Today is one year since Mom died.
It’s been 12 months since I put my suitcase in the closet where it belongs. For three years it sat half packed on my bedroom floor in anticipation of “the call.”
Last month, people asked how we were doing on our first Christmas without our mother. Truthfully, fine. The holidays held a soothing calm for me and my three brothers because Mom is at peace. We missed her, talked about her, laughed about good times … even toasted her at our traditional Christmas Eve dinner. But we weren’t sad.
In reality, Mom’s death was long and cruel. She was in assisted living for three years and skilled care for another three. By the time she died at 90 her health had deteriorated to where she was able to do nothing for herself. My trips from Florida to Pennsylvania became more frequent as she worsened. Her last several months, I watched helplessly as nurses used a hydraulic lift to move her from her bed to her wheelchair. I fed her small bites of soft food with a spoon, as she did to me six decades earlier. She was weak and struggled to speak, see and hear.
Her mind, however, remained sharp until the end. Because of that, Mom and I, her only daughter, were able to have those tough but treasured talks about dying. Usually, she started them.
“If this is the end, it’s all right,” she told me during one of her hospitalizations before pulling through—yet again—and living three more years. “I’ve had a good life, a wonderful family and no regrets.”
“I know, Mom. We all have always gotten along.”
“And when I’m gone, be kind to each other.”
Always the organizer and queen of bringing everyone together, Mom planned her funeral.
She made her arrangements with the funeral home after Dad died, while she was still living in her home. Around that time, she selected hymns to be sung at her Mass and gave the list to me and the church vocalist. During her last year or so, she spoke with me often about her funeral and disclosed special wishes, such as the priests (both old friends) she wanted on the altar. She chose clothes for her viewing and rattled off names as I made a list of people to notify.
“Don’t wear that red coat. It’s not appropriate for a funeral!” she instructed one day.
Boy, did she know about funeral protocol! Exceptionally thoughtful and gracious with a multitude of friends, Mom would go to funerals if she remotely knew a person, or their relatives. “Everyone’s got to have a hobby,” she quipped when my sister-in-law once kidded her about it.
“Your mother was a saint,” her cousin told me last week.
She was, and is. I believe that. And all the spirituality that goes with it.
Instead of that pathetic soul in the nursing home bed, I choose to remember the beautiful, energetic and fun-loving woman she was most of her life. Deeply religious, Mom was in the front pew at Mass every morning, not just Sundays. At dances, she was first to jump in line to do the Alley Cat. On travels with friends, Ronnie was the one with the wine in her tote bag. Giving her eulogy, I said my mother’s favorite songs were “Ave Maria” and “Proud Mary.” That was true.
I smile when I look at the sweet reminders of her throughout my home: Her hankies and apron displayed on a hanger. The portrait of her as a stylish young woman. My walking and Tiny Tears dolls she saved and surprised me with on Christmases when I was an adult. The limited-edition plate, a gift from her that reads “Always my daughter. Now, too, my friend.”
I choose not to dwell on her painful final years, even though it was my privilege to share them with her and help her through them.
Aging. It’s hard.
We’re up next. The process will continue for our kids.