Today is the second anniversary of my mother’s death. She died, as far as we can tell, peacefully, in her sleep. It was sudden, but not exactly unexpected. It wasn’t until my siblings were all together at my parents’ house that I realized that I had, in my mind, been preparing for my mother’s death since I was ten years old.
My mom had been unwell for as long as I can remember. She had had a heart condition since she was 18, which was eventually treated with a pacemaker. I was ten when, during surgery to repair this pacemaker, my mother’s heart stopped. I don’t know for how long, but she was shocked back to life on the operating table. I heard this news from my father the next morning, after telling him about a disturbing dream I had had the night before. I had dreamed that a girl from my brownie troop, one I didn’t particularly like, had told me my mom died, and I thought, in the dream and afterward, that she was saying it to be mean. It was the closest thing to a premonition I have ever had.
Since that day, my mother’s health was up and down, mostly down. She suffered from fibromyalgia and neuropathy in her hands and feet long before being diagnosed with diabetes when I was in college. She was in near-constant pain and, even with the pacemaker, had attacks of atrial fibrillation, or irregular heartbeat, which would make her dizzy, sometimes to the point of falling, and occasionally push her to the brink of consciousness. She took handfuls of pills three times a day. And she was depressed. From the pain, from the pills, from not being able to live a “normal” life.
Still, my mother was an amazing person. For a time, she was a single mom, a widow, raising five children on her own. She was a model. She sewed and crocheted and baked. She sang and was the choir director at her church. She whooped and hollered at all high school sporting events. She made my Halloween costumes for years. She was an actress–in community theater, but still, an actress. She pushed me to do things I didn’t want to do because she believed I could do them. And I could.
One of the things my mother and I used to have in common was our faith. She was an active member of the Methodist church in whichever small town we lived (or lived near, if we happened to be living in the country at the time). Of her seven children, I was the oldest when I decided I would no longer attend her church–or any church. It wasn’t a decision I made overnight, and while it wasn’t easy on me, it may have actually broken my mom’s already busted heart. And it only made things worse when I decided to first move in with and then marry an atheist Jew. She loved Hubby, but she asked me more than once (only half-joking) if I had considered trying to convert him. I told her the thought had never occurred to me.
She knew about our infertility and that we had actually considered moving to Hubby’s home country, where fertility treatments are covered for practically nothing. When I told her about this plan, she warned, “You better not go to [X country] and have babies,” based on the fact that she didn’t travel well and wouldn’t be able to see them. I had thought of this, too. When each of my sisters had their babies, my mom went to stay with them for a couple of weeks. She would help with the laundry and dishes, answer all newborn-related questions, take care of the baby so my sister could squeeze in a nap. And it made me sad to think she wouldn’t be able to do this for me if we moved halfway around the world to have our children.
My younger sister was the one who told me the news of my mother’s death. I held it together as best I could while on the phone with her, and then I crumbled. I sank into Hubby and sobbed. Not for the memory of my mother, all that remains of her now and what I will carry with me the rest of my life–the birthday cakes and French braids, homemade dresses and school plays. What I mourned, even in those first moments, was what will never be. My mother never holding my child in her arms. Their grandmother never teaching my children to sing. Never wrapping my baby in a blanket made just for her by her grandma.
Because of my mother, I learned to crochet. I learned to sew (sort of) and will become a better cook and baker. Because of my mother, I want my children to have a hand-made childhood, memories of a house that smells like cinnamon, with a soundtrack of song. I may not have my mother’s vibrato, but I know the melody by heart.