It started on Mother’s Day this year. It is always a time to miss Mom, of course, but amplified now with the seventh anniversary of her death approaching. Memorial Day only added to the emotion of the season. Always in the slow march of time there are more memories gathered of those once here who now have gone ahead, and such is the nature of mortality.
My hair is showing the split between the snow white of Mother’s side of the family and Dad’s dark coloration. According to the Editress, hair color is a personal choice, though her genetics have her locks darker now than when we met. It is difficult to keep track of time when your woman ages like one of Tolkien’s elves; I am reminded, once I’m back in front a mirror, though, that the days are passing. And I keep my hair as it is so I remember.
I’ve written here about my father, but not mentioned Mom. I assume it is because the emotions involved have kept me from doing so, in addition to being someone who values his privacy in the age of social media. What I can tell you is this: my mother did not have an easy life.
Imagine yourself in the snow-swept flatlands of the Dakotas in the 1930s. Your eighth-grade education has ended, and your own mother—my grandmother—makes the decision to walk out on four daughters and four even younger sons, leaving them with their father. Grandmother was a woman whose idea of child-rearing involved making her children sit on a pew in the entryway of their home for most of Sunday, so as not to disturb the cleanliness of a house just put in order for the Sabbath, among other stories best kept in the family.
I have encountered in the course of my life souls who gave me hope for their disposition. Suffice it to say Grandma was not one of them. Mother, regardless, kept the obligations of a child to her parent to the demonically haunted end of that woman’s life.
At sixteen, Mom left home. It was wartime, and there was work to be had in the national effort, first in Chicago and afterward in Washington, D.C. I have the ring my father took to war, engraved inside the band with a reminder that Mother was at home, waiting. She remained a virgin when they married four years later.
Dad lived until she was forty-eight. I remember forty-eight. You are neither young nor old in the years I thought then would count as my best. You are widowed. Two daughters, at times estranged and at needs reconciled, are on their own. You are raising a son who arrived late to the Greatest Generation and a niece adopted after the death of your youngest sister. Times are as difficult as you can imagine, and you cast about for connection … for a place where life can go on. I don’t remember Mother being big on movie-going, but she could quote Scarlett O’Hara: “Tomorrow is another day.”
What strength it is, I realize now, to keep going. To the limits of your strength and sanity, only to make it to another dawn where you may try again. People going through so much survive on the strength of self-preservation. There’s nothing extra for nurturing as in the luxury of better times. Pain is given and received in that place, and everyone is tested in their limits. Some of those are respected by circumstances … at other times life doesn’t care at all how difficult it is. You count victory in each sunrise.
Mother settled into another life eventually, with another soul whose memory gives me less hope than I would care to contemplate. A life followed—marginally better than her start—though through it all she found enough hope in her Catholic faith to see her win.
Mother’s life gave me more hope than I could have imagined through all our dark and painful years together. We reconciled with perhaps a decade left. Mother saw me publish my first novel and tried to read it, though her education left her unable to finish. She had the impression that Jon Anthony was a good boy, trying to better himself, and was proud of my debut title regardless. Her signed paperback was stolen by relatives from Chicago and never returned, and you may look for it on the used book market today. KMA, people.
As the saying goes, it’s not how you start, but where you finish. Mother finished in a third-rate nursing home five miles from where she was born. The Editress and I saw her there, to recover from a recent surgery in her last good days. She had her stroke about the time we walked in our own door after returning to the Perimeter in Texas.
Mother endured her last difficult days as she had all those prior in life, being too strong a woman to die quickly. She knew I had returned from Texas, and was glad, and aside from a single squeeze on my hand a couple days later, it was the last of our interaction. She managed the Lord’s Prayer with a hospice worker a short time later, ready, without a doubt in faith, to move on to the bright and better days awaiting a Christian soul. Now we miss her.
Understand this, young people: life is going to hurt. Pain is on the horizon as part and parcel of the landscape. Those difficult emotions have things to teach you concerning yourself and your place in the natural order. There is a Way Things Are, to which we’re subject and unable to escape in more convenient consensus or comforting delusional thinking. Your obligations to He who produced you are some of those Things.
Listen and learn from the perspective of valid faith gathered beforehand. Sooner is better, believe me, so you’ll end strong, like many have before you. Absent a perspective embracing clarity and appreciating your place in what God is doing, your soul doesn’t have a chance. I’ve seen it go both ways.
Sometime after Mother’s funeral I was in the Big Red Chair G. Gordon Kitty and I often shared. He was gone ahead as well, and I was dreaming. Mother was behind me, with her arms around my shoulders, younger than I had known her in life. I asked her if she still loved me. She answered, “I love you so much.” So hope goes that one day my hair will no longer be gray, that pain will be only a memory of lessons learned, and in the fruition of our Creator’s long work of life, things will be just as He meant for us.
If so blessed, don’t wait for the onset of poignant memories. Appreciate your loved ones now. Start from the top, where love unimagined in its intensity awaits with He who set you on this path of days, and work your way down in faith to the remainder of those who may be waiting. You and they have things to do … and we are all in this together.
Choose to love, -DA