Me and Mom

Since my father passed March third, I’ve been making a weekly trip to Raleigh to help Mom with everything from estate finances to dragging her trash and recycle bins to the curb.  Before my father’s death, I’d always made an effort to go see the both of them, just not every week.  Usually it was about once a month, sometimes twice. depending on how I felt the writing was coming along.

Now, no matter what, I go.  (Remember the self imposed writing challenge?  It’s actually helped me stay on track.)

Mom will be seventy nine in August and she’s never been on her own.  This “new normal” for her (and me) is going to be an adjustment.  In truth, that’s an understatement.  It’s going to be a reckoning, a realization, because there are some things about Mom I never knew.  Of course I do know she married Dad within five weeks of meeting him.  Right from her parent’s house to his, she never experienced any sort of independence except what came from her being a controlling sort while Dad was laid back enough to let her feel she was calling all the shots.

The thing is, I think all along my dad must have been something of a buffer.  I think he caught the things she did (and does) and held onto them quietly.  Like her need to do what I call her daily brain dump.  Like how she’ll call me and will explain everything she’s done from the moment she wakes up to the very minute of our phone conversation.  She’ll then move on to what she’s going to do next, how she’s going to do it, and what she’ll do when she’s finished.

She dumps. I listen, like Dad.

This past Monday when I was there, we went back to the funeral home to pick up an item.  We didn’t know what it was, and when we arrived, we went into the office area where we were handed a memory book.  It’s very nice, with the pictures of dad, and the online memorials given by some folks, and pages to write down his hobbies, interests and all that.

Mom looked at the on site pastor and the office manager who’d passed it along to her, and said, “Oh, I just can’t read it.  If I do I’ll cry.”

They said, “Well that’s fine, you don’t need to read it now, just read it later.”

I said, “Yeah Mom, best not read it now.”

Well, of course she opened it, began to read and of course she cried.  They handed her Kleenexes, and pats on the back and murmured words of condolence, and I think she needed it.

Soon after, with Mom feeling a little better, we left.  I’d already purchased a bouquet of flowers beforehand and I said, “Do you still want to go put these flowers on Dad’s grave?  Are you okay?”

“Oh, yes, I’m fine.”

Off we go.  When we get there, it’s hard to believe it’s been only six weeks because the process of grieving is a relentless, and all consuming past time.  We can barely manage the fragile steps we must make towards trying to heal and as I watch my mother totter along the uneven ground towards her husband, tapping the ground delicately with her cane, I worry.  Our frayed and ragged emotions which have only begun to feel less sharp are suddenly razor edged – again.  We don’t dare speak as we ease our way across the pollen covered grass to where Dad lies.  We circle and walk and stare at the granite and bronze plaques looking for DAVIS.

Thirty minutes goes by.  No DAVIS. I broaden my search.  Mom’s face has gone red, and she’s hobbling about, back and forth, minute by minute becoming more anxious, more distraught.  Neither one of us wants to admit defeat.

Finally, I say, “We ought to call them.  Maybe the plaque hasn’t been put down yet.”

She hands me her cell phone silently and begins to walk again, refusing to stop.

She tells me with a shaky voice, “I’ll find him, by God!”

She’d always known where Dad was, each and every second of their lives together.  This is unfathomable for her and I see this, and I quickly make the call.  Sure enough, the plaque is due this Friday, and they will call when it’s in place.  We’ve brought flowers and probably walked right over him who knows how many times. Why do I picture him laughing at this?  At us?

I can sort of see the humor, and I go and tell Mom, expecting her to laugh with me.  Instead she starts fuming.

She says “Oh this is absolutely ridiculous!  It’s been six weeks!”

I said, “Mom, there’s no reason to be mad.  It’s just not here yet, these things take time to get right.  I think it’s kind of funny.”

“Well, I don’t.  Not after what I paid!   It ought to be here!”

I said not a word.  Like Dad.


COMMENTS

  • Aubry MacMillan

    April 15, 2015

    Reply

    Oh Donna, I feel your pain and I am so sorry. I, too, am in a similar place and can share some info. The long conversation your mom has detailing everything – well, that probably wasn’t something she did much before. It is a way to keep you on the phone longer, a way to fill the silence, a way to not be alone. I am the one that gets those calls from a loved one. But when she is active, she no longer spends long, long, lonnng amounts of time detailing conversations with friends, shopping lists, traffic, or recipes. In time, I hope your mom will learn more about herself and find ways to occupy her time and focus. In the meantime (and when I say “mean”time – it is truly eviltime) you have to learn to breathe and find a way to care for yourself. It’s one of the hardest things to do, admitting to ourselves that we can use some advice and help. Many have gone before you and are there to help you now as they were helped. And, keep writing. More power to you! (((hugs)))

    • donnaeve

      April 15, 2015

      Reply

      Thank you so much for those encouraging words, Aubrey! I’ve mentioned to my husband that I think – like you’ve said – Mom will eventually “settle” into her own routines – it won’t be quick, but at some point, one day, I’ll realize she’s not called me x number of times. She’s always stayed quite busy, but b/c she no longer has a husband to care for, to wash clothes for, to cook for, and on and on (at the risk of doing one of mom’s brain dumps – haha), I think you’re right. It’s a matter of new focus and if it can be turned inward, she’ll perhaps discover all this “me” time isn’t so bad.

      Either way, it’s so helpful to know what she’s doing is “normal,” albeit not the “normal” I know.

      Somewhere along the way with my writing, this other side of ourselves we’re wiggling into will sneak into a story one of these days.

      • Aubry MacMillan

        April 15, 2015

        Reply

        I have totally used my experience in a story line, with this person’s permission. My loved one is very eccentric, a character I could not have dreamed up, and the experience is not one I could have imagined. Write more about your mom, we can all use the lesson.

  • Carolynnwith2Ns

    April 15, 2015

    Reply

    I wrote a couple of paragraphs about what I went through, when my dad died, but I deleted it. You don’t need to hear my story, it is very similar to yours.
    But I will say this.
    What you are going through is very difficult, your life, her life, the life you live with your husband and children. Hang in and remember, that generation is one tough bunch. Just because she’s not your “same old mom” doesn’t mean she’s not okay.

    • donnaeve

      April 15, 2015

      Reply

      Tough is one word, and of course resilient too. Some of the things I didn’t put in the piece above I’ll write another day, but no, she’s not the same old mom, and I realize she never will be again. Like I wrote a few weeks back, it’s the sort of life changing event that knocks the breath out of a person, and you never really get it back. You move through each day feeling a little robbed of it. I do think considering it’s only six weeks she’s doing remarkably well. There is this worry in me about how to balance it all out, but I’m not going to dwell on that too much right now. I’m just going to help her through it and hope when we come out on the other side, we’ll have found that unique new place that will seem okay for all of us.

      • Carolynnwith2Ns

        April 15, 2015

        Reply

        Sounds like you are doing just the right stuff.

        As I get older I can’t help but think about when it’s our time, my husband and me, when one us goes and one remains behind. Odd really, that it all becomes reality eventually, and we have to handle that journey pretty much without a roadmap, until we’re stopped at the traffic light and waiting for it to change.

      • donnaeve

        April 15, 2015

        Reply

        It’s exactly what I’ve thought of, that with this reality for her, it emphasizes my own that much more. And I’m not used to seeing her without Dad. They were inseparable, most of my life – with only the occasional day here or there without one another. She just doesn’t look “right.”

  • Jennine G.

    April 15, 2015

    Reply

    My daughter does that kind of brain dumping and she’s fifteen. She feels the need to tell every step of doing something, like getting a good grade over a period of time. It’s nerve wracking, but I know we’d miss it if she wasn’t there. I can’t imagine the change this is for both you and your mom. I don’t know what I’d do, I’d feel crazy with the mix of emotions and change of life. Lots of love and prayers for you both Donna.

    • donnaeve

      April 15, 2015

      Reply

      Truth here. I do too – to some extent. I have to go into the “weeds” when I recount something. I don’t feel the need to do it for every thing I do every single day, but if I have to “tell you something,” then you best prepare for a blow by blow account, leading up to the big “reveal.”

      It is a tremendous change, Jennine, and so I am grateful for the love and prayers. XO

  • Jen Donohue

    April 15, 2015

    Reply

    “the process of grieving is a relentless, and all consuming past time.”

    Yes. It is. I wish more people would understand this, and give people who are grieving the time and space they need.

    • donnaeve

      April 16, 2015

      Reply

      What irks me is when people, (who are only trying to say the right thing) say things like, “you’ll be fine, you’re strong” or give you their idea of a daily planner with a do this, and do that list, when they should maybe just listen, nod, and listen some more.

  • Mom

    April 16, 2015

    Reply

    This is spot on perfect. I am only a half step behind you on this part of the journey. Had to have “the talk” with my dad the other day. It was surreal. I know my mom will be the same, she has lived with the same tolerant type of spouse. I hope I can be more like my dad too <3

  • donnaeve

    April 16, 2015

    Reply

    Thanks, Mom! (the irony)

    I surprise even myself when I can keep my mouth shut and be like him. Thank God. We don’t need to be sniping at each other – not now. In my other moment of truth here, I’m very much like my mom too. Long as I don’t feel conflicted, eh?

    Here’s to you finding your way in the best way only you can. It’s not easy, but we do get through it second by second, minute by minute, and on.

    <3

  • Lisa B

    April 16, 2015

    Reply

    oh Donna, what a very heartfelt column. Thank you for sharing. You are so gracious and a model of how I hope I can handle moments like this. Your response to Carolynn with 2Ns is so spot on, the life changing event that takes our breath away and we never really get it back. And we don’t. We simply begin a new chapter in our lives, whether willing or not. My prayers are with you.

  • donnaeve

    April 16, 2015

    Reply

    Thank you so much for that, Lisa…

    You just never know what you’ll do till it happens. I know I didn’t see myself as I am now, but sometimes I feel like my heart is simply bursting with love for her, and her situation, and I just feel so, IDK, compassionate towards her. Of course I’ve always loved my mom -but is it possible to love someone more when you see them hurting so badly? The answer is, yes.

    Thank you for your prayers. They mean a lot.

  • Diane

    April 16, 2015

    Reply

    Twelve and a half years – I still get irrationally, uncontrollably angry about dad being gone. The darkest admission: my dad lived only a bit past 65. And sometimes, I look around the world at mean people and smoking people and think, why do they get to live so much longer? And I’m not feeling philosophical, but resentful. It’s gross, but you feel what you feel in mourning. And mourning really doesn’t end, it only becomes something you can live and function with.

    Of course she opened the book. How could she not?

    And yet – ugh – I’m so sorry she opened the book. And yet glad for you both: you had him, and that was a fine and a wonderful enough thing that this loss is so awful.

    Talking of the way you and your mom are now … during the two years between my father’s death and mom’s remarriage, my brother and I both had to fail as his substitute. It’s giddy on all sides. I will never forget her, ravaged, looking at me in something like despairing wonder, asking “How do you do this?” (I’ve lived alone most of my adult life, and consistently for the past twenty-two years).

    She’s all but forgotten the way our relationships were before my stepfather came; there are no remnants between her and me of that painful respect she had for me in the darkest hours. But I remember. It matters, on those days I think she can’t see me at all anymore.

    • donnaeve

      April 17, 2015

      Reply

      Wow, Diane. Your mom must have felt tremendous envy over you and your ability to “survive” on your own, and her question to you was eye opening, wasn’t it?

      Because your mom must have been relatively young as well (considering your dad was only 65 – too young!!!) she was able to find another to fill her emotional needs, etc. My mom, going on 79, I highly doubt will even consider that possibility. Not because I think she isn’t capable, it’s just that I think Dad was her one and only lifetime love, and after their close to 60 years together…, well. I just don’t think she’d be up for it.

      No. Instead my mom has been pondering – a dog. Yet she thinks she’s too old for that too, and honestly Diane…, I don’t see her with a dog. I have one too many memories of what happened to my childhood pets, and although I think she’s changed, and she’s certainly “dog sat” for me many times in the past when she was a bit younger, and my well behaved “girls” were manageable for her, I still just can’t see it. She’s never really been a dog person. I keep hoping she won’t take that plunge, but, if she did, and it didn’t work out, I’d take it in.

  • Teri

    April 17, 2015

    Reply

    It’s incredible what happens when you take one person, particularly a person whom everyone else orbits around, out of the family picture. There’s the grief, of course, but there is so much more. Not only is everyone wandering around a little (or a lot) lost, but the role that person played can change everyone’s interactions.

    In the months and couple of years after my mother’s death, the new dynamic was shocking. By year 3 my brothers stopped talking to each other, and then all of us stopped talking and went on to live our lives without each other. My mother would be appalled, and yet …. she’s not here to fix it and none of us seem to have the tools or the desire to do it ourselves.

    I wish you and your mother well in your new normal. Hugs.

    • donnaeve

      April 17, 2015

      Reply

      It is not only incredible, it’s WEIRD. Like…, everything looks the same, but doesn’t. I said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s like I’ve misplaced something I’m supposed to find.

      Your mom sounds like she was the hub and you all were the spokes, revolving around her. My husband’s mother is like this. When we go visit, she organizes a “gathering” and calls everyone to come over, so the house ends up like it usually is at Christmas. Loaded to the hilt – sometimes even the neighbors get invited.

      Here’s to the new normal – it may require lots of wine. (or whine)


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