It’s Hard to Say Good-Bye

Linda, Me and Moms“I feel like an orphan” my sister-in-law tearfully shared with me shortly after the death of her mother. “I know that sounds ridiculous as I am 52 years old, married and with a family of my own.  I sympathetically commiserated with her, believing from the depth of my being that I felt her pain.  I truly thought I did up until that very day when I had to say good-bye to my own mother.

No one prepares you for the death of your mother even when both of you are Medicare and AARP card-carrying members. The death of my mother catapulted me back to that scene in my sister-in-law’s kitchen so many years ago.  Suddenly and without preamble I was an orphan.

Mothers and daughters have a special, yet complicated and unique bond. Even the closest mother daughter relationships weather storms along the tranquility of everyday life.  As aging unmercifully alters the dynamics of the traditional parent child relationship this role reversal can be equally frustrating, demoralizing, uplifting, caring and loving.  The impact on the family and the adult children who are now thrown into this unyielding role of caretaker, decision maker, and patient advocate, is complex as it stirs up a myriad of emotions not withstanding guilt that rears its ugly head from time to time.

Going on vacation, a night out with friends, hiring a companion against the parents’ wishes, are all situations that are not taken lightly.  Accompanying my mother to the doctor’s and witnessing the doctor totally negating my mother’s presence by directing all of her questions to me, was heart wrenching.  When my mother admonished the doctor with a simple reminder reaffirming her presence in the room, I immediately felt her pain.

My mother and I ultimately visited almost every ER in Manhattan. I was not used to seeing my mother in such a vulnerable state, and up until the day she died I felt she was invincible. I never realized just how much we did together, it was just our fact of life. Only in hindsight, as the memories played like an ongoing video in my head did I understand how interconnected we were.

When my mother wanted to discuss her affairs with me the last few years of her life, I kept delaying the conversation, until there were no more delays left.  Even though this sounds like I was out of touch with reality I just never imagined we would run out of time.

My mother touched so many lives. Her indomitable spirit, tenacity, stalwart passion for the underdog, sense of fairness, right and wrong, and love for her family and friends was remarkable. She was also tough, no-nonsense, and a force to be reckoned with. The sum total of her was what made my mother truly special.

It’s been four years since I had to say good-bye, and my heart is still broken. My only solace is that I know my mother is in peace. A good friend of mine just experienced the death of her mother. Her mother was ninety, in failing health but still vibrant, alive and her mother. When we talked about the sense of loss she was feeling I shared my sister-in-law’s orphan statement with her. She was dumbfounded because that was exactly how she felt and like my sister-in-law she felt foolish and alone in her feelings.

Time is the only salve that mitigates this sense of loss. Although the sadness ebbs and flows it is never eradicated. Paying the love forward is the best way to honor the unique bond and memory of this very special relationship, complexities and all.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day, honor and appreciate the lives of mothers both here and gone. Peace and joy be with you.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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