One year has come and gone without my Mother on this planet. I remember wondering what that would feel like when I first lost her. It is both better and worse than I imagined.
My mother’s final year on this planet was one of steady decline. Living each day of that year, from visit to visit, I mentally cataloged each loss and took joy in any small sign that she seemed to be having an unusually good day. I was ever wary of calls and emails coming from Mom’s facility, tried to keep up with every new face and voice. The turnover of personnel at the facility that last year was unbelievable. How in the world do you expect residents to feel settled and have a sense of continuity with so much change? All I wanted was to keep my mom safe and well cared for. If I had to be the bad guy who pointed out every little wrong thing that the staff was doing, so be it. Mom was on my mind pretty much 24/7. Even when I was doing other things, there was always the thought of my next visit, my next trip for supplies, our next scheduled Dr. visit.
FILL THE VOID
So, in the wake of my mother’s passing, after the first flurry of funeral plans, communications with relatives and lawyer visits, I felt somewhat untethered. It wasn’t as “freeing” as I imagined it would be, I still missed my mother terribly, and the old thoughts about “what do I need to do next for Mom” were still there, soon to be met with the pang of realizing again and again she was gone.
I wondered if I would get back into photography to fill the void after a year of rarely picking up my camera, but that itch did not resurface much in that first year post-mom. A friend encouraged me to come out to Longwood Gardens for the Orchid show. It was the first time in a long time I shot more than 10 frames in a single setting.
I searched for meaning and purpose, throwing myself into my role on the Communications team for Middle Creek Search and Rescue. I joined a study group to earn my Amateur Extra ham radio license. I studied with an app on my phone, listened to CD’s, took practice tests over and over ‘til the material became familiar enough that I thought I could pass…and I did. I took the KY Ham KY Ares Online Training, FEMA Courses IS-100, 200, 700 and 800, hoping to become involved with Amateur Radio Emergency Service in the local area. “If not now, then when?” was a phrase that kept rolling around in my head.
I have been living with my Mom and Dad’s “stuff” ever since they both went into assisted living in early 2012. At first I felt like I needed to hang onto it just in case they would ever ask for something from their home. Well, Dad had less than two months to live, which we of course did not know at the time. He was on Hospice care and slept a lot. The most important thing for him was just to be there with my Mom. He did tell us, “Don’t sell my car! I’m still going to drive!” His independence was very important to him. He did not end up driving again and we did sell his car after he was gone. Mom, with her dementia, was in no state to drive. We quietly let her license expire and there was never any protest from her about it. Months before, she had already admitted that she did not know her way around and was reluctant to drive when my dad was not in the car with her. Mom never asked for anything from her stuff over the next 6 years.
That was a big lesson to me. The “stuff” just didn’t mean anything any more when it came down to end game. I guess I have been more reluctant to let go of their stuff than they were. I suppose it is all a reminder of who they were and the kind of things they liked. There is always something here to remind me of them.
I have often thought about what it was like for my Mom and Dad to live on after their parents were gone. They were both fortunate in that they had living brothers and sisters at the time of their parents’ passing. I wish that I had talked to my mother about that, how she coped with that loss, the loss of her mother especially. She was living in Tucson when her mother passed away in the Netherlands, but they had kept in touch with letters. Her mom had bad hearing, so they didn’t talk on the phone much, if at all after we moved to the States. Her mom had breast cancer that was untreated in her last years. Mom had visited within 6 months of her passing. I think she “said goodbye” then. She had to have known she would not see her mother again.
I was such a brat at the time, very self-involved. I had just graduated high school and was very full of myself. I had a full scholarship to the U of A and I was “da bomb.” I think now that must have been a very lonely time for my mother. I don’t know who she was sharing her feelings with at the time, but it wasn’t me. My Mom and Dad had a very close relationship and talked all the time but I don’t remember Dad being a big one to share feelings with. In retrospect, I hope she found someone to talk to at church or one of her friends from work.
I find myself more able to think about my Mom and Dad as they were before my Dad’s illness/death. I no longer HAVE TO think about every nuance of my Mom’s illness and am free to recall the details of her life and what made her HER. She was a remarkable woman and is still my role model. I know she wouldn’t want me to mope around the house or feel sad every time I think of her being gone. Having grown up in war-torn Europe, she knew about making the most of what life has to offer, savoring it.
I felt like I needed to “commemorate” this first year around the sun with Mom by writing about it. Time marches on and before I know it, another year will have gone by. I’m not ready to “let go” of my Mom. I don’t know if her absence will ever feel “normal” to me. I’m hoping to honor her life with mine.
I know she would want me to get back into photography or some other creative exploit. She always encouraged me to be a do-er and a make-er. So, I WILL be taking my camera out and about. I am hopeful that I will have some ACTUAL REAL photography related blog posts in the near future. So, I hope you will “stay tuned.”