Wednesday, February 08, 2012

A Farewell.

I have to say, this past Christmas was probably one of the worst I've had, yet at the same time, one of the better.

I'm sure I've mentioned before how my mother could drive me crazy, and at last, I just stepped away from the games and the verbal abuse a few years ago, and saw my mother only at family functions. I know she didn't feel good about herself, and that's where the insults came from, but that didn't mean I had to put up with it, and I still do not regret that.

But, as crazy as people can make you, you can still love them.

December 20th, I got a call from my sister: my mother had gone to the hospital where she'd just a few weeks before had scans and fluid drained from around her lungs for a breath test. They found fluid again, more than the first time (that was 1.4 litres) and were keeping her in. A bit of backtracking here, when she went in around the beginning of the month, they found nothing, drained the fluid, and my father was told there was blood in it. Although it wasn't always the case, the doctor said, it *could* be cancer. She was home a few days later. My mother being as hard-headed as she was (no mule could match her for stubborn), we figured it couldn't possibly be cancer: there was no way a cancer cell could survive in her body, she'd outlive us all.

But on the 21st, another call from my sister. One lung had collapsed, and they discovered a previously undetected tumour in her other lung. The doctor said it could be a few days, or a few months...

I drove up to Windsor with my sister, and my youngest daughter. My mother was in CCU (cardiac care unit), and appeared to be unresponsive. I told my daughter she could say hi to Grandma first.

"But she can't hear me" Allie replied, seeing the closed eyes.

"Yes, yes, she can hear you." I said. Allie stepped forward, said "Hi, Grandma" and my mother tried to speak, but the sound came out as grunts only.

I stepped forward, leaned over, put my hand on her arm and said "Mom, it's Sally, Allie and I are both here."

She tried again to speak, and struggled to pull her hands out from under the sheets. Dad helped move the sheet and mom lifted her arms for a hug.

Mom passed away just before 7 the next morning, December 22nd.

Two days later, Dad asked if I could go over, the minister was coming to speak with him about the memorial service, which was to be held after Christmas. The minister asked if anyone wanted to say anything, I can't remember if it was my brother that volunteered first, or if I did. Dad commented that of all 5 of us kids, he was sure it would be me and my brother that would get up in front of people to say something.

For the next few days, I wondered, what on earth to say. I hadn't spoken to my mother in a few years. I couldn't get up and say that. I couldn't get up and outright lie either. I thought of backing out, there was time...but then I remembered Dad's comment, and the look on his face, and felt that this was something I just had to do.

But the question of what to write was still there.

It had been years since I'd left high school, but waiting till the last minute for writing assignments 'way back' worked then, maybe it would work at least this one more time. The night before the service, I sat and I wrote.


Dear Mom:

I put this off, hoping it would be like when I was in high school: I'd just whip something up for my homework the night before, it was so easy to fill a page with words and be happy with the first draft. I wrote, setting my pen down on stark white paper and writing whatever came to mind. Tonight, it's not so different: I'm sitting staring at the stark white screen of my computer monitor, with my fingers fidgeting on the keyboard, but at the same time it's very different. I'm not writing from some corner of my mind, I'm writing from my heart. And although I'm not being graded today, the words are more important than anything I've written before.

What will I remember?

Laughter. Smiles. Silly little jokes, like the one where you perched on top of the television (back then, they weren't flimsy little flat screens) and making a crack about being “on” TV. Handmade playing cards cut from bristol board with drawings of trees on some of them. Learning to crochet from you, or trying to, being right handed it was difficult to learn from someone who was left-handed.

Your strength. There have been some rough, emotional times, and although you didn't always show it, on the inside, you were hurting as much as the rest of us.

There are also things I won't remember:

Mom, we didn't always see eye to eye on things, but this was okay: you and dad raised us to have our own opinions, and even if we did argue, there was never a doubt that love was still there.

I won't remember words said in the heat of the moment, or the times there were no words for days or weeks. There is no room for these memories.

What will I remember most?

The last time I saw you, Mom. We hadn't spoken much for some time. I saw you in the hospital bed, I said “Mom, it's Sally” and you raised your arms, I saw how difficult it was, for a hug, and I knew you still loved me.

As I woke up this morning, a poem I'd read in one of Mom's books suddenly came to mind, I'd like to add the first verse of Elizabeth's Allen's 'Rock Me to Sleep' here:

BACKWARD, turn backward, O Time, in your flight,
Make me a child again just for to-night!
Mother, come back from the echoless shore,
Take me again to your heart as of yore;
Kiss from my forehead the furrows of care,
Smooth the few silver threads out of my hair;
Over my slumbers your loving watch keep;—
Rock me to sleep, mother,—rock me to sleep!


I had worried that I would get up in front of everyone, and break down and be unable to finish. But I stood at the little podium, faced those who had known my mother, unfolded my paper and read. A calmness settled over me as I read, and I was able to read the entire piece, as short as it was, along with a comment before the poem, how I felt that the memory of the poem had been sent to me for a reason, that I was sure my mother would have wanted it read.

After all this, you may ask how this could have been one of my better Christmases?
I got to spend time with my father.