This one's for mom

The second anniversary of my mother's death is Sunday.
I'll be in the middle of the Nevada desert, howling at the moon with friends.
I wanted to post this on the anniversary, but it's good no matter the date.
She knows she is in my heart.
I know she taught me to be the best person I can be.

I wrote this right after her death.

Lessons learned from a life guided by grace, humor and dirt
True, it was my father who taught me how to fish; but it was my well-manicured mother who showed me that dirt was good.
No, she didn't set me outside, pat my bottom and say, "go forth and make a mess." I was self-taught, a quick study.

She did grant me the latitude to figure out that these things are good: bare feet from March through November; fishing for bullhead with rotten chicken livers swung from a cane pole; campouts with friends along drainage ditches, where for dinner we'd steal watermelons and sweet corn from a farmer's field (what she didn't know never hurt her); and trees - most species - are for climbing.

All lessons absorbed on how life is supposed to be conducted (for me, anyway).

She also taught me to play hard, but play fair. Work past my potential, and have fun doing it. Be honest, be direct - and have a great sense of humor. Jump into everything feet-first, without hesitation. Be fiercely loyal to those around you who matter.

She also taught me that life isn't fair.

My mother, MarciaG, died at 1:45 p.m. on Nov. 18.

It was not, I am certain, the death she envisioned - in a hospital bed on a terminal arc from the complications of chemotherapy. My mother was an intensely private person. She didn't like people to make a fuss.

By the time I reached Nebraska, she was on a ventilator. As I entered her ICU room, she immediately tried to talk past the tube in her throat. The nurse and my dad said it was the first time she had responded to anyone all day.

"I can assure you she's chewing my butt right now for being here," I said. "Waste of a perfectly good airline ticket when she thinks everything is going to be OK."

The nurse and my dad looked at each other, smiled and dad said, "You know, he's probably right."

But everything was not OK. The side effects from that final chemo treatment were devastating - it killed all of her germ-fighting white blood cells. She developed pneumonia in her lungs and a yeast infection in her blood. Then her kidneys quit. We began to prepare for the worst.

As private as she was, my mom also was a huge, bubbling personality. She was the keeper of all the family stories - she told them so magnificently that my older sister wet her pants once (as an adult) - and she always had a new joke to share. My brother-in-law, tears streaming down his cheeks, said he would miss mom's e-mails; "How great is it to get off-color jokes from your mother-in-law?"

At her funeral - attended by some 300 people - Father spoke of how the G home - when her five children were little - was the epicenter of fun for all the neighborhood kids.

"It was a place to gather," he said, "but it was also a place where you knew the rules. Marcia kept a tidy home, and expected it to remain that way."

Clean and tidy, yes, but here was a woman who knew of my affinity for dirt - and indulged in the habit. Across the harsh winters of my youth, she kept two ice cream buckets full of rich Nebraska soil under the kitchen sink. I could dump those buckets on our newspaper-covered kitchen table and play to my heart's content - as long as I kept the dirt off the floor.

Yeah, she ran a strict house, aside from my dirt fetish. But she often had no clue what we did out-of-doors (nor did we tell her until the statue of limitations - we had all reached college age - ran out). "I'm surprised you all made it out of your teenage years," she often remarked.

One fall day, my brother and I were raking leaves when we got the bright idea to make huge construction-paper airplanes, light them ablaze, and fly them into the piles. Just as my brother let one flaming aircraft go, my dad walked out onto the porch and yelled, "What the hell do you think you're doing?!?"

I had slipped around the corner - lighter in my hand - through the garage and quietly sat down in our family room.

"Did you see what your brother was doing out there?" my dad bellowed.

"Nope," I said. "What did he do now - and how are you going to punish him?"

In those finals days, all her favorite stories where recounted - through laughter and tears.

While she could no longer tell them herself, she figured out a way to communicate volumes. With her eyes, her eyebrows, shrugs and nods, she let us know that everything was going to be fine. Even after she chose to forgo dialysis and succumb to the inevitable.

Her two journalists, first sister and I, were telling her an unbelievable (but true) catty story on the morning she died - my sister, while now a college professor, is still a pretty good storyteller - and I watched as mom followed along with the story. Yet her eyes were locked on my face. For an instant, I must have looked worried, stricken, for she tilted her head...

And winked.

I laughed. Then I cried. And I knew I was all right - and will remain so.

For I am my mother's son; and she left me with one more story to share.


Hilda said...

That is so beautiful. Thank you.

Truth in the Trees said...

Thom, Even I miss your mother after that beautiful, touching piece. Thank you for sharing it.

Queen Of The Valkyries said...

What a sweet tribute to the woman who shaped you. You never fail to amaze me with your ability with the written word.