The Death Of My Mother, Helen Bland
May 12, 2017
If you’re lucky enough to still be able to, at least give your mom a call this Mother’s Day. Because for the first time in my life, I can’t call mine. And it hurts.
June 13, 2016
My mom died a week ago this past Saturday. Her funeral was last Wednesday. We buried her Thursday. And that’s all I have to say about that.
I hadn’t planned on writing anything about her passing, but it’s my first day back at work since the funeral, and all the grief I’ve suppressed by placing it on the back burner of my mind threatens to boil over and ruin the stove. My mind rages against the banality of a normal Monday morning, chittering away inside my braincase, demanding acknowledgement.
So I’m acknowledging it.
Publicly, for anyone to read.
Because the thing about parents is that everyone has them. And everyone will, one day, lose them. Maybe you’ve already lost yours. If so, then I’ll trade you my sympathies in exchange for a membership card to the exclusive club you’re in that no one ever wants to join.
I know this because I’m a member now. But I don’t want to be.
I’ve spent most of my time since I got The Call that Saturday, worrying about my dad. He was completely devoted to my mom for 45 years, and somehow even more dedicated the past several years. Back in the late ‘90s, she was diagnosed with cancer, and he dropped everything to take care of her. Eventually, the cancer went into remission, but her body never really came back. If cancer is a scary monster, then chemotherapy is the even scarier monster that eats other monsters. It takes a toll.
The past few years, as her health deteriorated, all he did was care for her. It’s all he knows. How do you go back to “normal” when everything that was normal is gone?
That’s not a rhetorical question, either. I honestly don’t know the answer, but I think it probably involves some kind of squishy, new age, Deepak Chopra logic where some kindly, well-meaning jellyhead tells you that you can’t go back to where things were. That you have to move on to a new place, develop new routines, and find new things to live for.
Which might be true, but it’s probably crap.
Like everything else everyone always says when someone dies.
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I didn’t want to go up to my mom’s casket during the funeral, but managed to work up the strength at the last minute, just before it was closed forever. I don’t like open caskets. I don’t like looking at dead people, and having that image be something that pops up in the slideshow of my memory every time I think of someone I’ve loved who’s gone.
But everyone kept telling me it would help me find closure, so I did it.
I went up to the casket and looked at my mom while people patted me on the back and whispered words I didn’t hear, and then I didn’t get any closure at all.
Because closure is crap.
I didn’t need to find a firm answer to my mom’s death to eliminate ambiguity in my mind. She died. It’s not ambiguous. She’s gone, and she’s never coming back. That’s as firm as you get.
I think what people meant is that seeing her body lying there would help me deal with things. That putting a finality to the Finality of the situation would help me close the book on all the chapters of my life that had my mom in them.
Which is also crap.
My mom died, but she raised me. She taught me about the world. She gave me an incredible childhood, and showed me what it means to be a parent. She’ll always be a character in my life story, even if she doesn’t get any more dialog.
Except she does.
Every time I’m about to do something I know I shouldn’t, I’ll hear her voice telling me right from wrong. Whenever I’m nervous about doing something risky, I’ll hear her give me the same advice she always gave me growing up, and then I’ll probably ignore it like I always did, then end up regretting it later. Like I always have.
I’ll hear her every Christmas, when I’m planning my kid’s holiday. I’ll hear her insisting we BAKE ALL THE THINGS, even if no one even likes whatever Russian Tea Cakes are. I’ll hear her voice every Thanksgiving, going over her recipe as I make the macaroni and cheese casserole everyone loves.
If closure means giving all that up, then you can keep it.
But now it’s Monday morning, and I’m back at work. I’ve taken my bereavement days, so I should be fine now, right? Judging by all the people knocking on my office door for every little thing today, I guess I should be. Grieving time is over. Back to the grind.
It’s nice to be needed, though. To know my absence was felt while I was away, and that people are happy I’m back. It still feels weird, though.
Things that seemed super important a few weeks ago seem less important now. I know they’re not. I know it’s my job to treat every problem as urgent and critical, but it’s hard going back to normal after everything changes.
Which brings me back to my dad, and how he doesn’t have a normal to go back to. He hasn’t known anything other than taking care of my mom for years, and he’s never been one to take care of himself before anyone else. I don’t know what he’s going to do, but I’m sure whatever it is will have nothing at all to do with closure.
I managed to convince him to come stay with us for a little while, after the burial. He needed to get out of that familiar house, the familiar setting, the familiar couch and bed and all the utilitarian, antiseptic props that accumulate when you’re caring for someone who’s dying.
He spent most of the time this weekend upstairs, asleep or just being alone. Processing, I guess. As much as anyone can.
We got him out of the house a little bit yesterday, though. Although he hasn’t lived here in decades, he grew up in Lake Charles, so we drove around the city and just got out for a little while.
We took him to the awesome Central Library on West Claude Street, near the home he grew up in. We drove by Henry Heights on Louisiana Avenue, and showed him where my kid goes to school. We went to Dollar Tree and Kroger, and ate lunch at Cotten’s Downtown, which is one of my favorite places to take visitors.
He smiled a few times. Even laughed once. The first steps down a new road. A lonelier path, but walkable.
All I can do is be there for him when he needs me, and maybe walk in front of him with a machete, cutting away some of the overgrowth on the unused path ahead. Or maybe this is a stupid metaphor, and I need to wrap this up.
If you still have your parents, give them a call. I know they can be annoying, but trust me. Eventually, you’ll miss all those obnoxious phone calls you hate getting right now.
Pause the show and answer the phone when you’re having dinner in front of the TV.
Go to all those stupid family events that you hate, because they’re important to your folks.
And always – I don’t even care how old you are – always call your mom when you get there.
Because one day, you won’t be able to.
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