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It comes and it goes and usually when I least expect it. The pain that is, the pain and the loss of that person I consider the single most influential person in my life. Thankfully it was quick and it was painless. Two months to the day from when she ran around the neighborhood taking care of business like she always did and then, she was gone. I am not sure if I have even begun to truly grieve, or maybe I never stopped. I guess it has been a lifetime of grieving for a woman, my mother, who suffered a lifetime of pain most of which was no fault of her own. Sure she had some part in her hardships yet her part for more for lack of having the skills necessary to teach her brood life skills. That to me just doesn’t warrant the grief she experienced at the hand of others.
I would be lying to you if I said I am not bitter, not angry and how life for her, for us, often turned out. She lost my sisters father to a disease and been the one to take care of him as a young twenty-four year old girl. It took a lot out of her. It was a subject she only in these past few years would begin to talk to me about. She had lost brothers and relatives in bad ways, ways that no one would want to lose their loved ones. She had been through the ringer many times. I would be remiss if I were not honest about the truth of my feelings and what or who I hold responsible and feel was at least partly responsible for too often difficult life and the fair shake I feel she never really got. But what good would it do to lash out at them for they can no longer help themselves and yet somehow feel as if they deserve to be taken care of now. For that person I did what I had to do less out of some sense of obligation and more because no else would have. Still, being bitter was not my mother’s way at least not that she would have allowed us to see in her. No, she was grateful for life itself. Did she deserve to be bitter? You’re goddamn right she did! She sure did and would have had every right to let it show yet she never did. Even now I find it difficult to fill this page with these words as I know she is no longer here with me to ask about it all so I will never get an answer to some questions yet I did receive closure and gratitude at her end.
I have known the feeling of being lonely many times in my life but until she left us I have never known the feeling of feeling totally alone.
I could tell you we always got along but that wouldn’t be true. Like any parent and child we fought and we fought to understand each other and who the other was. I can say we found laughter together far more than we did disagreement. She, I and my little brother laughed our heads off at dinner and out walking the neighborhood. We would argue and then at the end laugh. Ma always said, “we argue then we laugh our heads off, that’s how we do it, always have always will”. How very she was. She used to sign cards and little notes she gave me “Love Lill, mom and friend”. She was my mother but she saw her kids as friends because she knew the struggles we went through and for those she felt everything we went through but I suppose that’s what moms do, internalize all of their children’s struggles.
Yes she was mother, friend and confidant. She was the woman I could say anything to and know it would never leave her. She was my confessional. She was the woman who pushed the couch in front of the door when the cop came for me as a teenager, giving me just enough time to get out the back and down the street and the one who told me to get my act together. She was the woman who traveled fifteen-plus-hundred miles on a crowded bus to a Nevada state prison just outside Las Vegas to see her eighteen year old son doing four years behind bars in a dirty desert penitentiary and kept a smile on her face the whole time. She was the woman who told me while on her hospital bed to make sure I took care of my father the man who used her for a physical and emotional punching bag regularly during their thankfully brief marriage. She was the woman who told me to trust in God and the Roman Catholic Church when I had doubts. She was the woman who could recite from memory every Catholic Pope’s name and birthday. She was the woman who told me she knew I had trouble believing in the Church and what they taught but wanted me to know how it helped her get through her life, the good and the bad, the Church never let her down. She was the woman who after a lifetime of taking care of herself and living life on her own terms allowed me to help her into the car and pack up her food at the table after dinner. The waitress would come over and ask of she wanted her food wrapped and she would simply point an elderly finger toward me and say “nah, just a box please, my son will wrap it up” as my baby brother would pull her chair out and help her put her coat on.
My sister once said, for what she might have lacked in life skills she could not impart on us she was able to teach us by what she did not know how to do and she was able to teach us how to survive because unlike many people, she knew how to survive.
It was never far from my mind how much like her I am and always was. She would say that I was like her more than I knew. I would look at photos and see how we smiled alike or our eyes shown in the same painfully forlorn way. I think she naturally hurt inside more than most and that is a gift she gave to me, the gift of empathy. I possess her general suspicion of people unknown and her steadfast loyalty to her family. God forbid you ever say anything negative about her brothers or sons and we were a rough lot but in her eyes we could do no wrong. I am proud to be just like her and have learned enough to know what I have to be cognizant of in the years to come.
I have no regrets. I remember as a little boy after a particularly vicious battle between my ma and dad, I lay in my top bunk bed a few short feet from the low ceiling and prayed to god as I understood Him to be at that time and asked for nothing for myself but for the chance to be there for my ma when she needed. I recall a short ten years ago while laying on a hospital bed in Los Angeles California after a brutal and very major heart attack once again found myself asking God to not yet take me as I needed to be there for my ma in her time of need, whenever that might be. So here we are ten years later and I came home for my yearly four-month visit to ultimately decide it was time to be here for a while. I did what I had to do for my dad and something I am not sure what made me realize it’s time to be here with ma too. Fortunately I have the luxury of a fluid enough lifestyle that I could make a decision to uproot from Southern California and stay home in Chicago with a few minor adjustments. It’s been a year and a half now and just as we always have we spent quality time together mostly my ma, baby brother and I. It has always been us through the think and thin and mostly hard times with the good time being in the last two decades laughing and arguing and joking. I have been able to spoil them as much as I could not only at Christmas but anytime as often as I could. God has blessed me tenfold with what I asked Him for.
She ran and she ran never slowing down for a day. She always had business to attend to and things going on. Politics, the Church, doctors, the USO the neighborhood with her brothers, nieces, nephews and kids, there was always something to do. She was tight with family. Until that day on Christmas Eve when we went to dinner for the first time ever I commented to my uncle her remaining brother that something was off with her. I could not put my finger on it but I saw it. My brother knew it well before I did months earlier but I didn’t see it or maybe I didn’t want to see it. That night I gave her a kiss and my brother walked her up to her apartment.
I received the call on the morning of the 26th of December. Living in a senior public housing building a wellness check was done on her only to find her laying on her couch unable to move for two days. She was conscious when I arrived and very alert simply unable to move. Fortunately being close to her in the neighborhood I was in a cab and there in minutes. When I went to her apartment she knew I was there and didn’t want to go to the hospital but she knew I had to make her go. She didn’t fight me. She knew and I knew it was time for the next step in her life. From that day on for two months to the day she would eat very little and only grow weaker. In and out of the hospital and nursing home in the neighborhood she felt a sense of security and safety something not often experienced in her life. By the Grace of God she was able to get into the nursing home we would at times talk about going should she ever have to the same one her mother before her quietly went to sleep one night and departed peacefully.
One night while seated by her side holding her hand in the nursing home she asked me if she could talk about her life. Amazed and grateful I listened. I said nothing while she talked weakly but truthfully. Yes there were things she confided that I know will always stay with me. It was about her feeling okay with letting it all go and safe with me listening. I guess the thought had crossed my mind she was relieving herself and neither I nor she even knew it. Somewhere in the back of my mind I think I knew but pushed the thought back into my mind. Who wants to think about losing the single biggest influence in their life? Ma was never the kind to throw around the words “I love you”, no, you just knew because she showed you by her actions. Not since I was a young boy had I heard her say the words. I still have visions of her bent over arms wide and her clapping her hands as my brother and I ran into her waiting arms. Maybe because she grew harder as she grew older. She held my hand and when I least expected it and truthfully was not looking for it because I had no doubt in my heart and mind, she simply said, “I love you Stevie and always have”. I don’t know if I cried because she said what I already knew again after so long or because I knew the significance of it. What I did know in that moment was that I had made the right choices in these past several years of my life and that God blessed me tenfold with what I had prayed for that night in my bunk bed as a little boy in the middle of the brutal fighting and screaming. He gave me all I asked for and more. He allowed me to be of service and love to everything she needed when she knew she needed it and she felt safe in good hands and never once felt alone. Just the knowing that she felt safe and knew we were there was more than I can ever ask for. Through all of the insanity and questionable times in my life I didn’t let ma down. I was able to be there by her side, be present and be ready for her when she most needed. Nothing, not one single thing fell out-of-place from the time my ma entered the hospital and nursing home until the day she left us quietly in her sleep. God answered my every single prayer. Just like ma had taught me He never abandoned us.
The meeting with her doctors and the family decision to place her hospice was hard on me. I didn’t want to do t even though knew it to be the right thing. Yet my siblings knew better as did her remaining brother. I signed off on it with the condition she be returned to the nursing home to live in comfort and safety instead of under the sounds of the beeps and buzzing of hospital equipment.
One Sunday I came by for me regular visit and she was awake, sitting up and alert and bragged she even ate some food, something she had not done in weeks. She spoke of getting a wheelchair and she, my brother and I would walk around the neighborhood and go to our favorite restaurant for dinner and the park for a walk and Walgreen where she liked to stroll the isles, it reminded her of the old downtown Chicago State Street Goldblatt’s Department Store where we would go with her as kids and get the blue light special at the cafeteria. Like so many other things that was now gone. We talked and she smiled and she asked me to give her my hat which I gladly did. Ma was a hat person, she loved hats especially if it were my hat LOL. That gave her special license to swipe it. We made plans for he coming week of things we would do. Still, I knew even on a good day we could not do them but I could never say no. I simply kept reminding her that she was getting better and stronger everyday to which she smiled and said; “I am right”? When I left I gave her a kiss and said “see you tomorrow ma”.
I was able to see her the next day but she slept, something else she had trouble doing, and I just couldn’t wake her. I’m not sure why But i called my brother and told him to come down see her but he was already on the bus to do just that. he visited but he too did not want to wake her so he stayed a while and left. Early that evening as I turned the corner on my way back to visit with her is when I received the call. Ma had gone at 5:30 pm March 7th quietly in her sleep. No more needles, tests, hospital gurney. She went to her next life peacefully, painlessly and feeling safe in her sleep. I was able to spend time with her before they took her. Everyone who she would have wanted to came to be by her side in her time. The room was crowded with those who loved her those whose live’s she had affected.
A lot of these last few weeks has been a blur. Making arrangements and getting ready for her mass has kept me from thinking too much about it. Now, that I sit here it settles in on me I cannot pick up the phone and hear her voice as she answers. No more late night diner stops with her and my baby brother. Just as I promised her we will all look after him. Oh how I miss her. My biggest inspiration in life, my hero. A woman who did so much with so little and taught us to survive. The consolation I have is that I was able to do right by her in life, in her time of need and in her passing.
My brother and I had dinner tonight and I talked to him as he talked to me, and himself. he spilled food on his shirt and I groaned and then we smiled and laughed . We argue, laugh, moan and laugh before we split up for the night. because that’s the way ma would have wanted it. That’s the way we do it, always have always will. We never say goodbye. What is life about if not being there with those you love when they most need. What more can I ask for?