not easy to entertain the thoughts that someone I love is better off dead. Yet, I know it’s true. It was when I realized that very fact that I felt my first fluttering of relief. It absolved me from guilt; I struggle with guilt, but not in this case. As much as I love my mother, I hurt to see her in a quality of life that puts a lie on the rest of her life. This is the lie – this “life” that has her bed-bound, befuddled and emaciated. I’m angry at that lie.

 
It’s making me a warrior for her. I’m fighting for her dignity, for her peace, for her history. Her past. Her.

 
I would give the world if this were not our reality right now. But it is. I made the decision to sign the DNR papers on my own. It was a good, caring decision. I’m relieved that she will not be manhandled and resuscitated, only to come back to a life no longer worth living. It was a good decision. It was a painful decision and a right one. It brought relief.

 
It’s the little things that relief relies on. The realizations that my brother, her main caregiver, would have had to make this decision instead of me. I’m glad it was me.

 
The primary caregiver position comes to me as my brother, my only sibling, also needs to be hospitalized. So my only two blood relatives, my family, both need me since both are hospitalized. Brother has POA (Power of Attorney), but due to these circumstances, under PA law, it’s fallen to me. I’m ready for this. It’s hard to be thrown into it without appropriate knowledge, but I’m okay.

 
I’m relieved that this happened during our vacation when I could be with them.
Never in a million years would I say this to my mom. I love her. I want her around, but she’s also not healthy. I want what’s best for her, even if it’s what’s most painful for me. It will bring her relief, this death of hers. She needs relief. I need her to be relieved, so I will sign every DNR paper they put in front of me.

 
Nothing will be the same without her, but there’s nothing worse than this hanging around. Praying for relief and if that’s selfish of me, then so be it. I’ll be selfish if it helps her. Daddy’s waiting, Mum.

Hierarchy of My Grief

I realized recently that the passing of Robin Williams has not affected me that much. While I feel for his family, his death has little bearing on my life. A great comedian, a layered actor: he was both of these and much more. I am sorry for his family’s loss, for the loss of a comic genius to this nation and the world, but I do not mourn deeply for him.

When I compare his death with the death of my mother just a week before, there is no comparison. There are only levels of mourning. The loss that I feel for my mom – my rock, my friend, my confidante – can only be described as deep, bottom-of-the-abyss pain. What I feel for Robin Williams is a vague, numb sympathy, a divot, a pothole, a bump in the road – nowhere near the sinkhole of raw nerve endings that itch and prick for Mum. It consumes me. I do not have room to mourn for him while I have mourning left to do for her.

How I wish she was still here. How I wish she had been healthy towards the end. In some ways, I have mourned over her since last year even though she died only recently. Her disease took away the intimacy, the laughter, the heart talks that we have always had. As a daughter, it was every bit as devastating to my soul as that disease was to her body and mind. I am mourning for her as only a loving child can.

I understand what Robin Williams’ children are feeling so intensely right now. However, I cannot mourn for him at the plummeting depths that they will. That is reserved for my mother, just as it is reserved for them for their father. In my numbness, I see the tributes to him on my FaceBook wall and my heart cries, “But what about my mother?” I’m not ready for her to be forgotten and my grief to be sidelined by others as they carry on with their lives. The changes that come with her death are mine to bear, not my friends, but still, I envy, and maybe even resent a little, that they can go on, uninterrupted, while my piece of the planet has been bulldozed.

Robin Williams will be mourned for many years by many people for the laughter and generosity of spirit that he left for the world. That is one of the benefits of being well-known. My mother will be remembered by me and my family privately. She did not influence the world, but she did influence my world. Deep love must be mourned deeply.

In the hierarchy of grief, personal relationships trump celebrity.