Sometimes it takes a while for the reality of something to sink into our brains. It may be a matter of coming to a place where you can accept the reality when it’s much easier to deny it, or it may just be that something hits you that says something like “remember that event? It’s real.”
After thirteen months, it’s finally beginning to sink in that my mother has died. Not that I was in denial or anything. I knew she had died. I saw her in the coffin. And the coffin in the ground. But I didn’t really accept that the person I had seen was my mother. Looked like her, but it wasn’t the woman I knew as my mother.
She died at age 90 of complications from dementia. Complications is a nice way of putting it. Basically, even though she had some memory issues, she knew she was alive, and what her quality of life was like, and would be like. And she said the hell with it, I’m done. After twenty six days of a self imposed starvation diet, she died. My father was with her. But I was nine hundred miles away.
She had been struggling for several years. It started gradually with, with small difficulties in finding a word when she was speaking. In the end most of her words were just a string of gibberish. It made sense to her, but no one understood what she was saying. And you could see her frustration.
For several years I was afraid that every time I visited her would be the last time I would see her alive. Finally I was right. It was one thing when she and my father lived in their own home. The place they lived for thirty eight years. But when they moved to the assisted living facility, which is really very nice, she went downhill fast. There was no more running on autopilot because she no longer knew where anything was. She stopped cooking, cleaning, making coffee, washing dishes. And her speech capabilities faded.
The last time I saw her I walked out of the room and knew I’d never see her alive again. She was sitting in a chair, babbling about something, looking very, very fragile. She had lost a lot of weight in the assisted living facility. She was my mother. At least she resembled her in appearance, and sounded similar. But the life I saw sitting in that chair was not the woman I knew as my mother.
My mother was vibrant and intelligent. She graduated from college the year before I did after having sacrificed for many, many years to raise her family. Her degree was in Far Eastern Art, and she got a job in an art museum working with Japanese wood block prints. Spoke Mandarin. She loved art and history and was widely travelled. Politically active with an eye toward power to the people. She was really something.
So, when she died I wasn’t surprised, and it wasn’t devastating. I lived nine hundred miles away so I hadn’t seen her as often as I would have liked. And after all, it was this new person, not my mother who had died. I went home, helped my dad and sister with the arrangements, went to the funeral and that was that. Sounds cold, but I loved my mother tremendously. She inspired me in my thirst for knowledge and deep thinking. But the woman who died was not my mother. Not in my mine.
As the anniversary of her death approached I thought about the facts. But they were just cold facts. She was dead. But in my mind, my mother, the person I knew as my mother, had been gone a long time, replaced by an imposter.
Then it came time for my own birthday. Just a few days later. And my wife was putting together a big party for me. Milestone birthday and all. She put out a lot of pictures of me as a kid and teen and young man and then as husband and father and whatever. At some point I looked glancing at one of these pictures and it captured my attention. A closer look revealed that my mother, my real mother, was in the picture. She was old, but vibrant, smiling, aware and active.
I had just completed the Philadelphia Marathon and she and my father had come to see me cross the finish line. My father took a picture of her hugging me as I wore my finisher’s medal and warming blanket. I was happy. She was happy. My father was disappointed I hadn’t won the race. He was convinced that being an overweight forty five year old white male was no excuse for not winning.
When I saw the look on her face in that picture, I recognized my mother. And then realized that my mother is gone. I can accept that. In a way it’s sad now, But I will always remember her as she was in her prime.
That’s part of my story. What’s yours?