You know when you get a burst of inspiration how you should stop everything and write it down, sing it, paint or sculpt it right away? Well, that’s what I should have done this morning while putting on my face for my trip up to funeral central, Pittsburgh, PA.
It went something like this: My sisters are everything. I am nothing. They are the real heroes of my mom’s caretaking. All I had to do was show up locally, eventually on a daily basis – a mere 15 minute drive during my 45 minute lunch hour at work. Hmmm…let’s see; that leaves about 15 minutes to spend with mom. Technically that’s what was supposed to happen but of course, the visits were longer and then much longer. The best of these lunch hours taking mom out for a spin around the block in her wheelchair giving her more fresh air in a few months than she inhaled in her entire senior adult life.
She loved these walks. (so did I)
But, my sisters. They gave up a lot. They gave up money. They flew down from Pittsburgh to Florida every few weeks and gave up students and patients and precious time with their own families. When they visited, they stayed with mom around the clock. They witnessed the much less glamorous 24-hour version of mom – aides taking her to the bathroom in the middle of the night, the intermittent crying jags in the morning. They endured hours of nothingness in between their interactions with her. So much for the tropical Florida fringe benefits. They could have been in Siberia.
I am such at a loss about the right things to say here. I know that my experience of losing mom isn’t going to sink in until weeks from now when my routine is missing a major part, a ritual, a companion, a friend, and often a witness to my high falutin’, so-called exciting life of a modern, single professional. I knew she lived through me some of the time and was so proud of my being in the world the way I get to be. Especially when her hearing went and her body parts became her worst enemies. (I believe her admiration actually superseded her lifelong programming to wish me a proper husband)
And, that book I was writing? You know, the one that’s sitting on the floor in the corner of my bedroom collecting dust for the past year. When I was in full-fledged writing enthusiasm, she would sit at her kitchen table leaning forward, rapt listening to me, putting aside her English teacher critic, and drinking in every word that I read from my tiny iPhone screen. She told me she loved my writing and whether or not she was humoring me that made me very proud.
Early in my project and most noteworthy was when she interrupted my reading to tell me that SHE should write a book. Or at the very least be IN mine. Well, she did make it into my book, a “maybe” book that she will never read. And, it was flattering. Sweet really. Given the colorful life we had together (ahem) who would have thought that?
My drive-by visits, I suppose added up. I sprinkled in a dinner out or weekend lunch, here and there, when she was ambulatory. And, I made sure to share some of my irresponsible extravagances with her. I know that quality in me was one of her guilty pleasures. Nice dinners at nicer restaurants than she historically frequented.
The best one and one of the more recent episodes was when we included her boyfriend (Meyer – he’s 92) in our jaunt to Runyons restaurant in Coral Springs. To make a long story short, we paid top dollar for entrees that neither of them could chew. I traded my softer choice, probably filet of sole or something, with Meyer and ended up with his rubber chicken breast, so he at least could enjoy his $30 plus per plate expense. Mom was less lucky, pushed her food around her plate and smiled until the waitress could deliver some sweet, mushy dessert – for her “secret dessert stomach.”
How many other stories I could tell, about spending too much money, about piling clothes onto her lap while she sat in a Macy’s dressing room with me in her wheel chair. Always keen on the most flattering selection for me. And, always bringing in some extra large bright colored frock, often too infantile for her age, that she didn’t need but would buy because of its deep, deep, discounted sale price. “This is the last thing I’m buying. Really.” I once bet her $10 that she couldn’t go a week without buying something from Bealle’s Outlet store. She lost and I never collected.
There were rough times a plenty, but honestly, the last five months with my convalescing mother washed away any memories of hurt, injustice or resentment. Actually, the past couple of years I had truly learned to accept and enjoy my complicated mother. None of the old stories mattered any more. I got the blessing of watching her live without her constant companion: pain, which was an entirely new experience for all of us. With this new- old- pain-free mom, came a happy mom. A mom, who seemed to be at peace for the first time. I believe that not only did she suffer physically, I believe she also suffered a restless soul. Like it or not, I inherited that from her. My mother’s picture is in the dictionary under anxiety. She’s wearing leopard.
In her last weeks, my mother had the first laughing fit I ever saw. Out-of-control hysteria at the dining room table. Tears at the corner of her eyes and the innocence of a little girl. Me, trying not to cry from feeling overcome. A happy mom. That was new for me. If I had to wish anything at all for her, it would be pain-free joy. Pain free joy. I think she got a little of that before the end. Maybe even a little juicy joy.
What I do know that was special about my relationship with my mom is that she tried to put on a good face for me. She knew that I wouldn’t indulge her in any ‘ain’t-it-awful’ crap. I don’t know exactly how this evolved but it did and I admired how she cast aside her usual rundown of maladies and made an effort to make our time together pleasant. Unfortunately, she saved the complaints for long distance calls to my sisters and I’d often hear about one of mom’s ailments via Pittsburgh. I think she was a little afraid of me, really.
I will wear leopard to my mother’s funeral to honor my mother’s spirit, heart and sense of style. There was nothing too wild or bright or matchee-matchee for her. The more colorful, the better. And, if she just dropped the habit of broadcasting how each piece she was wearing cost less than $10 you might think she was wearing some couture with a fancy price tag. Even at the end, she had inspired her two angel aides to doll her up every day with lipstick and hairspray and make sure everything matched. We even had an article written about us a few years ago with a big old picture of us in the Miami Herald, which really was a tribute to her style.
So, from my mother, my eldest sister Pam got brains and the worry gene, middle-sis Jill got brains and the gift of gab, and I got the big personality and the association with our god, Narcissus. Oh, and I got her face sans the blue eyes from which, by the way, I feel cheated. Not that I was exactly “mom-in-training,” but some have from time to time remarked on my self-centered tendencies. Well, look out, if you thought that before, you haven’t seen nothin’ yet. I have a torch to carry and it’s a big one.
We remember Midge as the center of her universe, and the center of ours. What I know, though, is inside her chest was a heart big enough to envelop all of us in this room and many, many others who were touched by her. In fact, Pam and Jill and I often marveled at how people loved her. Really, we thought? Our Mom?
She had a tough life. It’s not germaine to mention here all that she went through and how hard she had to work. She was our child as much as our mother in a lot of ways but I wouldn’t trade her for all the other moms in the world. Because of her I love music, all the arts, animals, nature and some people. I walk through the world valuing honesty and integrity, and things that require your brain. Oh, lest we not forget how she instilled in us a sense of curiosity and a love of words that we all cherish. Even at the end when she had the vocabulary of ten words, you wouldn’t hear her answer a question with a “yeah.” Not my mom. It was indubitably a clear and proper, “yes.”
Yes, mom, we will miss you more than those words you taught us to love can express. Yes, I wrote a song for you. Yes, I wrote a poem. But I stand here today not turning your memory into art. I honor you. I love you. I don’t think I’ll understand how big of a soul you were for some time. Whatever happens to us when we leave our bodies, I wish you peace.