As I have done every year for the past several years on April the 13th, I’ve thought about my mother. Today she would have been 89 years old. That’s hard for me to believe and I find myself wondering what she would look like now, what kind of physical shape would she be in, etc. She’s been gone over eight years now and I miss her.
I missed her tonight when I used her Revere Ware stock pot to make my spaghetti. I missed her yesterday as I held a blouse of hers in my hands. I miss her when I see books that belonged to her on my bookshelf– some that I’ve read and others that I can’t bring myself to open. I miss her when I find myself missing my kids and hating my empty nest and wonder if she ever missed me like I miss my sons. I miss her as I look around my kitchen and see her rooster figurines that used to adorn her rooster kitchen. And I remember how she loved them so and how after she was diagnosed with cancer, she said to me one day with sad and pleading eyes to please not throw her roosters away when she died. I missed her this morning when I realized there was no mother to take a birthday card to, or buy a present for, or take flowers to. I remembered with a pang of guilt, how she was always so hard to buy for on her birthday and how I never looked forward to birthday shopping for her. I remembered how I dreaded taking her to the store. Now, I’d give anything on this planet to be able to have her here to buy her a card or take her some flowers or just go BE with her on her birthday. I’d even gladly take her to the grocery store.
I always hated it after my mother died, when people would ask me if I was close to my mother. I never knew how to answer that question. I always wondered if I was somehow not supposed to grieve her as much if I said I wasn’t close to her but if said I WAS close to her, did that give me permission to open the floodgates and mourn her with all my heart and soul?
I loved my mother. She was very smart and witty. She was a good mother and always involved in taking care of her three daughters which she had all within three years of each other. She was a room mother every single year that we were in elementary school. She volunteered at our schools and was active in the PTA. And when we weren’t in school, she drove us around to all our many activities– ballet and tap classes, music lessons, swimming lessons, etc. As are all mothers, she was busy. She tried hard to teach us right from wrong and to always be honest. I lost count how many nights she was up with a sick child–checking temperatures and trying to get high fevers reduced, or cleaning up vomit, or changing the sheets on one of our beds. And oh how she could cook. She was ALWAYS up early on school mornings cooking a huge breakfast for us on her avocado green stove, packing school lunches, and then cooking big dinners every night.
There were times in my grown up years when my mother and I didn’t always get along but I suspect that happens in all mother/daughter relationships. There were times she hurt me and hurt me deeply and I’ll admit, I had to work hard to forgive her for some of those times. I remember at my veterinary school graduation, one of the biggest and happiest days of my life, when we were at a reception after the hooding ceremony eating cookies and drinking punch. The graduates were allowed to take their parents and families on a walk through the veterinary college. I was excited to do this. After all, I wanted to show my parents where I had spent the last 3 years of my life working my rear end off. When I suggested that we take this tour, my mother blew up at me, informed me her feet were KILLING her and that all she wanted to do was go back to the hotel. I guess I couldn’t hide the obvious disappointment on my face and she knew she had hurt my feelings because she ended up going on that tour. A few weeks later at my wedding reception, she pulled the same stunt, and came up to me and asked if we could “get this show on the road” as she was tired and wanted to go home. It was my wedding reception and I was still greeting people! My. Wedding. Day. I was so deeply hurt by her actions, that I left the reception hall and went to the back of the sanctuary where I stood in the dark and let the tears flow hard. Many years later, while seeing a therapist for counseling, I related these stories to the therapist. The therapist told me that it sounded as if my mother for some reason liked to rain on my parade. I had never thought of it that way but I think she was right. And for the life of me, I don’t understand why my mother felt the need to do that. I’ll probably never understand.
My mother developed multiple cancers and the two years before her death were filled with taking her to doctor visits, chemo treatments, to Vanderbilt to see specialists, to the hospital for CT scans, blood work, laboratory tests, etc. I had quit my job to be a full-time stay-at-home mother so I was happy to take her for her appointments. One day that stands out in my memory was a day I had taken her to her oncologist. I think it was only our second visit with him. She mentioned to him at that visit that I was a veterinarian. As always, his next question was, “Where do you practice?” I proceeded to tell him that I no longer practiced, that I had quit work many years back to stay home with my children. I no sooner had gotten those words out of my mouth, when I noticed my mother’s head hanging in shame, her eyes glaring at the floor. When we were driving to the next oncology visit, she point-blank told me that she didn’t want me to say that again. I was puzzled because my mother had always seemed happy with my decision to stay home with my boys and had always been supportive of that decision. So I asked her what her suggestion was for what I SHOULD say? She said, “Well, just say you do veterinary relief work or something” (I had done relief work for a short while but was no longer doing that). I asked my mother: “So you want me to lie?” She squirmed in the car seat and looked out the window, never saying another word. Truth be told, I had never felt more hurt by my mother. She was ashamed of me and she let it be known. A child never wants to feel that their parent is ashamed of them, even when they are grown. I fought the tears back that entire day and a part of me still wrestles with that conversation with my mother and the fact that I never continued the discussion with her or that I never defended myself. But I never EVER regretted my decision to leave my job to become a stay-at-home mom. Sometimes we have to pick our battles and arguing this matter with my mother, a woman who was dying of cancer, just didn’t feel right. But here’s the thing. I always, ALWAYS knew my mother loved me. I knew it when I was young, and despite the times she hurt me in my grown-up years, I still always knew. And when the cancer had ravaged and weakened her body until she could no longer speak, I still knew because I saw that love in her eyes.
My mother puzzled me in more ways than I can count in her last months and I even questioned the doctors about the possibility of a metastatic brain tumor. They (her doctors) never felt it was worth pursuing since she already had been diagnosed with three different cancers and they knew it was ravaging her body. The doctors didn’t want to know but I did. It would have explained a lot. I guess I find some relief in choosing to believe it WAS a brain tumor causing her odd and sometimes belligerent behavior in the end.
For the most part, I have very happy memories of my childhood. And of course my mother was a big part of that childhood. I spent a lot of time with my mother during the final months, weeks, and days of her illness. She had bad days but also many days where she was very lucid. We had the chance to talk about a lot of things on her more lucid days that we probably would never have talked about had she not been dying of cancer. And for that I’m grateful. I’m also grateful that I could be with her when she was breathing her last breaths and that I was holding her when she died. She had said so many times over the course of her illness that she was afraid of dying alone. I’m glad I was with her although I had known for some time that she was never alone in that hospice room of hers. I know I took my mother for granted when I was young and even some when I was older. Maybe we all do that and it’s only after they’re gone that we realize how much we did truly love them and how much we’re going to miss them. There are days I miss my mother more, like holidays and her birthday. I miss her like crazy today, on her birthday.