“A Year for Mom” is a collection of posts written during 2013, the year of my mother’s final illness and of her passing. Some of the most heartfelt and extraordinary communications I’ve ever sent or received took place during this challenging year. I feel I learned so much that ultimately it was as much a year of gain as of loss. Many of my friends and readers have expressed a wish that I share my experiences. These personal moments are shared . . . from my heart.
When my dad called on February 1 to say Mom had been admitted to the hospital, I was startled. We all assumed at first that this was exhaustion, and that a good dose of serious Care would let her bounce back. However, something suspicious showed up on a scan. But this was Friday, so now she was stuck in the hospital over the weekend, with no results, no further tests, no procedures possible till the following week.
I stayed with her much of the weekend, and festooned her room with photographs and hand-written affirmations. My husband brought her pink rosebuds, my father brought her red roses. I brought her favorite lipstick, a spray bottle of her favorite gardenia scent, her hair brush, a good traveling mirror.
My husband brought my dad for his visits and so did I. One of the days, while the menfolk went to the cafeteria for lunch, I asked Mom if I could have my own visit with her, which she relished. The gist of what I said was that I know she respects the doctors and works hard to follow good medical advice. And we agreed they have their way of doing things, their belief system, their protocols. Then I said there’s another path, one that is parallel for now, but that this is HER path, shining with light. That no matter what anyone else has to say, she is still in charge of her own consciousness.
She’d been tired lately, and sometimes frustrated with her circumstances. Though my dad is healthy and smart, he’s a little forgetful at times. This and her own work load were starting to get on her nerves, and she could perhaps envision she’d one day become his caretaker. She also said a few times that she’s had a great life, and even went so far as to mention that one of these days she’d be gone. So now, I told her that if she was indeed tired of her present circumstances, felt she’d done what she wanted to do in this chapter of life, that this would be her choice and no one else’s. I said I wouldn’t bully her, demanding that she fight to get well.
“However,” I said, “if you still have things to do here, I also support your choice to stay.” It was an easy conversation in some ways. I wasn’t upset and neither was she. I pointed out that we all make this transition at some point, and that within ourselves we probably have more choice than we realize. We make thousands of choices each day, and these choices determine our path.
Well, the fire came into her eyes and she said “I have more things to do!” Okay, I said. Then I’ll support this choice and remind you of it. “This will be our Special Project,” she announced. And we began defining this Project as a spiritual one, one that would lead up the mountain to greater awareness and new possibilities. This would be a deep sense of renewal, one she’d never really taken time for in her rich, full life.
From then on, she was as good as her word and then some. During the next week she had good moments and bad. Hospital staff were good and bad. Tests were good and bad. Life seemed good and bad. I had a long-planned trip to California coming up, one of my usual business trips to work on audio projects and do book events, but also one that included very special professional invitations and commitments. Most importantly, it would include being part of the surprise party for my nephew’s 18th birthday, and I’d be there not only as Auntie Mara, but as proxy for Uncle and Grandparents. My husband would be holding down the fort during my absence, but he also works full time, and is also sometimes on call. This would leave Pere (as we call my father) rattling around at home beside himself with worry, Mom deserted in a hospital room, my sister and I barely able to focus on our own lives, distracted by concern.
Mom wouldn’t hear of my missing my trip and the idea of it created additional stress for her. So I flew to LA, my sister did a brilliant surprise party for my nephew. I got to be there, as did most of the key grown-ups in his life, for this big landmark, so meaningful to all of us.
My events in San Francisco were “Women’s Voices,” a program I co-created with an accomplished author named Victoria Zackheim. She gathers small groups of very well known authors and we do readings. If you want to see my blog about our first one of these last November, it’s part of my “Blog Tour” listed on my calendar tab. These other writers are so authentic and revealing with their personal essays that it inspired me to be brave enough to share a personal essay I wrote about a transformative moment I had with Mom years ago. I’d never have imagined that when I stood up to read this, I’d be struggling not to burst into tears. It’s a funny essay, and a teaching-moment story. But the other authors’ courage inspired my own. In that book store Sunday evening we created an hour in which soul resonated through the room, a palpable sense of shared experience . . . learning from our mothers, making our way through childhood, becoming adults dealing with our older mothers. One woman wrote about her mother’s passing with hilarious visuals and sharp poignancy.
It was as I drove down highway 101 toward Cambria that I got the call from my sister. I found a turnoff and pulled onto an elevated unpaved sidetrack that offered a view of rolling emerald hills. The diagnosis was cancer. The doctor offered a severe regimen of treatment, but warned what a devastating experience it would be. “Absolutely not,” Mom said immediately, with her other daughter and husband as her witnesses. “I’ve had a wonderful life!!” Picture her in all her elegance and grace, beautiful and poised, hair and jewels, cashmere sweater and silk crepe slacks, polished black pumps all in order. “Come along, Raymond,” she patted my dad’s leg, then slipped into her mink jacket. “I have a great deal to do.” The doctor was in tears by now. Mom took her hand in both of hers. “This has been a wonderful meeting,” Mom pronounced, probably changing this dear young female doctor’s life forever.
It took a while before I could clear enough tears to drive the car again. I arrived in Cambria looking like a rag and a dear friend – a “second mother” – embraced me. I immediately told her what was going on. She expressed exactly the elegance, grace and reassurance Mom had just shown at her appointment. Who are these women? They made it through World War II, worked in film and theatre, raised daughters, created gorgeous homes filled with lifetime collections of art. They cherish their friends, fight like mother bears for their families and stand tall in crises.
As I write this, it’s the next morning, and dawn silvers the view out the upstairs window of my friend’s beautiful rental house. I sit up in bed with my laptop opposite a picture window framing pines, ocean, and the palest lavender sky. The undulating sound of the ocean rises up the hill.
I head back to LA today, and then return to Colorado, where I’ll be modifying my schedule so I can be helpful and spend part of each day with Mom. I know it’ll be challenging time, so am soaking up this present gift of peace and beauty to sustain me.
When my best friend and I were planning her baby shower 22 years ago, I called her mom to invite her. I also asked her if she’d be in charge of taking the photographs. “I’d be delighted!” she exulted. She and her daughter shone that day, two gorgeous women anticipating the birth of Samantha, my beloved God-daughter. My friend’s mom wasn’t with us for much longer, and we’ve always been so grateful she was part of that special celebration.
When my husband and I visited Japan in 2005 we were house guests of the dear friend I’ve known all my life. We stayed with her and her mother in their Tokyo home filled with treasures and memories. My dear friend saw her mother through a long illness with a patience and grace I’ll never achieve. How extraordinary we were her mother’s last house guests, and how lovely we had that time with her. When my college roommate’s daughter was getting married, my husband and I went to Florida and got to spend time with my close friend’s parents, whom I’d known since college days. Her mother has since passed, and I’m so grateful I got to have that last visit with her. With all my close women friends, there has been some remarkable sharing about our mothers. Several of them know my mother Marshie . . . some nearly as long as I have. I don’t know what this next chapter will bring for us, but I believe it will be extraordinary. I also already know I’m going to need you, my close dear women friends, as I process all this.
What will it be like to be in the world without her? I’ve tried hundreds of times to imagine it, and tried scores of times to be ready for this, always knowing there was really no way to prepare except to live as fully as possible in the moment.
Thank you for being who you are, and for being in my life. Thank you for joining me in celebrating my extraordinary mother.
With love and gratitude,