I wrote the following about ten years ago after my wonderful mother passed away. I wish my grandsons could have known her.
I look nothing like my mother and our personalities couldn’t have been more different. I inherited two major things from her – my love of reading and my love of writing – treasured gifts nobody can ever take away.
The other day a friend told me a sweet story. Her mother passed away several years ago and out of the blue, her son told my friend the thing he missed most about his grandmother was that she let him poke holes in boxed chocolates and eat only the ones he liked. Isn’t the generosity of a grandmother the most amazing thing in the world?
I fear I’ll be the grandmother who swipes the good Halloween candy from her grandchildren when they aren’t looking and tells them the dog peed on it. When they break down the bathroom door and discover me cowering behind the shower curtain, melted chocolate on my teeth and a crazed look in my eyes, I hope they’ll still love me.
Her story got me to thinking about my mother, who loved chocolate. It’s been almost two years since Mom died and I tend to avoid thinking of her, because to do so hurts. Five years ago, my father died from complications caused by West Nile Virus. Eleven days and he was gone. Not long after his funeral, my mother had a stroke and spent her last three years in a nursing home. The day she died, I held her hand, stroked her hair and whispered things in her ear I hoped she could hear. I wanted her to know she could go if she needed to. I hoped reassuring her that all her children and grandchildren would be fine would somehow make it easier. I kept telling her how much I loved her right up until the moment she took her last breath.
Life isn’t very fair. I always thought if Dad went first, Mom would grieve, but she would still have a few choice years left to do the things she loved. She wrote charming children’s books and painted. Most of the ornaments on my parents’ Christmas tree had been lovingly crafted by her. She collected dolls and enjoyed finding surprises in antique stores.
Mom loved children and proved it by teaching elementary school for over forty years, a difficult job with little recognition or pay. Her asthma didn’t keep her from loving cats. She wrote a book called Alias T Texas about our two cats Thomas and Pyewacket. I loved that book but haven’t seen it in over thirty years. I hope my sister has a copy somewhere.
She ran with a group of women who called themselves the Crafty Ladies. I loved to tease her by calling them the Crispy Critters. I always imagined her getting tipsy after drinking one margarita at lunch with the Critters, not struggling to overcome the effects of the stroke by learning again how to talk and walk.
Remembering Mom transports me to the nursing home, with its forced bulletin board cheeriness. I dreaded the walk down the hall to her room, as I would pass the jumble of wheelchairs, their occupants alone and unnoticed. Forgotten. My sister, brother and their spouses lived nearby and I’m grateful they could see her often. At least she hadn’t been reduced to the same status as those lonely souls.
It’s taken every bit of these past two years, but I think I’m finally able to put regret and bitter memories behind me. The memories that play in my mind now are the little things we did together. There’s enough to fill an entire book and I still find it hard to believe we’ll never share them again. I need to remember, so I can tell my grandchildren.
No matter what the situation, Mom would giggle. I used to say she would giggle at her own funeral. Maybe she did just for me, but I didn’t hear her.
The top of her head fit under my chin and she would ask me to retrieve things out of reach in the kitchen. I’d make fun of her by pointing out I could do it flat footed. Then we’d laugh and give each other a big hug. She used to sit down to watch television with me, then spend the entire time reading a magazine – pausing occasionally for a plot update. When we went to the mall, she would always outdistance me on her short little legs no matter how fast I walked. Most of the time I jogged to keep up.
Mom once sadly shook her head and told me she feared I was becoming an alcoholic when I happened to mention I drank about a case of beer a year. Her very real concern caused me to reassure her that rehab would never be in my future. Her naiveté never failed to charm me.
When she reached her sixties, she used the occasional curse word, something she had never done before, although my brother, father and I had all cussed like professionals in front of her for years. This amused and shocked me, as she probably knew it would. When she disapproved of anything I would do or say, she pursed her lips as if she had just sucked on a lemon.
At the age of six, my daughter Nicole started a new family tradition. She signed “Love, Nicole – Your Granddaughter” on every card she gave to my parents. Mom started signing “Love – Your Grandmother” on cards to Nicole. My grandson Wiley and I have continued this tradition although I suspect he receives a bit of help from his mother, as he’s only thirteen months old.
Mom loved all her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and they loved her. How could they not? As the outsider in this family – the one who doesn’t believe in a higher power and after half a century still refuses to grow up, have a plan or even make an intelligent decision once in a while – I know she worried about me. I hope in those last seconds I convinced her I really will be okay.
I miss my mom.