This is more personal that what I usually write.
I’d planned to wait till the sadness and grief of losing my mom subsided before writing about her. I needed more time.
It’s been two years.
I’m starting to think it’s not going to get less sad.
So here goes.
Signs of things to come
My mom passed away in September of 2020. (It was unrelated to covid).
For so much of my life I dreaded the day my mom would be gone. I dreaded getting “the phone call” one day. I couldn’t imagine my life without her.
I went home to Charlottesville, Virginia to spend a week with her in August of 2020.
I noticed she was weaker than she was a couple months before when I’d seen her, and she seemed to tire more easily than before.
She had a lot of health challenges—she’d had a heart attack and bypass surgery a number of years earlier, she’d broken a hip, she’d had a stroke that left her blind in one eye, she had kidney disease (we suspect from her arthritis medication), and she had arthritis pretty bad.
But she was stubborn and willful and kept going. She used a walker in the house but needed a wheel chair when we’d go somewhere—she loved to go out shopping and for lunch.
A great visit the month prior
On that August visit she seemed to want to cram a lot in. She wore me out!
She had all these places she wanted the two of us to go together. And she loved to take a drive around town and in the countryside, so we did that, too. (We’ve been doing this since my childhood—admiring the beauty of our hometown and our big county full of rolling hills, white fences, horses, boxwood hedges, cedar tree-lined roads, earth so red that it never stops impressing us, dogwood trees, old homes, and the Blue Ridge Mountains always in sight. It all still takes my breath away.)
One day that week when we were out for lunch, she pointed to where we were going next, but she got the directions wrong. The problem was, she 100% knew her way around town, around our convoluted mountain roads, and all the local roads with duplicate names but that didn’t connect. She even knew all the new roads—I don’t know how she kept up! She also knew all the back roads in the county. It was impressive. She used this knowledge when she worked for Meals on Wheels as the Volunteer Coordinator, mapping routes for volunteers to go forth with their deliveries. She was such a local that she knew many of the meal recipients, too. (And by that time Charlottesville was no longer a small town.)
So for her to get some simple directions wrong was really odd. Maybe just old age? But her memory and mind were mighty, even if her tiny, 5-ft tall body was weak and failing.
The phone call
I went back to North Carolina after our visit. It’d been a good while since my mom had been to visit me, mainly due to her health, so I sent her some photos of my house. In particular, she wanted to see how I had her own mom’s dining room table set up, and she wanted to see the antique crystal chandelier I’d gotten for the dining room from someone online for $85. These pictures were some of my last texts to her.
At the end of August my sister called to tell me that some of Mom’s health issues had escalated, and to come back to Charlottesville.
Mom went into the hospital for about a week, and into hospice care shortly after that.
The pain had overcome her
We’d known for years that she was in a lot of pain from her arthritis, and was in more pain than we could really know or understand.
But now we were seeing how stoic she’d been in handling her physical pain, how determined she was to enjoy herself anyway, and how much she held it together for her grandchildren (though she could be cranky—or “ill,” as we say in the South.)
We also understood at this point that her nightly servings of mountain chablis entirely weren’t the weakness we made them out to, but more a reach for both some sense of control as well as relief from her pain.
It was revealing to see just how much pain it actually took for her to finally cave to it.
I really didn’t know.
I don’t think any of us did. She hid it fairly well. She’d managed to convince us she was simply more impatient and cranky than she used to be.
But the pain had overcome her. She could no longer take it.
She was immensely disappointed to be in so much more pain at this point and told us in the hospital that she “didn’t want it to be like this.”
And when she said in her frail, barely audible voice, “I just want to go home,” my heart broke. She loved her home and loved being home and passed this on to me.
She didn’t get to go home.
My sister and I and our stepdad gathered everyone we could—Mom’s two grandchildren, her closest cousin (whose shock at the news unnerved me a bit), more cousins and family members, and Mom’s many friends—one longtime friend in particular who brought Mom a bouquet of homegrown zinnias in a Mason jar.
Mom was in hospice care for maybe five days. My sister, our stepdad, my son, and I spent her last night in her room with her.
Within two weeks of my return to Charlottesville, my mother took her last breath.
I was at her side.
Nothing’s been the same since.
(My sweetheart’s mom passed away on the very same date two years prior to my mom’s passing. Probably not a coincidence.)
A few pictures, top to bottom:
- My mom with her parents, around 1947. My grandmother was a banker, my grandfather was a welder.
- My mom as an adorable little girl, around 1946
- My grandmother’s dining room table, as mentioned in the post. (To the right of the windows is the portrait of my namesake. To the left of the windows are two portraits of my sweetheart’s namesake. The pine cupboard to the left belonged to my sweetheart’s grandmother.)