My mother died at the beginning of November two and a half years ago. She never approved of my choices and our relationship had dwindled down to speaking on the phone once a month. Mostly, the monthly conversations amounted to her telling me how bad my choices were.
In part, I moved back to Michigan in August 2012 because after she had complained about her hip hurting and a subsequent ultrasound revealed a pelvic fracture. She told me she had lung cancer and her bones were weak from chemotherapy. That was how I found out she had lung cancer. I looked for work in earnest in Michigan and took what turned out to be a horrible job teaching in a charter school. My mom fell the end of July, went into hospital, then to a nursing home. Ironically, I visited my mom infrequently because I could not be sick and go see her; working with small children from August on, I was always sick; and the charter school company did not give us any benefits like sick days. The last week in October, my aunt Mary called me and told me my mother’s condition was deteriorating. Two of my children and I drove to see my mother. She had aged decades in a matter of a few weeks. She had sores in her mouth and was no longer eating. She drifted in and out of clarity. To see her, my heart sunk. My mother had always been active– she loved to hike and hunt for morrel mushrooms or be out on the river fishing all day. My mother had been beautiful with a vivacious smile, twinkling blue eyes, and gold-blonde hair. She now stooped in a wheelchair, her eyes were sunken, and her hair was thin and brittle from recent chemotherapy. The change in her condition hit me like the universe coming down on my head. We are all so fragile, things change in a heartbeat, and nothing is forever.
My kids visited with grandma for a bit and then I called my ex-husband to come and get them. My aunt and I sat with my mom through the weekend. The oxygen tube hurt her nose and I got angry glares every time I replaced it. She did not speak except to nod in affirmation when asked if she wanted some whiskey and to say that she did not want to die. She reached for things unseen. She was on as much morphine as was possible and was still in pain. She fought to hang on and the battle was fierce. The nurses kept saying she could go anytime. My aunt and I kept reassuring her it was ok to let go.
Near the end, my mother’s vital signs indicated her body was losing the battle and we were moved to a different room. My aunt left the room for a few moments to speak with my uncle. I sat with my mother and her body appeared to sag and go still. She had died.
Over that weekend I found out things about my mother and my life I had never known. Our mothers are not just our mothers and oriented around the relationship of giving birth to us. This is just one of many of their roles/faces. Some women joyously embrace the role of stereotypical motherhood; embrace sewing Halloween costumes, baking cookies, and more; and find much meaning in the role. But not every woman does– even those who are mothers. Our mothers were young girls once upon a time. They had aspirations and visions of what their lives would look like that maybe they have achieved and maybe they never were able to. They made choices along the path of their lives that lead them to where they are now.
My mother’s day wish for everyone is to get to know your mothers as individuals. Bring her flowers, sit with her, ask her what she wanted when she was 13 or 17, and get to know your mother’s choices, the history of her life, and who she is. Please listen with compassion.