While it has felt more like we are celebrating my mother’s life than mourning her death for the past ten days, there are often these sharp flashes of realization that pierce me as I grow to accept that both of my parents are no longer here to guide and console me. I feel like I’ve been handed a torch, and it’s my turn now to pass it on to my child and some day, to her children.
This morning, following my usual routine for the first time in over a week, I drove to pick up some hay at the farm where I go each Sunday. While I was driving, waves of emotion swept through me. I have these moments when I feel simply raw. It’s the rawness of having your skin torn off, exposing what’s underneath, trying to hide it but not being able to all the time. I have no band-with for selfish people right now. As unexpectedly caring and loving as some of our friends have been, others do not seem to be able to be present with us right now now or set aside their own issues about death long enough to reach out to us. There are those who will stop by to give me hug or bring dinner. And those who can’t find the time. It clarifies relationships, making some stronger and letting others go by the wayside.
We held a memorial service for my mom at the nursing home on Thursday and had a small gathering of friends and neighbors here at our place yesterday to celebrate Nana’s life. The memorial service at the nursing home was very comforting for us and for the people who work and live there. I was surprised to discover friendships that my mom had made with some of the residents that I did not know about before. For the people who work there and spent five years caring for my mom everyday, there was a much needed closure. Too often, they told me, the residents, die and it feels like someone that they’ve known very intimately just disappears without any acknowledgement that they were here. My husband and daughter and I realized that everyone at the nursing home had really become part of our family, and that we wanted to continue to spend time with them, bringing the dog to visit, helping push the ice cream cart on Saturdays to give the residents a special treat. We were so lucky to have them all in our lives for so many years.
At our house, we have many photos of my mom, especially with our daughter, who was her only grandchild. One of our neighbors told her that she looked exactly like her grandma. “Thank you so much!” she replied. It made my heart soar with love for my child. I think back on how difficult and contentious her relationship was with her grandmother in the last year that we all lived together here in our house. Dementia, paranoia and old war memories had been turning my mother into a frightening shrew, and my poor thirteen year old child was confused and terrified by what was happening. Overcoming her fear of hospitals, she rose up out of her own personal problems when her grandma was admitted to the geriatric psych ward. I know that “her precious girl” was what really kept my mother going and thriving for the past five years, and the love and admiration that grandma and grandchild had for each other shone like a beacon for all to see.
I think that Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, who lived over a thousand years ago, was a pretty smart guy when he said, “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” Without hesitation, this strong young woman sat holding my mother’s hand and hugging her as Nana took her last breath. It was a defining moment for both my daughter and me, as the tiller of the mothership was handed down to me.