This past week has been one of the more difficult times of my life. For those unaware, my mother passed away in her sleep on Tuesday morning. That one simple event started a cascade of events that I was not truly prepared to undertake. Ain’t that just like life to do that? Set things in motion that you were not really prepared to deal with?
Growing up, my mother was the parent I gravitated towards. When I ran across something I could not figure out – I ran to her. My younger sister was the exact opposite. She was definitely the child that spent more time with my father. As children are wont to do, I eventually moved out of my parents’ home, and into the waiting arms of the United States Air Force. I learned independence in my first few months, which did not go well with my mother’s desire to control and guide my every step in life. In my second year in the Air Force, I cut off any communications with my parents. It did not help matters much that I was in Fort Worth, Texas and they were in Shreveport, Louisiana….just a five-hour drive one way. It only made it easier to pull me back home. To try and remedy this, I changed my location sheet (a way that you can manipulate where the military sends you on permanent duty assignments) to Europe. I did not want to end up in Italy or Spain, so I made sure that Germany and the United Kingdom were at the top of my choices. I was assigned to Sembach Air Base, just to the north and east of Kaiserslautern. My mother rejoiced. She, being German and with family far to the north of there in Koblenz, immediately started picking out my future wife. I made the stupid choice of picking my own wife here in the United States – and rushing a marriage less than a month before moving overseas. But that’s a conversation for another time. My mother was meddlesome, interfering, and very disapproving of everything I did in my adult life. When I left the military and grew my hair past shoulder-length – every homecoming opened with “Nice to see you, Tommy. Get your hair cut. It looks terrible.” Compliments become few and far between. Open insults became the norm. My time at home faded into short hours with nearly a year in-between each visit. I grew on my own – without the comfort or approval of the one parent I was closest to.
Over the past six years, I have reached out and tried to repair the relationship as much as I could. Her mental faculties started to slip the last three years, and she was diagnosed with dementia. Over the last three years, it was difficult to even hold a simple conversation with her. I was confused at alternate times with my father, and with my son from my first marriage. Rarely was my name ever used in conversation. My visits became a bit more frequent though, and I grew used to my mother’s constant babble of incoherence. But she was also in pain from arthritic joints that had crippled her. She could go nowhere outside of the home, and my father had to carry her from location to location in the house. Occasionally, something else would flare up – and my father would take her to the hospital to be seen by a doctor. Moving her in and out of a vehicle and driving her back and forth became an event that was nearly similar to moving a full military Battalion several miles down the road. A year ago, her condition deteriorated so much that she spent nearly two weeks in the hospital. My dad warned my sister and I that the end was coming soon.
I wasn’t prepared then. I was definitely not prepared for it now. On Tuesday, I spent a large part of my work burying myself into my work – so I didn’t have to process what my father had told me at 7am that morning. On Wednesday, my mind was on driving up there. On Thursday, it was helping get my father into a position where he could easily handle some of the changes he was about to make. Yesterday was spent driving. Here it is – Saturday, and I am finally starting to process all of this. Towards the end, my mother and I were definitely not close. Her ideas of how I was to handle my life and the choices I made were far afield from where I was. I didn’t hide my Paganism from her – that met with the same disapproval as many of my other choices. But at that point in our lives together – we had found a way to be disapproving without being insulting about it.
Will I miss her? Of course I will. Of course I do. If that were not the case, I would not have shed tears this morning as I beginning processing my life without my biological mother. We had our fights and arguments – some seriously epic moments. But even where I disappointed her with my choices, I know she loved me as I was – her son, her first-born child. Our relationship was eventually filled with land-mines that I danced around cautiously sometimes, and purposefully stepped on with all the force I could muster. But in the end, I know she loved me, and I know she knew I loved her.
In accordance with my mother’s wishes, her body was cremated, and her urn will be placed at the funeral grounds there in Hot Springs that she and my mother chose. Also, following her wishes, no funeral was held, and no memorial service was created or attended. She has moved beyond the veil – and her express desire was that her husband, son and daughter move on with their lives. And that I shall do. It may not look the way that she wanted it to – but I will succeed, because that was another wish of hers.