When I last wrote about my mom the night of August 14th, I was blissfully ignorant of how my life would so sadly change once again. Not twelve hours after I signed off, Mom's doctor in Michigan stunned us with the news that she was riddled with cancer--everywhere. Never was there a hint over the past several years. The battle with emphysema, the struggle to breathe was the challenge. Not Cancer. We flew her home in an air ambulance and she went directly to the hospital in Cape Girardeau. Over the next two days, my five brothers and sisters assembled there with my dad. From the time the doctor told us, Mom lived nine days. Nine. They were days filled with us standing vigil, increasing doses of morphine for Mom's pain given by caring, compassionate nurses and finally planning a memorial service. We were all exhausted from the daily emotional drainage. It was an eerie, painful reminiscence for me. I'm just plain tired of losing the women I've loved most in life to the beast called Cancer.
Mom was a woman who lived life on her own terms. An only child of a lawyer father and a mother who graduated from the University of Missouri Journalism School, Mom was raised by an extended family after her dad died when Mom was only five due to lingering effects of a WWI injury. She went off to Hollins College in Virginia to be 'finished' after attending John Burroughs School in St. Louis and then returned to complete her degree at Washington University.
She and Dad were married in November 1948 and had their own 9/11 (no disrespect intended) when my brother Tucker was born 9 months and 11 days later. I arrived 13 months thereafter. Two more siblings quickly followed, then a miscarriage, then another and another. I was always uncertain the last two were exactly planned. Thinking about it now though, I am less than convinced that any of us were. Perhaps Mom and Dad never discovered how it kept happening. When Mom announced she was pregnant with my brother Clayton, I was 13. The thought of my parents doing it was mortifying--and I had to tell my friends at school.
Ours was a home of barely controlled chaos with family and friends coming in and out through a revolving door of the large, somewhat kempt abode where all were welcome. There were no 'class' distinctions, no caste system, no religious or racial intolerance. Kids loved to come to our house because we had one of those 'milk machines' like restaurants had. The milk was plentiful and really cold. All were treated as family, so they came often even though Mom's culinary skills were suspect at best. She could grill a mean cheese sandwich and a special was Campbell's Tomato Soup. Past that, however, things descended rapidly. Ah, the memory of the pasta smothered in the thin, warmed V8 Juice. What did we expect? She was out of tomato sauce. her theory was 'heat plus groceries equals food'. Who could argue with that?
I've long thought that Mom's parenting style was 'benign neglect', but not in a perjorative sense. Parents in 'the good old days' didn't interfere in every single aspect of their children's lives. Mom and Dad may have stretched that a little. They let plenty of rope play out and only yanked back when any of us were about to fall off a cliff. I still have the scars from the rope burns--a lot of close calls.
Each of us managed to survive it all though and go on to happy and productive lives. We blessed Mom and Dad with 18 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren with number 12 due in October. More to come. All the while, Mom worried, cringed at the late-night phone calls, but never overwhelmed us, smothered us. I called home maybe twice a month from Colorado during college. Kids today call twice an hour. Our parents allowed us to fall, to fail, to arise, to grow up. My five siblings succeeded. At a minimum I was provided the opportunity. I did at least come of age.
Mom was smart, stubborn, opinionated and suffered fools madly. She was also kind, generous and stood up for things that were right. She had great character. She loved our dad, us, her friends, playing bridge, drinking coffee and spending time at our home in Michigan. No one will ever fill her chair at the dining table. She soldiered on through the last few years and defied all medical prognosticators. Then, like the dust of a thousand warriors coming over the horizon, came the stinking bastard Cancer. Before it revealed its nightmarish, pernicious head, Mom had refused to stop, refused to give in to anything despite her infirmities. She was determined to squeeze every single day she was alotted. And she did.
Finally, mercifully though, Emily Dickinson's words rang true. Because Mom refused to stop for Death, it kindly stopped for her.
We miss you Mom. Here's to a life well-lived.