Saturday, May 7, 2011

Harder than I Thought

When I agreed to write a post about parents, I thought it would be fairly simple. I'm a pro. I figured I'd put in a couple of reminiscences from childhood, maybe a story of a road trip or a tribute to blue collar parents who determined their daughter would go to college. It's just a few hundred words. How hard could that be?

Then I woke up this morning and realized it was The Day. There are certain days in one's life that define your life. Those days that after that day your life is changed forever. May 7, 2007 is one of those days for me. It was the day my mother passed away following a massive stroke a few months before. Indeed, in less than a year she went from being a woman nearly blind who lived alone and did all her own housework to a woman who could barely move. Then one day she goes to the hospital in an ambulance, and a doctor tells us the news, we sit beside her for hours in the hospital room until someone from some mortuary arrives to take her away.

She had a good life, and our faith is strong that we will see her again - someday. But I'm selfish. I want that day to be today. My Dad passed away a few years before. I know it gets better with time.  And, yet, there are times I walk through a hardware store and think, "Hmmm... Maybe I'll get Dad that tool for Christmas" or I'll see an announcement for a TV show and reach for the phone to tell mother about it.

But beyond the ordinary experience of grief, the loss of your last parent is disorienting. I felt as if I had been set adrift in an ocean. My folks were the anchor to my past and the compass bearings to my future. Now, I was left to navigate by dead reckoning, and hope I was headed in the right direction as I began to rethink my life and my future.

Maybe it was because I am single. No spouse, no children to provide continuity.Yet, my sister said the same thing and she is married with eight children.  Maybe it is as one writer wrote, that we never truly grow up until our parents are gone. I don't know, but I felt lost, disoriented and abandoned. I felt anything but grown up.

Writing helped. That November I participated in National Novel Writing Month and wrote a story about a 50-ish college professor who lost her mother to a stroke and feeling uncertain about her future took a job on the moon. I didn't go that far, but somehow writing about a person that close to my own experience helped.

I was sitting in a restaurant the other day, and I heard a woman complaining about her mother's phone calls. I couldn't help but think I would give anything for just one more phone call from both my parents. Yet, I hear their voice in the background as I teach, their words blend with mine when I write, and I know that when my time comes to cross the great river, I will hear mother say, "Come on home dear. I have a place set at the table."


Roseanne Dowell said...

Terri, I absolutely understand where you're coming from. I lost my parents quite a few years ago (Mom 14 and Dad 11) and yet there are times it feels like yesterday. I remember when Mom died quite unexpectedly - my sister said - your parents are always supposed to be with you. Of course we knew that wasn't true, we knew that inevitable day would come. Istill reach for the phone to call Mom for a forgotten recipe. Yet, they're with us still - in our hearts, in our memories, ingrained in our brains. They shaped us, molded, taught us and let us out on our own to become independent, but we knew we could always go home. And yes, they're waiting for us across that big river, waiting for us to come home.
Thank you for sharing with us.

SherryT said...

Terri, thanks for the blog entry. You (and Roseanne) have my sympathies.

I mostly do get where you're coming from because I had somewhat related experiences. My favorite grandmother (who lived with us) died in 1982. My Dad died in 1985, after months in a coma. My Mom died in 2000, after a short time in a coma. (I was the one who had to choose about "pulling the plug" since I have no other relatives.)

I often dream about doing things with a couple or several of my family members. It's nearly always pleasant. Sometimes, as I'm waking up, I think I'm still at home and that my parents & grandmother are on the next floor.

I have spent the last 10 years trying to come to terms with the variety of strange relationships within my largely dysfunctional family, and with my attitudes toward especially my mother. (She was mentally ill & not easy to live with.) It's been very difficult for me but I've made some progress in seeing each of them more charitably especially over the last couple of years. I've come to realize, to my chagrin, that I could have done much better in those family relationships. So often, I let hurt and selfishness overcome love.

I'm not sure who will be there to greet me in Heaven and who will not. (We were only in the most nominal sense a Christian family.) However, I hope that I will have matured enough spiritually and emotionally by then that I will welcome the welcoming.
Under the Mercy,

Charlie said...

Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Terri. Your gracious sharing makes me anxious to spend the day with mother tomorrow and give her an extra big hug. She just turned 80 and it was a nervous birthday for her as her mother died just two weeks after her 80th b-day. My mom seems in good health, but ones never does know. Thanks again!
C.K. Volnek

Chelle Cordero said...

Absolutely beautiful post Terri, brought both tears and smiles to my face as I read it. I lost my folks in 1977 (dad) and 1979 (mom). I was fairly newly married, but we also lost my hubby's parents in 77 and 81. Not a day goes by that I don't miss them all, but it does become a part of life and we go on. It is true though, I often hear my parents coaching me, encouraging me and comforting me. I know tomorrow I will go to my mom's photo on my living room wall and wish her a Happy Mother's Day & tell her I love her... and I know I will feel her warmth. May you have a lovely day tomorrow.

Heather Haven said...

Lovely, Terri, simply lovely. My mother is 91, going strong, or as strong as you can at that age. She has wonderful determination and is extremely independent. I admire her for that. While I never take her for granted, we are 3000 miles apart, because she loves NYC and won't leave. But it will be hard for me when she goes. She, too, is my anchor. Thanks for a heartfelt blog, my dear.

Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz said...

Terri, thank you for sharing. My mom is still with us at 95, though her memory and strength are failing her. We cherish each day together not knowing when the end will come.

Barbara Ehrentreu said...

Terri I understand how you feel. I lost my father in my early thirties and my mother in 1990. When I lost my mother I felt as lost as you felt. I went back to school and became way more outspoken. It's a whole learning experience.

Thank you for sharing, and now I really understand the motivation behind your book.:)

J.Q. Rose said...

Terri, thank you for this heartfelt post. I am an orphan too. My dad died too soon 35 years ago and mom 19 years ago. Time does help heal the loss, but I still think I can't wait to tell Dad this or call Mom about that. Crazy. Sometimes I'll be grocery shopping and something happens that I think of Mom and get teary-eyed. They will always remain in my heart.

Terri main said...

Thank you all for your comments. I have to admit that Mother's Day (for a variety of reasons) can be hard for me. In some ways it was cathartic writing this down. My sister was mentioning how that having mother pass so close to Mother's day does affect how we deal with the day. Tomorrow, she will be with her kids, or at least the ones still in the area, at their church. I'm taking it easy at home and trying not to think too much about it being Mothers Day.

Shellie said...

Thank you for sharing, Terri. You've struck a strong chord for so many who walk in similar shoes. I pray your day is full of peace and unexpected pleasures.

joylene said...

I never fully appreciated my mum until she was gone. I just assumed she'd be around for years to come. She passed away 12 years ago. Young, only 79. Thanks for your tribute, Terri. Heartfelt and full of love. I bet your mum is beaming right now.

Nan D Arnold said...

Lovely post. I, too, am "orphaned". Nothing quite pepares you for parental loss, especially our mother's. Though gone, she's not forgotten. Thanks for your article.

Connie Arnold said...

Thanks for sharing the beautiful post, Terri. I certainly understand and sympathize with your feelings. It would be so wonderful to see or at least talk on the phone with my parents again, but at least there is the glorious assurance of being with them again some day. I like your vision of how your mother will greet you!

Larion aka Larriane Wills said...

very nice, Teri, and a tribute to your parents.

Sharon Gibson said...

Very sweet Teri. I am sorry for your loss. You are blessed to have them so long and also to have a close relationship with them. Mine both died when I was young. My dad, when I was in my twenties and my mom when I was thirty,
They do leave a void. My comfort has been this verse and have found it to be true, "Though your mother and father forsake you, the Lord will receive you." Psalm 27:10 (NIV)
There is a time to grieve, so let yourself grieve.

Sharon Gibson