Photos We Don’t Have

We are in the thick of planning for my mom’s Memorial Service/Celebration of Life, which is going to happen next month.  My mom didn’t want this.  In all the times (at least five) she brought up her wishes for what she wanted,  she specifically and explicitly said that she didn’t want a memorial service.  She wanted to be cremated and she wanted us kids to take her ashes and spread them in the UP.  In the times we talked about it, she mentioned specific details: there was birch forest, there were cliffs overlooking Lake Superior, there was a log slide, a place close by that served breakfasts on turkey platters.  In the past 5 months, I have done extensive research and I think I have the place narrowed down.  I think I know where she wants her ashes spread.

The other part of her wishes, were that she wanted it to be easy on us kids.  She didn’t want a memorial service that was going to require planning, or messing up any grandkid sports schedules.  She didn’t want us all boo-hooing about what a great woman she was, what a pillar of the community, etc.  Essentially, she wanted an Irish Goodbye, slipping away unseen and unnoticed.

And I respect the shit out of that.

Slipping out of a party lets the leaver avoid hard conversations, having to answer questions about where you’re going, why so early, why don’t you want to stay at this party?  It also decreases the likelihood of the conversations after, like, “Can you believe her?  Who does she think she is?  Like she had some place better to go?” or even the less biting, like, “That was an interesting choice for her hair?”  Or the one that scares the hell out of me whenever I am putting on primer mascara before going out, “Did she really do white mascara?  What IS that?” (technically, this happened one time, I went to a 40th birthday party and forgot too put mascara on top of the primer- which is never a good look when your eyes are what make you look old.  Shout out to my “friends” who didn’t say anything about it… Y’all the real MVP).

So, we’re doing this memorial service/celebration of life as a picnic and my dad is working on a scrapbook of my mom’s life.  Which requires photos.

And I don’t think we have many.

There are reasons for this.

First, it was a different time.  During her life, photography included digital photos taken on phones on cameras, digital photos taken on cameras, 35mm that you sent away to be developed, instant cameras, polaroids and everything that came before that.  For much of our childhood, my mom had nice 35mm cameras, but an 8 year old cannot be trusted with those.  So, the majority of her life, which was spent with us kids, included 3 humans who could not be trusted to hold a camera, focus it, etc.

Second, since my dad didn’t have the time or the inclination for being around us, there wasn’t another adult who thought it was important to document our lives. The lives still needed to be documented- pictures taken for Christmas cards, and the grandparents and and aunts and uncles.  The conesequence is that, we have a ton of photos of us kids.  Like, one could piece together our growing up and developing, almost before the camera.  Which is great.  But she was behind the camera.  So there are so very few of her.

Third, she seemed uncomfortable in front of the camera.  I am not sure if she always struggled with her weight, or if it was just the thing that happens to women when they have children.  Before she married my dad, she was an absolute smoke show.

momsadle

Later, I just always got the sense that she didn’t want her picture being taken.

So we don’t have many photos of her.

Photos I WISHED I had: I wish I had pics of her and me on first days of school.  I wish I had pics of her, Nicole, JJ, and me during the few years when all three of us played soccer and spent our weekends driving all over the state.  I wish that I had a pic of her with me before each of the formal  dances I went to in high school, she made two of the three dresses I wore.  I wish I had a pic of her when I signed my letter of intent to play soccer at Lee University.  I wish I had a photo of us during any one of the drives we made between Tallahassee and Florida when she’d come up to babysit Nico during weeks when his preschool was closed.  I wish that we had made Dave or my brother-in-law or someone take pics of the three of us kids with her in Texas.  There are so many.

It makes me think about the photos I take with Nico- a lot of selfies.  It’s weird to ask other people to take pictures of you, even your husband, I think.  But I should be better about asking Dave to take pictures of Nico and me (and maybe Dave just needs to be better about taking pictures of Nico and me without having to be asked).  But even that is weird… like for all of our relationship that hasn’t been us.  We don’t post on FB or Insta pics with captions like, “He is my world, I wouldn’t know what I would do without him, love ya babe, yada yada yada.”  I think we’re just old enough to be self-conscious of that kind of social media behavior.  Or maybe 16 years together ingrains patterns that are hard to break. 

I guess the lesson here is if you’re a parent, make sure that your kid/s will have pics of them with the people they care about: moms, dads, grands, aunts, uncles. Some day those photos will be the only thing they will have left.   I wish I had more photos with my mom. 

 

Posted in mom

Hard Words

My mom died.

It’s weird to type that.  Even though I knew at some point that it would happen, I really didn’t think that I would ever type that specific sentence.  My mom died.

I think I am handling it well.  Or maybe I’m not. I haven’t started doing drugs.  I haven’t started drinking more than I used to.  I have been able to get out of bed to go to work. I haven’t started to engage in risky behaviors and I don’t think I am “flying off the handle” any more or any less than I did when she was alive.

I have played soccer games and gone to the gym.  I have moved offices at work and donated books to the little free library in my neighborhood.  I have watched my kid play soccer.  I have taken naps.

I’m just a little sad.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, I am not a kid. Technically, I am not an orphan, so this shouldn’t be traumatic for me.  I mean, most of us are going to lose our parents.  Most of us will bury our parents, with our children and partners by our side (or not).  When parents die, mostly, we are grownups, capable of handling such an earth shattering event, dealing with it, and continue to put one foot in front of the other.

turbulentsea

“Ship in turbulent sea” by Franz Müller-Gossen

There is a lot about her death that I just flat out object to; things that I don’t feel were right or that I felt powerless to stop or effect.  I am only two weeks into this situation and I can promise you that I have an opinion about some stuff.  Feel free to hit me up for advice when the time comes.

But there are also some things that were good about it, if there really is such a thing as a “good” death.

She was a hard person to love. While she loved us kids fiercely and ferociously, she was from a different era, when spoiling your children was to ruin them, for certain.  She was harsh in the sense that she saw the floundering and failings of children as reflective of their parents.  In her book, there was very little that a person could do in life to make up for raising a terrible kid.  I think she honestly thought that she would be judged by how we turned out.  She wanted us to be capable of hard work, of discipline, and sacrifice.  The result was that while each of us kids has our different emotional baggage, we definitely did walk around like we were better than everyone else.

Spoiler Alert: We were.  We were smarter, better students, better athletes, harder working, and generally more agreeable to be around than all of our peers.  That is a fact.  Sorry haters.

However, there wasn’t a lot about our childhoods that was easy- there weren’t a lot of hugs and hearts and flowers in our house.  Some days it was easy to think that she didn’t love us. I remember days being dropped off at school in the morning and being so upset and angry and anxious that I was glad I was late so that I could calm the fuck down before walking into class.  And while we did walk around with an air of superiority (despite all available evidence to the contrary), she inflicted onto each us our anxieties.

But here is where the sword cuts both ways; while she is directly responsible for most of the emotional baggage that her kids carried with them as young adults (and maybe some of it that we carry to this day), she also gave us the things that we needed to leave.  Each of us was absolutely unafraid to go out into the world, to leave the nest, and have 100% confidence that before we hit the ground, we’d figure out how to fly. We knew how to work, to plan, to sacrifice, and to be disciplined.  We were fearless, each of us in our quest to make something of ourselves and to go out in the world away from SW Florida and do something. And while each of us are figuring out what this is, we haven’t let fear of leaving and the unknown stop any of us.

My mother was 20 when her mother died.  She’d already lost her father when she was a kid, so when my grandmother died, mom and her brothers were orphaned.  In addition to her older brother, there were also two younger brothers, one of whom was still  in high school.  But when her mother died, some of my mom’s dreams died, I think.  She’d set aside some of her goals and plans to work and keep her family together. Two years later, she’d be married and two years after that, she’d give birth (to me).  She seemed hell-bent on ensuring that we were comfortable outside of our comfort zone, so we wouldn’t be afraid to leave.

My grandmother’s death, was not a surprise, as she was ill for 6 months and spent the last month in hospital.  And while she would never have said it outright, I think Mom resented those last six months, having to keep the house together and being forced to be responsible for everyone else.  On many occasions, she made it clear that she didn’t want a long drawn out death.  She didn’t want to “ruin” multiple years of holidays with her impending death.  And in many ways, she died like she lived: quietly and without a lot of fuss.  In fact, if you told me that she invented the Irish Goodbye, I wouldn’t doubt it.  Not for one second.

Her death, while horrible and absolutely not in line with what I would have chosen for her, wasn’t really that bad.  It was quick- she was in hospice for less than a week.  Her brothers, my sister, brother and I all got to spend time with her in her final days- Nicole and I were there for the first few days, then Nicole and JJ traded.  We filled the room with talk about the old days and outrageous tales of when she and her brothers were younger.  Her room was quiet and dark and us kids kept the music going; Springsteen, Goo Good Dolls, Garth Brooks, and Counting Crows.

And it wasn’t a surprise when it happened. She just slipped away.

Even if the nurses hadn’t said so, I had a sense that it was close.  She had gone from being in a sort of agitated anxious state the first night, talking and responding to us to less agitation, less angst, smaller responses. Less.  She was still.

The last night, her brothers headed back to their hotel (after our dinner of pizza and Coke in the room).  Mom, while she wasn’t engaging, I think sensed we were there.  My dad headed back to the house.  JJ and I were settling in for the night (they let us stay with her in hospice).  A couple of our favorite nurses were like, “it won’t be long.”  I think Mom settled when the room quieted down and decided it was time.

I have seen things about death and how much of an honor it is for someone to let you be in their presence when they die.  Some argue that a soul will hang on as long as necessary for the right time to depart.

Now, I don’t know about that.

But, when she passed, it was the way she would have chosen, slipping away quietly, without a lot of fuss.  Just JJ and I were there, listening to Springsteen’s Broadway Album.

Obviously, I’m still processing this.  But I am so incredibly thankful that I was able to be there with her in the end.  The one thing that I wanted when she got sick back in November was that she wouldn’t die alone.  And she didn’t.  In my book, that was good.