Friday, May 26, 2017
Wikipedia defines Mother’s Day as “a celebration honoring the mother of the family, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds and the influence of mothers’ in society.” It is a day for juvenile and adult children to show their moms their appreciation. This can take many forms: gifts, shared meals, cards, phone calls or, nowadays, the ever so popular text message. For most, it is a time filled with joy and happiness, but for many of us, it is bittersweet.
Saturday, May 13th
On Saturday morning, my Portland based daughter and family arrived on my doorstep bearing gifts and to wish me a Happy Mother’s Day. My son-in-law had a large flowering potted plant in tow, and it was exquisite. My granddaughters Sloane 5, and Sawyer 2, knew the way to grandma’s heart, and each had a container of cupcakes from the Fat Bakery. I had barely finished saying thank you to the girls when they bolted for my kitchen table each taking a seat. “Can we help you eat your cupcakes NOW grandma?” There was an urgent emphasis on the word now. “What a great idea,” I replied to the delight of two grinning children. We all agreed that they were delicious. The adults chatted for a bit while the now sugar-hyped girls rearranged grandma’s house. I felt honored, loved, and appreciated.
Sunday, May 14th-Mother’s Day
Although this is typically a day of celebration, for those of us who have lost our moms, it is a time to remember and revisit our relationship. It is a day filled with memories and in some cases, harsh realities. It is a period of deep reflection often resulting in opening the floodgates and releasing tidal waves of guilt, regret, and raw emotion.
I woke up Sunday morning with mom on my mind and immediately went into my office in search of my favorite picture of her. As I ate breakfast and sipped my tea, I stared mesmerized by her image as tears cascaded down my cheeks. My heart ached with longing and monumental regret. When I was younger, I didn’t comprehend the depth of her love or appreciate how blessed I was to have her as my mother. My journey through life and the wisdom and insight it has bestowed upon me has provided me with clarity and insight. I now know that my mom loved me unconditionally with every fiber of her being and every breath she took, even the last one. I asked myself if Mom could say the same thing about me as a daughter. I didn’t like the answer.
My relationship with mom was complicated, or so I thought. I now realize that it was me that made it that way, not her. I loved her dearly, but I didn’t want to be like her or end up the way she did. She was dependent on dad financially and emotionally. Her life revolved around her husband and children. She never wanted or needed more. She seemed content in her little cocoon. My parents never traveled. As kids, we did take family summer vacations, but mainly to neighboring states and nothing too exciting or out of the ordinary. They had no sense of adventure. Mom never set foot on an airplane.
Dad died in 1985, and mom’s heart and spirit were forever broken. She became reclusive. She had no real friends. She sat in the house day after day, year after year only leaving to go to the grocery store or walk the dog. She existed. My brother and sister lived nearby and frequently visited her. They were able to coax her out of the house for holidays and family celebrations. She became deeply depressed. The house began to show signs of neglect and over time fell into a state of disrepair. She didn’t care. She had lost hope. The dog began to potty in the house. Most of the time, she didn’t even notice. All offers to help were vehemently rejected.
In August of 1997, I flew from Wenatchee, Washington to Great Neck, New York for mom’s 80th birthday. I had not seen her in 12 years due to my financial situation resulting from my divorce. I was shaken at the site of my childhood home masked by the overgrown jungle of weeds and grass. I was overwhelmed by the stench as I stepped inside to what smelled like a public urinal. My gag reflex almost got the best of me, and in the middle of all this, stood mom. She was skin and bones; a mere shadow of her former self. She grabbed me and surprisingly hugged me with the strength of a world-class weight lifter as she cried with joy. The sparkle returned to mom’s eyes as her four children gathered in their childhood home to celebrate her birthday. As I boarded the plane to return home, mom, begged me to stay. I couldn’t. My job and my kids were back in Wenatchee. It broke my heart.
A few short months later in April of 1998, I got a call that mom was in the hospital. She had fallen in the house and had spent two-three days on the floor before my sister had found her. Because of her physical condition and the unsanitary state of her surroundings, the state intervened and declared her a neglected senior thus making her a ward of the state. Our family was removed from the equation, losing all say in medical matters and her well-being. It was a devastating blow to all concerned. After she recovered enough, she was shipped to a state run nursing home. After one day there, she asked my sister who was visiting, if she would ever be able to return home. My sister replied no. My mom hugged my sister, kissed her and said goodbye. She closed her eyes and died; finally at peace for the first time since the day dad had left her. The last years of her life should have been happy ones. They were not. Her children had failed her.
My biggest regret in life is my failure as her daughter. Why had I turned a blind eye to the situation? Why did I think that my dysfunctional life and struggles were so much more important than she was? I had a million excuses over the years: I lived on the opposite coast; my own life was a mess. For years after the divorce, I struggled as a single mom to make ends meet thus resulting in my 12-year hiatus from her life. I thought I was doing my part by faithfully calling her every Sunday and talking for hours. How could I have been so arrogant, stupid, and wrong; I now ask myself?
At the time Dad died, I was living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I did invite mom to live with me. The kids and I would have loved that. She wouldn’t even consider it, and I just figured maybe it was too soon. In 1986, we were transferred to Wenatchee, and I was a coast away from mom. On numerous occasions, I begged her to come spend time with me and the kids. My brother and sister offered to bring her. Again, she would not even consider it. After I got divorced in 1992, mom made me a very generous offer. She said that if the kids and I moved in with her we could live rent-free, and, in turn, she would deed the house over to me. The house was worth over a million dollars so it was enticing, but not practical. My kids were happy in Wenatchee, and my counselor had advised me against any more trauma in their lives after the divorce and being abandoned by their dad. My son was a junior in high school and a varsity athlete. Uprooting him would have been devastating. So, I stayed in Wenatchee for my kids’ sake and left her alone and miserable. How could I have been so callous?
After my mom’s death my aunt, her older sister, told me that that several times mom had confided in her that she could count on her Valerie to rescue her from the filth and squalor that had taken her prisoner. She told my aunt that Valerie would never let her live in these conditions. It broke my heart because I did. I beat myself up on a daily basis for my failure, as a daughter. It is the albatross around my neck. It will follow me to my grave. I know the old cliché that says “I did the best I could at the time,” but the truth is I didn’t do the best I could! I could have, should have done better. I failed the one person in this world who loved me more than life itself – just as I love my kids and grand-kids. Mom, I am so very sorry. You were the best mom I could have ever asked for, and I know that now.
My three-grownup children all have families of their own while juggling demanding careers. I understand this “been there, done that”. It is the way it is these days for most families. While this is their time to shine in life, it is also important to take a step back and realize how precious life is and how suddenly it can slip away. Don’t assume that the people in your life know how you feel about them. Honor and appreciate them every day even if only in thought or with a small gesture or kind word. Remember that people get old, but they still need to be loved and not forgotten. Moms are one of life’s greatest gifts, and in my opinion, they should be declared a national treasure. Nobody is ever going to love you like your mom! Don’t take your mom for granted the way I did. Being old isn’t easy, believe me I know and someday you will too!
May 22, 2017