My mother was born on January 20, 1946. She had a heart attack on Wednesday afternoon, May 16, 2001. She passed away on the following Tuesday night, May 22, at around 9pm. As it turned out, there was an infection creating a mass around a valve in her heart that could not be treated. It may have been this infection that caused the heart attack the week before. Both of my sisters and I were with her when she left us. We spoke to her and each other during this time, reminiscing, occasionally laughing or crying, and saying our thanks and goodbyes. When she was gone, we just held her and each other for a while and cried.
By the time of her death, my mother had developed quite a life in our apartment building. She moved into her apartment about five years after I moved into mine and lived there for about five-and-a-half years. It was wonderful to have her only three floors and a hallway away so that I could see her almost instantly, regardless of the weather or any lack of transportation. She had me over for frequent visits, sometimes several times a week, often for full days at a time, and occasionally into very late hours of the night (even wee hours of the morning). We went to many places together, including the park, the zoo, local festivals, downtown concerts, shopping, movies, restaurants, and whatever else struck our fancy. Some trips were planned well in advance; others were more spontaneous. In our building, she fairly quickly became involved in just about everything there was to do: pot lucks, birthday parties, a quilt group, a lunch program, card playing with friends, holiday dinners, and so much more. For many of these things, she was a volunteer. Eventually, she became a member of the Tenant's Association. After a while, she became its vice president. She also participated in a welcoming committee for new residents and volunteered in the building's library. Her life was so full and rich. I was happy and proud to see how she had flourished in those years. She truly enjoyed all her activities and loved her friends and neighbors.
My mother had a great love of many things. Having gardened in her previous homes, she recognized and appreciated all sorts of flowers, bushes, and trees. She was an especially magnificent cook who made the best spaghetti sauce, as well as a list of other tasty dishes, many of them invented by her. We spent hours watching ice skating on TV together, sharing this common interest. She was a skilled quilter who could embroider, mend, make all sorts of things from clothing to pillows to wall hangings... She was also an avid reader who loved best a good mystery. She also loved history, especially that which concerned royalty, and knew quite a bit about Queen Elizabeth I. I like to think my mother had a bit of that regality herself. She had a flair for trivia that made her a fierce opponent in any game based on knowledge of it. Returning to the faith of her youth, she began to attend church weekly with my younger sister and brother-in-law, a thing which gave her great joy and peace as well as an opportunity to spend more time with the two of them. I'm so grateful to them for making this possible by picking her up each week, which took two cars to do: one for her and one for her disassembled medical motor scooter. She loved my older sister and brother-in-law's pets so much that she sent them cards on the holidays and liked to refer to them as her "grandpuppy" and "grandkitty", calling herself their "Nona", as she had no grandchildren. It really made her day to have them bring the dog by for a visit. She loved early rock and roll, country, classical, and opera. She wrote some poetry in her younger years and took up the practice of writing again for a writing group that used to be run by another building resident as well as for the Tenant's Association bi-monthly newsletter. She was always fascinated by the universal human need for artistic expression. She also had a passion for the new soap opera, "Passions", with its clever story line about a witch and her enchanted doll that would come to life. Whenever she was out for the afternoon, she would tape the show. Upon having the opportunity to watch it, she would sometimes run the tape past all the ordinary parts of the program so she could just watch the funny bits with those two favorite characters. That wasn't a surprise to me, considering how much she loved to laugh. I can't possibly name all of her pleasures, so intelligent and diverse of interests was she.
In my mother, I found a best friend. We talked about everything, laughed often, and gave each other lots to think about. We even cried sometimes. We were there for each other in times of need, taking care of each other in some different and some similar kinds of ways. We kept each other company. That's the part I'll miss most - being able to just drop by at any time and know she'd be glad for a visit. I can't yet grasp the reality that I'll never have that with her again in this lifetime. But I'll always have the joy of the memories of her and the closeness we shared. I'll always miss her terribly, but I know in my heart that she'd rather I be more often glad for the time we spent together than sad that she's gone. She always considered herself a happy person and an optimist. And that's exactly how I'll think of her when I remember what she was like. As she neared the end of her life, the pain of her arthritis was catching up with her in increments all the time. She had to be vigilant about her blood sugar and blood pressure. But she continued to go everywhere she could on her seemingly charmed, big, blue scooter named "James", all over the building and out into the world. In her way, she was an adventurer; becoming independent, trying new things, and learning all the time. She faced life with more fortitude and humor than she herself realized, I think. I admired the person I got to know as much as I loved the mother she was. I feel privileged to have been able to see her as more than just the woman who bore and raised me.
Living long enough to see all her children become, each in their own way, successful, fulfilled, happy, healthy adults with stable lives and relationships with people they loved - but not so long as to have to suffer any significant decline in the quality of life she'd come to know over the last few years - my mother died at the age of 55. There's simply no way I can fully express in writing all that she was, no matter how many pages I might use in the process. And I'll always feel there was more I wanted for her and more I wanted us to do together. But that's the wonderful thing about a complex human being and a life well lived: You don't run out of things you want to share. There's always more, even long after you're apart.
May 27, 2001
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