If you read my last blog you know I am in the town where I grew up, waiting on the imminent death of my father. It is unbelievably sobering to realize my sister and I are about to become orphans. Granted we are in our 50’s and this could have happened much earlier, but it’s happening now and now is when I am feeling the pain.
Our mom had a stroke back in 1986 that left her physically (and partially mentally) incapacitated. She never went back to her home where she lived alone. We moved her to a facility a few miles from where me (about four hours from her home). She was never thrilled with us “forcing her” to leave her house, her friends, her church…. She still had the ability to communicate orally and in writing, but she’d lost her reasoning ability. My sister and I felt she had to live close to one of us.
I spent an inordinate amount of time with her during those last six years, but was it quality time? Some was. There were doctors appointments, and errands, lots of errands. I tried to take her on a drive (that didn’t require transferring to and from her wheelchair) at least once a week. But much of it was spent battling why she couldn’t be independent. (Because she couldn’t walk OR navigate her wheelchair; because she couldn’t take care of herself; because she couldn’t make responsible decisions.)
Mom’s hometown friends sent letters and cards and her church kept her up to date on what was going on there. If any of her friends were in the area, they visited. In addition, my friends embraced her and visited her often. She became the darling of the nursing facility, even being crowned “queen” one year. Her sister popped in for a surprise visit that year and wanted to check her out for a couple of days yet mom didn’t want to go because she was “reigning.” (See, I told you she’d lost her reasoning ability).
I was so close to the situation that I lost my ability to be objective. Mother phoned me night and day (sometimes mixing them up) to ask random questions. Often, she drove me nuts. But, she was my mom and I loved her. When it because obvious her health was declining, I prepared myself for her death.
I talked with her about it…I asked what she wanted and she was very specific right down to the 43 hymns she wanted sung at the funeral. (My sister and I decided that meant a selection from…) Mom knew what she wanted to wear in her casket and sent me to shop for it before she died so she could preapprove it. She seemed to view death as a big adventure. For her spiritual preparedness wasn’t enough, she needed to control the other elements as well.
One memory from near the end of her life stands out to me. She’d been in a coma for a couple of days, and I dropped by to check on her. She was sitting in a chair, fully alert, waiting for me. Her first words were, “I want to talk to you.”
I sat down with her and we had a long talk. She told me she was tired, but she was worried about my sister and me—who’d take care of us. We were in our mid-thirties at the time. I assured her we could take care of ourselves, that she didn’t have to worry about us. She apologized for how disruptive she’d been to my life since her stroke and I apologized for not having been more loving. We both cried—a lot. I think we healed a little and maybe got some closure.
She slipped back into her coma that afternoon and died a few days later. But she had to have that conversation before she could die.
When my mother died back in 1992, I was a trooper. The funeral was planned to a tee, thank you notes were promptly written, everything went off without a hitch, except, in hindsight, I kept myself too busy to feel anything and to really grieve my loss.
The grief has come up for me from time to time through the years, most poignantly this time last year when Hubby’s mom was dying. For the three months she was in Hospice care, I spent a lot of time reflecting about my mother and missing her.
Now, my dad is dying and I’ve never felt grief as overwhelming as this. I am heartbroken.
Do I love my father more than my mother? Of course not! I think twenty something years of life and perspective since my mom’s passing has given me the perspective and maturity to really feel his death while I was numb to hers. I also think as I grieve him, I also grieve my mom and the loss of their marriage, the loss of my childhood, of our family unit…all the things his death will represent to me.
When I step back from myself for perspective and look at this in a more universal way, I realize this is the natural order of things. The parent dies first. I have friends who have had to bury a child, a sibling, a spouse…I don’t know how they’ve done it. I think of my friend who died at 54, four years ago and left a teenaged daughter and I wonder how that daughter’s heart held that grief. I look at all of these other situations in an effort to stifle my feelings, but it isn’t working. It’s impossible to compare the degrees of grief.