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When It Was Time To Say Goodbye

February 23, 2018

I have waited several years to release this very personal post. The time just finally seemed right, so here it is:

Few if any things in life are as hard as saying goodbye to your mother. It is not something that may be postponed nor ignored. It is perhaps one of the most important moments in most of our lives, yet we have been poorly prepared for this eventuality. At least, that is what I have come to know.

I have lived a good life. Perhaps it has not been as plentiful as I had once hoped for. And certainly, there could have been more money, more things. But I was the beneficiary of what used to be called a good upbringing, the product of a whole family and of a time when life was occupied more by learning and less by watching others on the evening news. My childhood in the early 1950s was gentle but firm and at the center there was always my mother. This was the era of the stay at home mom and it was from this home that everything was ultimately connected.

It was my mother who took an interest in my education, taught me how to read and how to think critically for myself. It was my mother who always stood behind me, right of wrong, in my attempt to assert myself onto this life. It was she who assured me, it was she who scolded me and it was always my mother who gave me that extra little push that inspires a person in living this life. My mother, above anyone else on earth, was my best friend, although I didn’t come to realize this until I was over forty years old. One late evening in November, 1958 I recall that my mother stopped in my room to say goodnight. There in the still darkness, she shared with me the simple story of my birth. She glanced at her watch in the reflected light from the bathroom and said, “It was just about now, at 10:15 that you were born.” It was a simple statement of fact but such love and a tremendous feeling of sharing accompanied it.

I came late in life to finally understand both of my parents and to appreciate them. It is a path that most of us have traveled. I was headstrong as a youth and it was my mother who let me fall, let me fail so that I might learn life’s lessons on my own. I was often treated in a matter of fact manner as I was indeed expected to fend for myself. When I graduated college, there was no party given to honor the event; it was simply expected of me. My mother did not do things in my stead; rather, she showed me as a teacher how to construct my own solutions. Yet, she was always there when push came to shove to let me know that she was in my corner. This woman was not a saint. She was my mother.

When I insisted on getting married at the age of twenty-one, my mother privately objected to the decision but supported my young bride and me fully. When I became divorced and a single father four years later, it was my mother who provided me with the encouragement to go on with the huge task of raising a child by myself. I never heard, “I told you so.” Silence is golden from our parents too.

After my second marriage many years later, I had finally matured to the point where I could truly appreciate my parents as people. Yes, they were young once themselves with all of the problems of love, despair and struggle that I had experienced. My mother was once very beautiful and a true catch in those years that followed World War II. It is odd that it takes so many decades to view your parents as equals. My mother brought my new wife into her life and treated her like a daughter. These were good times and filled many years with the joy that can only be found in the closeness of family.

As time raced forward with the certain knowledge that all things end, I became more and more involved with my parents’ lives and especially with my mother. We shared a common intellect and curiosity of life and its trivial nuances. I could call her in the middle of the night and ask her the name of an unidentifiable character actor in a 1938 film. She always knew the answer. My mother was a woman of extraordinary intellect and she was extremely well read. And so we shared many good years, full of good feelings and love. I can say with certainty that she and my father both knew that I loved them very much.

Sadly, people get old and so did my mother. Her smoking caught up with her and she had a small heart attack. Spared death, she recovered and stopped smoking only to face the trauma of a broken hip. From there, the road was downhill and she knew it and felt it intensely. She became more melancholy and enjoyed life a great deal less. More and more, my wife and I were present at her house, helping my father take care of her and helping her take care of my father. They were both stubborn and preferred to do things for themselves until at last they could not. These were proud people and it was sad to see them in need of so much help.

As my mother’s health declined, her spirit broke in succession. She wasn’t enjoying life anymore and felt that she had already drawn her full measure from her life. At last, she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma (bone cancer), but given a good prognosis and a life expectancy of perhaps eight more years. It was the summer of 2001 and my mother was 76 years old, young by today’s geriatric standards. I told her that everything would work out and to try to regain a positive outlook. She completed her first series of chemotherapy and we made arrangements for home nursing to help her with the transition. Things were looking up. My wife and I had previously planned a trip to Europe and so with everything in apparent control and with my mother’s blessing, we departed.

After a week and a half in Italy, our phone rang one night with my brother at the other end. Things had turned badly very quickly and my mother was gravely ill. I called the hospital to which she had returned and spoke anxiously to an army of doctors and nurses. I was assured that everything would turn out all right and that although her condition had slipped dramatically, she would soon return to satisfactory health. But I knew my mother, perhaps a bit better than the doctors. I called her and spoke to her directly in honest tones, telling her that even though she was doing better I planned to return home immediately. She said, “I’m sorry I screwed-up your trip.” I assured her that she hadn’t and that I loved her. She said, “I love you too,” and those were the last words I ever heard from her. I took a long walk with my wife into the mountains of Italy’s Tirol and reflected on the past and the days that laid precariously ahead.

And so when I arrived in haste at my mother’s side, the hospital seemed a bit surreal. There were doctors, nurses, and family members all gathered around. The moment had arrived and I was deeply scared. Yet, I was there for one person alone, my mother. She was lying, mostly unconscious, in a hospital bed and undeniably she was dying. Without preparation, I seemed to know what needed doing and what needed to be said. I stroked her head gently and in her last semi-conscious moments of life assured her that it was all right to go; it was time to say goodbye. We said all of the good honest things to one another during life. We had not saved all of it for the end. A small tear rolled down her cheek when she heard my voice and realized her oldest son was with her. Then it was done.

My father used to say that death is for the living to bare and that for the dead there is no pain. I came to know this all too well when it was time to say goodbye.

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From → America, Family, Italy

4 Comments
  1. KiM permalink

    I’ve shared one similar very personal post about my dad and I found it hard to hit the post button, like sharing my thoughts was revealing too much into my life and my memories. Reading your story was very touching. Thank you for sharing. We hear so much about bad upbringings that it’s nice to hear from others who had a happy family life, who honored and respected their parents. Seems like there isn’t enough of that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kim – I wrote this when we lived in Italy over 12 years ago. While I have shared it with friends who just lost one of their parents, I waited a long time to go public. You’re right – It’s hard.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I was not there for the passing of either of my parents. My dad was in a VA hospital that was more than an hour away, and he died alone. My mother was in a NJ nursing home, and died of Alzheimer’s. I did experience death first hand, however, when my mother-in-law passed away. My wife, my sister-in-law, and I were there when Mommy took her last breath as she lay unconscious following a stroke. If a death can be beautiful, hers was. I only hope that when I die, I’m surrounded by so much love. I think that is all any of us can wish for.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joe – Thanks for you insights. Death is very personal and perhaps the hardest subject to write about. I often joke with my wife that I want a “professional” to write my obituary, therefore I should write it myself.

      Like

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