Three years ago tonight I was with my husband in a hotel room in San Bernardino, California. My sister and her husband were staying in the room next to ours. The four of us and my nephew Russell had just said a final goodbye to my mother who died on August 26, 2008 at 5:26 pm.
My mother's death had been expected, still, when I saw her shortly after she drew her last breath I was overwhelmed with the finality of it all. She had been the central figure in my life in spite of the fact that I had five husbands while she was living. Orphaned by the time she was 18, she spent her life searching for security; she married my father who provided her with financial stability, and she settled on having me as her emotional support, her "brick". Her touchstone, so to speak. This was an unhealthy burden to place upon a child, but she didn't know that. Having had no training in parenting, she did what seemed right to her, and my childhood was sacrificed in the process. She did the best she could with what she had.
I'm no saint. I was a wild teenager and adult, and terrified the family with my reckless lifestyle and drug abuse. Even so, save for periods of time during which my mother and I "weren't speaking", I was her "best friend". We fought and traveled together and shared holidays. We spoke nearly every day on the phone. In her eighties she moved from the coast to a house we bought in the mountains, where she lived with my husband and me for 18 very difficult months. It's hard having two strong women in one household.
When it counted the most, I was there for her. The last two years of her life were very difficult for both of us, and for my sister. My mother's decline was painfully obvious, and she made repeated trips to emergency rooms, finally settling in a nursing home. I worked for the company that owned the nursing home and knew the staff well. They gave her good care in spite of her refusal to do anything at all for herself.
It was always all about her.
Three years ago tonight, she set me free. I moved thousands of miles away from the hot, crowded, stressful place in which she had chosen to live and began to live my own life for the first time.
This morning I drove to a neighboring town for a haircut. I walked into the salon and the woman who cuts my hair advised me that she was running late as she was working with an old woman who wanted a perm. I saw the old woman with her thinning gray hair and watched as she carefully moved from a wheelchair to the beauty parlor chair. At one point the woman turned to look at me and I saw my mother's face. The woman smiled at me and tried to speak. She had difficulty expressing her thoughts; I suspect she was recovering from a stroke. I felt tiny tingles move up my back and down my arms when I looked at her. Later this afternoon I rode my bicycle for 20 miles in the late summer Alaska sun, and I saw my mother again, in the sky. When I see her these days, she is usually the sun peeking through clouds. I can see her, and feel her, and she is beautiful. She is smiling at me, cheering me on. She tells me that she approves of my decision to go to nursing school at the age of 55, that she is glad that I am eating better, and that I'm exercising. She tells me that she loves me.
She also tells me that she doesn't understand why I left California and moved to this "godforsaken" place. It is then that I laugh and say to her, "My life, my choices."
It's my turn. And Mom, I miss you.