After Jack died, I attended meetings of Compassionate Friends. I hated being there. Maybe it was too soon to mingle my grief with the grief of others who were ahead of me on the loss journey. Whatever it was, I was horribly uncomfortable and resented most people who were sharing.
I know enough about the process in my 12 step program to know that I most likely just despised the fact that I belonged in a room full of other parents who had lost a child. The group calls death anniversaries Angel Dates and I sat in stoic, disapproving silence when other parents would name their child’s Angel Date. (“Can’t you admit that they are dead? Why are you trying to dress up that horrible fact? What is the matter with you?”)
I know enough to know that what was the matter was with me and not them, but the words still seem awkward.
November 3 is the anniversary of our mother’s death.
When I got in my car at 6 a.m. to drive to San Antonio on the morning of November 3, 1993, I hadn’t slept much the night before. Mother had been in the hospital for more than a week; her heart was failing and she would bounce from a very good day to a very bad day with lightening speed. I didn’t see her on November 2. We had agreed that she would spend that day with my sister and nieces. Talking to her after they left, she seemed a little tired but very happy.
(“Want me to head up there?”) (“No. Stay with your family.”) (“I can leave now. John’s there. He’ll take care of J.D.”) (“Come tomorrow. If I’m still here, I’ll see you in the morning.”) (“Here? Where else would you be? I’m scared. I don’t want you alone tonight.”) (“We come into this world alone and we go out alone. I will see you in the morning.”)
There was something in her tone that didn’t allow disagreement. I called my aunt in San Antonio and she said she’d stay at the hospital and call me if I needed to come. We spent the next 5 hours on and off the phone. Mother refused the priest and asked Mose to go away. She said she’d made her peace and was just tired. At 3 a.m., she was able to get rest.
I missed her almost immediately. I talked to her on the phone most nights. That was in the day when phone calls weren’t cheap. John shook his head in dismay over the phone bill. The first time Jack got sick or I had a disagreement with GE and couldn’t pick up the phone to call her was tough.
I have to admit that she was my best friend in addition to being my mom. We spent enough time together for me to know her, forgive her for being a human mom, and enjoy hanging out with her. She didn’t cut me any slack. She was the only person who would call me on my drinking. (“You sound drunk.”) (“No, Mother. I’m just tired. Why would you say that?”) (“You are slurring your words. If you are that tired, get some rest.”<click>)
I try that with mushy-talking sponsees but I can’t enforce the click.
I’ve thought about her this week. She was older than most moms. Both of our parents were closer to the ages of our peers’ grandparents. If she were born 40 years later, she’d probably have been in business and skipped the motherhood role. Not that she was a bad mother, she just attacked most things like an ambitious T-Rex. This picture accompanied an article in the SA Express about the opening of Alamo Stadium in the late 30’s. Mother was the go-to person before that was a label. After making and clearing numerous contractor punchlists, she set up EMT staff in case of an injury on the field and made sure city and district VIP’s sat in appropriately visible spots. When the printer delivered game tickets for distribution, they had failed to number them and Mother hand numbered 12,000 tickets. Her quote in the paper: “Any time you think Thanksgiving football games just ‘happen,’ you are crazy. These tickets won’t number themselves.” They didn’t say she snapped that quote, but I can hear the snap in the newspaper writing.
She approached motherhood with an efficiency that most CEO’s wish they had. For most of my life, I ate 3 meals at home, walking home at lunch for a meal that Mother had prepared. We all had music and art lessons and made A’s “or else.” She sewed pretty much every outer garment of clothing that we wore until we were well into high school.
She took us to church every morning during Lent and Advent, on Saturdays for confession. As kids, we knelt around our parents’ bed for night prayers and said the rosary at the start of every car trip that lasted more than 2 hours.
She wasn’t some kind of plastic saint. She was a wild child and lived in fear that we, her daughters, would follow the same path that she had started on. My grandparents sent her to stay with an aunt in California in the hopes that she would forget her bad boyfriend. It was there that she took an excursion into the snowy mountains outside of Los Angeles with her new California friends and took her first toboggan ride. The ride ended up in a horrible crash. I wonder what she thought while she waited for rescuers to come get her and the boy who was with her. He died and she lay in the cold with a broken back for hours. Was that the defining moment? Was that what made her so terrified of the unexpected? I suspect it might have been.
Mother was funny in a way that could have made her a comedian. She said she was a jack of all trades and a master of none. Maybe that’s one of the best qualifications that a mother can have. Good at so many things and glad to let those she loves shine.
I was thinking about that Angel Date idea. If Mother’s hanging with the angels-and I have no doubt that she is-she’s probably got a good mystery in one hand and a cigarette in the other. She smelled like cigarette smoke and Blue Grass perfume for most of my life. Possibly she is reading over my shoulder and rapidly correcting my grammar and syntax, with an “Oh, Margaret. Don’t use that picture of me!”