My mother died.
She had lived a long life, which had grown increasingly lonely after my father died 30-ish years ago and she retired 10 years ago. The introvert was great with that one. The trouble was, I was no longer a child and was trying to make my own way in the world, creating my own life, sometimes to comments of “Why the hell do you want to do that?” Yet, she depended on me for a lot of things–making sure that her bills were paid, that she had what she needed and wanted, that her groceries were delivered and that they didn’t include odd things like taco shells or sardines with nothing else for culinary context. I was her connection to the world beyond the daily news. We were entangled, my friend said, her life and heart with mine.
Being an only child made things both better, I think, and more difficult at the same time. I didn’t have to fight with anyone except my own inner voice about whether or not I was doing the right thing for her. But I also had no one else to lean on. There was no one else to consult about anything. There was a constant need to balance her needs and wants with my own–can I go away to that conference or take a vacation and be unavailable or is it too risky? We had a good relationship, and I loved her dearly, and I will always be thankful for that.
I wondered out loud more than once, “How in the hell do people help support their parents and have lives of their own when they don’t live anywhere near one another?” Doctors, nurses, and social workers didn’t have answers, but they tried to act as a middle man to get me in contact with people who might be able to help. Those at assisted living facilities didn’t have any answers either, beyond “the family helps…the family pays for things.” That’s a pretty tough pill to swallow when you are the family and there is no money to pay for the things.
She died at the end of June, and I have been questioning whether or not I did the right things ever since. All the questions run through my head–did she give up because I went to work, because I went home, because I didn’t stay longer, because I didn’t take her home like she wanted me to. Was I right to listen to the doctors and nurses and hospice people? Should I have fought harder? Should I have sat at her bedside and not left to go home or to work? Friends have said that it’s not possible to screw this all up–you can’t bugger up death and the process of it.
I went into her house this weekend and sat and cried, surrounded by her memories, her things. So many of the things she kept have a story…but it all is her story, not mine.
I think it hit while I sat there sobbing amongst the suitcases that wouldn’t be allowed on any plane these days due to their weight when empty, the boxes of stuff, the dolls, toys, and books…I have no one to share her memories with. She told me stories of her parents, their parents, their lives in Norway, Czechoslovakia, Austria, North Dakota, and Minnesota. The farm, the boarding house, the paper mill… My parents’ lives together before I was born.
Those are her stories. Her memories. I have to create my own.
“Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~Howard Thurman