One of my biggest worries, being in the Foreign Service, was that something would happen and my mom would die while I was out of the country.
That’s not something I have to worry about anymore.
(A bit of gallows humor, because fuck, this is going to be hard to write.)
So, to back up. My little brother recently got married, and on Jan. 13th he became a daddy. The weekend after being Martin Luther King Day, the Teacher and I decided to drive home and see them, if only briefly. We left on Saturday, the 17th. Two hours into our trip, we received a phone call from mom’s phone. As I was driving, the Teacher answered the phone, but she quickly waved me to pull over. She couldn’t tell what was wrong, just that something was.
I pulled over on the interstate, and it was my mom’s roommate/partner on the phone. I’ll probably always remember her exact words: “David, your mom’s dead.” (For any who would critique her bluntness, it should be noted that she was utterly hysterical as she said it. She barely managed to get it out at all.) She passed the phone to the detective, who explained that mom had an accident on her way to work, and died shortly thereafter at the hospital.
I could write about the events that followed, the funeral, the speeches, the other ceremonies, but that’s not what this is for. This is just to talk about my mom.
Mom at a belly dancing party.
Those who know me well know that my father passed away when I was four years old. I also moved around a ton as a kid, and my mom was the only stability in my life. She was both mom and dad to me, both the caregiver and the disciplinarian. She was often at work, leading me to have to care for my brother, but I knew that even that was a sacrifice she made to keep food on our table. (Often pizza, because free food from work is often the best food.)
She did everything she could to raise us right, while battling some demons of her own. She’d been abused as a kid, she was widowed at a very young age (26!), and she was often unsure of what she wanted out of life. About the same time I moved out, she developed a serious problem with drinking and drugs.
But, no matter what, she loved me and my brother, and did what she could where she could to help. This is also what, in large part, led her to finally deal with her own issues in the last few years. As the belly-dancing picture shows, once she had an empty nest, she starting finding her own interests and discovering herself. She also, at the same time, got clean, and was very proud of how she managed to recover and not fall off the wagon. She was in therapy, trying to come to terms with her abuse , hoping to be able to reconcile with her own mother, working with her kids (especially my little brother, who still lived with her when her life fell apart) to be close again, and in general trying to improve everything, when she passed away.
She was successful in many of these goals. She had been present at the birth of her grandchild, and there are pictures of her holding the wee baby. She’d been across the Atlantic, and stood on the eastern shore. She’d seen both of her children pick themselves up after some nasty falls (in my case, divorce and a string of bad jobs) to achieve some real success.
And now, I’m sitting here, trying to write about her, and I realize I’m still in shock that she’s gone. I keep finding myself about to call her, and talk to her about something mundane in my life. I’ll think about the dread of listening to her give me advice that we both know I won’t take (like, seriously, mom, you know I barely know how to hold a wrench, there is no way I’m going to replace a part on my car myself. I don’t care how much cheaper it is). And then I’ll remember she’s not there and I get down all over again.
(Some of you know that I already deal with depression. Yeah, guess what–this ain’t helping.)
There is one thing she taught me, though, that I’m trying to live by. When she saw Lion King for the first time, she fell in love with the song and line Hakuna Matata. She constantly tried to get me to accept life as it was, and keep moving and not to worry. She once told me about worries (and this is etched forever in my memory): “Can you do anything about it? If yes, then do it and stop worrying. If no, worrying’s not going to do you any good anyway, so quit worrying about it!” (Her version of the Serenity prayer, I guess.)
So, I sit here and miss that “crazy old redneck” (her words). I’m particularly sad that my future kids won’t get to know her, because, as crazy as she often was, she would have been able to teach them some very important lessons. She might have also taught them some bad habits (like my grandma taught me).
Good-bye, mom. You were, until very recently, the only rock in my crazy, crazy life. (Don’t worry–the Teacher has taken on that responsibility.) I loved you even when you were crazy, just as you loved me when I was a shit. (Which was often, on both counts.) May the Universe, Deity, God, or whatever hold you close and take away your pains. I’ll miss you.