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Archive for May, 2009

So, the family gathering took place. It was an interesting get-together, really. I saw some people that I haven’t seen in a very long time, as well as some that I’ve seen quite recently.  No, it wasn’t a horror show, as the title of this post might suggest.

If you hadn’t been aware of the situation, you really would have thought that it was just a huge family gathering. Adults clustered in small groups to talk and catch up, greetings were exchanged, lots of little kids were playing in the back yard. There was the required aroma of food cooking on the grill, all of the set up to get things together, and then the eating, of course.

My mother was doing quite well Sunday. She looked rested, she was lively and engaged people in conversation a lot, and she even wandered around the yard talking to people. While she had her oxygen there, she didn’t need to use it. She wasn’t her old lively self, but she was doing quite well.

There were a couple of things that I noticed, though, that were different from past gatherings of the family. There was very little alcohol. That’s a good thing – my Mom’s family is, as I’ve mentioned, Irish Catholic, and for years the massive consumption of alcohol was a part of those gatherings. There was some beer there, but not a lot, and the drinking level was way down, which made for a quieter, much more friendly atmosphere.

As things wound down, something else was different. Normally at these gatherings, most people just said, “Goodbye,” as they were walking out the door. It was when people were leaving that it was glaringly apparent that something was different about this reunion. As each person got ready to leave, they came to my Mom and hugged her – most of them lingeringly – and said goodbye to her quietly. And when, after three-and-a-half hours she had tired to the point of needing to go home, she went quietly to a lot of people there, and the same exchange took place. While I didn’t see any open crying, I did see some eyes welled up as she said goodbye to her family.

I told my daughter last night as we were talking that I wouldn’t have even told her about this gathering, except for two things. First, I had been openly invited to it, which is an unusual happening. Second, when my Mom told me that she did not want a funeral, but that she wanted this party to take the place of one, I knew I had to let her know about this. My daughter and son-in-law had to come from Alabama. Just a party would not have been good enough cause for me to have them drag their way up here to the barren north. This was important, though. The importance became crystal clear to me as I watched my usually undemonstrative family members as they said their goodbyes to my mother.

So, my trepidation wasn’t really justified. There was some coolness from a couple of people, but for the most part, everyone was fine. It’s amazing how we can sometimes project things.

What was ultimately the most important part of this, though, was that my mother got to spend some time with most of her family. I hope that it’s not the last time that she’ll see them, but if it is, I think that her goodbyes have been said.

As for me, well… As I said goodbye to my mother Sunday, with my daughter next to me, it did start to hit me, I guess. My daughter went her way as we approached the house, and I headed towards the front door. My favorite uncle (Mom’s youngest brother), was sitting on the porch with his wife. I don’t know what was on my face, really. But he looked at me, and all he said was, “Oh, I know, Steve. I know.”

Now the hard part begins…

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So, tomorrow is family gathering day.  I’m viewing this with a little bit of trepidation. There will be kids, grandkids, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, etc., all gathered together. While there may be a good bit of denial going on among some, if not most of the people who will be gathering tomorrow, my Mom made it quite clear to me that she views this as a part of her “departing,” for want of a better word.

No matter how I look at this, it is for me the official beginning of the process of saying goodbye to my mother. And this is a process that I simply do not want to start. It sounds odd, but I feel as though by starting the process, I’m making it final. Oh – there’s that stupid denial thing rearing its head again…

My Mom, bless her heart, when I told her that I would be there, asked me if I’m sure that I’m ready to face this entire tribe of relatives. I believe I’ve mentioned that I’m something of a black sheep. I told her that I’m sure. The point is that even in these moments, preparing to spend what in some cases will be her last time with family members, her concern was for me and my comfort level.

Frankly, I don’t really care if there are people who don’t want to acknowledge my presence there tomorrow. I’m going there for my mother, and no one else. I’m sure there will be looks, I’m sure there will be people who talk after I’ve left. I really don’t care.

What I do care about is trying to learn how to do what I need to do in what time my mother has left. I don’t know what to do, though. I don’t know what “the right thing” is. All I can do is stumble along through this, and hope that I get it right.

I suppose I won’t know if I’ve gotten it right until after my mother is gone. That sucks, but it’s also my present reality check. Actually, at this point in my life, I’m pretty much convinced that reality in general sucks.

It’s a sobering thing when you come to realize that you’ve taken an awful lot of people in your life for granted. As I think about my mother – how much I neglected to visit her, to tell her I love her, to spend time with her – I realize that I’ve done that at various points throughout my life with other people. People whom I should have taken the time to make sure were aware of how much I love them. People who should never have had cause to wonder how I feel, or how important they are to me.

An extremely close friend told me that she always ends a conversation with a person she loves by saying, “I love you.” That way, she said, if the unthinkable should happen, you can at least know that your last words to that person were those critically important three little words. It’s a simple thing, but so very profound. But then, the profound is usually quite simple, isn’t it?

So, I will be off to a family gathering tomorrow, baked beans (my contribution to the food supply) in hand, and some trepidation in my heart. There, I’ll be “officially” beginning the process of saying goodbye to my mother.

God, I don’t want to do this…

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I went to visit my mother again today. And once again, my Mom has demonstrated her capacity to completely amaze me. She was somewhat tired out from her chemotherapy, but overall, she was doing well. We had a chance for some alone time, just me and her, which is kind of rare these days.

I’ve said here before that my family is not particularly close knit. There are some members of my family whom I haven’t seen in years, quite literally. We are a family that is loosely bound, really. So it really was no surprise to me when I was pretty much the last to know about some plans that had been made.

My sister called me the other day, and invited me to a cookout at her house on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. That was unusual in itself. Then, when I went to see my Mom today, things became clearer, if not really resolved yet for me.

This going to be a very large family gathering – basically every relative. And believe me, that’s a lot of people.  I very seldom go to these kinds of gatherings when they occur, which is rather infrequently. My family is easier to deal with in small doses, rather than one massive dose. And frankly, I’m considered to be something of a black sheep within the family, for reasons that have nothing to do with this series of posts, so I’ll leave that for another time. But, it seems that my mother has reached some decisions, and she’s very adamant about them.

When she dies, there will be no funeral. Being Irish Catholic, there will of course be a memorial mass, but that’s it. No funeral ceremony, no wake, nothing. She will be immediately cremated, and when that’s finished, following the mass, my step-dad will take the cobalt-blue urn that she wants used and scatter her ashes in a place that only he and my mother know the location of.

When my sister called and invited me to this family gathering, I very nearly begged off. I’m glad now that I didn’t, because in speaking to my mother, I know now that this is going to serve as a way for everyone to say their goodbyes to her while we’re all gathered together. It will likely be one of the more difficult gatherings that I’ve gone to, but for completely different reasons.

I’m not quite sure yet how I feel about this. Having rejected the Catholic church a very long time ago, I can see and completely support the idea of no funeral, no priests hovering over her grave, etc. But Mom’s long held and deeply rooted Catholic faith makes this something of a major bombshell for me. Part of me is actually relieved that I won’t have be a pall bearer at her funeral. I wasn’t looking forward to that. But there is also a part of me that wants to be able to attend a more traditional funeral. I realize now what is meant by the saying that funerals are really just for the living. Until now, I’d never fully appreciated that fact.

I suppose that in some ways, that kid who was an altar boy at St. Peter’s for all those years is still lurking inside of me, no matter how strong my rejection of the church may be. Maybe there’s a part of me that wants that traditional Catholic funeral service. For several reasons, though, I won’t argue this with my Mom. I learned a very long time ago that arguing with my mother over something like this is the ultimate exercise in futility. When she’s made up her mind, that’s it.  And, well… There was time, throughout my adolescence, when I argued, and fought, and tried to defy my Mom at every turn. If you look up “rebellious teenager” in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of me at that age. And there have been some times in my life when I did some things that were a major disappointment to her, that hurt her deeply. Those days are long and long gone now, but still… I want now to accept her decision, respect her wishes, and make the time that I have left with her as happy as it can be.

I realize that I’m extremely lucky. This is repetitive from past posts, but, I have time to say goodbye to my mother. I will hopefully have said everything that I want and need to say to her, and when she does cross over, I like to think that I’ll be able to deal with it in a way that will express a minimum of sadness. I want to be able to experience that more with a sense of joy and honor at having had her as my mother, and with gratitude that I was given enough time to let her go knowing that I’ve made sure she’s aware of how deeply I love her and care about her.

She’s still teaching me, you see. Even at our ages, she continues to give me lessons in life. And that’s why it’s such an honor, such a blessing, to have spent my life with this woman as my mother.

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