My mom died in July 1999 after decades of heart surgeries and a final couple years of struggle. The last months she lived in her own home were difficult for everyone involved.
Enlisting in the Navy at 18, I grew up in my mother’s home and mostly returned to it upon completion of my military obligation, but by the late ‘90s, I had my own house, a wife, a daughter, a real job, a home.
So I’d go see Ma at hers.
An as-the-crow-flies mile was all that separated us, yet my regular visits somehow felt like coming back to the Eastern Shore after some long deployment during my Mess Deck and Med Cruise days fifteen years before that. Either not much had changed, or the circumstances of life had brought us back to 1983 as if by time machine.
Knowing she’d always be the person happiest to see me, getting to Mom’s had always been a big part of my excitement of heading home on leave. She’d tear all up and give me a big old hug. She’d be so excited to share what was on her mind that she’d stumble getting to her list of topics and questions. She couldn’t get her words out fast enough.
She might cuss.
Her list, her agenda, was first. She didn’t want to “forget anything” even though the list was right there. Afterwards, we could talk about any topic, from petty to life changing, and she was immensely interested in all of it, she’d listen all day.
But her list was first.
I’d bring my mom some small gift, some gee-gaw, knick-knack, or whatzit I thought she might like. If she didn’t I wouldn’t know for a long, long time.
She’d want to feed me. We would talk while we ate. Me being all self-involved and opinionated. She just listening with that smile. Denying herself much of any opinion at all unless it were a strong one that demanded a voice.
She tended to fume then thunder.
She always had something she was looking forward to – a cousin’s third wedding or a bus trip to someplace that in my opinion was a halfway point to someplace worth going to. She might be angry, obsessed with some local news story. Cop shot a dog? Off the charts pissed. Ma didn’t want Maryland gambling legalized but admitted she’d probably gamble if it ever were.
We’d play Scrabble. She was a shrewd tactician, no lie. I could see her little girl delight in whipping my ass, but she’d tamper it. She wasn’t a gloater. Never a sore winner. We’d watch a movie – a murder mystery or something with some twists. She liked those. She’d pretend to sip at some Yago Sangria wine. She claimed to like it. Anybody who’s ever tasted Yago Sangria wine knows better.
Ma would have errands she needed running. If she were up to it, she’d ride with me. I’d play music she liked and would enjoy watching her rhythmically pat her right leg with her still strong hand. I’d watch her look around and marvel over how everything had changed.
I’d treat her to an ice cream.
After our visits, then as before, she’d let me run off to tend to whatever business I thought I had.
When I was a young sailor on liberty my business pertained to a lot of partying, and girl chasing, and showing off my hometown to my Navy buddies and shipmates. In those last months of my mother living in her own house, I had more serious concerns to attend to.
For one thing, I now had a growing awareness that our time with Ma was hinting at its finish.
The last months my mom lived in her own home were difficult for everyone involved and the situation did not get better until near the end.
I always made sure I told her how much I loved her and what an inspiration she was in so many ways. How lucky we all were to have her in our lives. I wanted her to know.
And as long as Ma had checked off everything on her list, that was cool with her.
Thank you for your patience.
Thank you for your strength.
Thank you for showing us how to love generously.
Thank you for your depth of character.
Thank you for being tough.
Thank you for being honest.
Thank you for being open minded.
Thank you for your determination.
Thank you for your concern for the stray.
Thank you for understanding the human condition.
Thank you for your sense of touch.
Thank you for your love of music.
Thank you for your long, hearty laugh.
Thank you for your love of the written word.
Thank you for teaching us how to be polite.
Thank you for making my home the place everyone wanted to be.
Thank you for the honor of being able to think of you every time we play Scrabble, catch those Duke boys on TV, find a supermarket bargain, spy a yard sale, spot an interesting piece of glassware, or see a cheap paperback romance.
Thank you for always using your superpowers for good, never evil.