Sunday, June 20, 2010

How my mom's death made me a better mother.

The last images of my mother alive will stay with me forever. Her eyes were wide open but didn't see, clouded over with a white fog that looked like cataracts, her mouth wide open sucking air in and out, her back and neck arched aching to live. It was gruesome. And for months and months that image has haunted me from the moment I wake up in the morning until I go to bed at night. This week is the first anniversary of her death and I still think about it, a lot.

The other day I got something in the mail from a local funeral home about how to plan for my own eventual death and funeral preparations and so I started thinking about it. At first I thought that at the end, I do not want my children to be with me, because I do not want them to remember me the way I remember my own mother's last few minutes. But the more I thought about that the more it occurred to me that my time with my mother was a lot more than just that horrible last day.

I remember... the little song she made up for me and the little song she made up for my sister. Mine was "I Love E-len-a" while my sister's had more of a Latin feel - "Kathryn Anne I love you, yes I do, cha cha cha!" And how we giggled about our songs. I remember her taking me for long walks when I was very little down our country lane, and she told me about Queen Ann's Lace and we listened to the Bob White Quail. I remember the stories she told me from history while we drove in the car, and the puppet theater she made for us, and our vacation to upper Michigan and all of the family reunions we drove to, and the exotic festivals we visited and how she was so active in Band boosters and all the Mozart concertos we played for flute and piano, and how she rocked my babies, and homeschooled Sam and earned her hiking staff, and how she always prayed.

Why was I so focused then on the horrible thoughts, the horror, the sadness, the grief? I had reduced my mother down to that, and she deserved better. What I was doing wasn't from God.

So since I have had this little epiphany the thoughts have started to fade and I have relished the good memories and gifts mom gave me. But perhaps posthumously, mom has given me the best gift of all.  Because someday I will be the dying mother in the bed, and I want to give my children as many good memories of our times together.

So now that the grief is not as palpable, and the sad memories are more like bad dreams, when I think about mom, I think about how much she would have enjoyed my kids' music concert last night, so I enjoyed it and praised them for it. And how much she would have loved Rosie's picture, and so I made sure to praise Rosie for it too. And I give Sam a hug even though he towers over me, and I tell Gabe how sweet he is even though he rolls his eyes at me and starts to blush - because it really is okay for a mom to tell her teenager that and it's okay for teens to pretend they don't like it because secretly they do. And I call my grown kid on the phone on his day off just to check in - not to talk long, just to say "Hey, how are you? Do you need anything? Love you - bye"all the kinds of things my mom would have done.

I continue to love her and to miss her deeply, but her legacy as a loving mother can live in me and I can be a better mother to my own children, because hopefully when I am gone, it is the love they will remember. 
June 2010 135
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