It was 12:41 am Thursday morning when I called my sister, “Mother just passed.” Saying the words out loud didn’t seem real. But it was true. Mother was gone. I sobbed like a baby. Mama, gone. How could that be?
After Leon died in September of 2015, Mother said, “Why am I still here, all my younger brothers are gone and I’m still here. I’m the oldest and I’m still here.”
I grieved for her before she passed. I grieved for her loneliness, for her sadness and I grieved for her dependence on caregivers and my sister and me.
Mother was a proud, independent woman and once she declined, trapped in her frail, failing body, I was torn between, “God don’t let her die and God don’t let her suffer.” Mother loved to putter in the garden: grow okra, tomatoes, squash and tall sunflowers as tall as me. It didn’t take me long to transition to “God, please don’t let her suffer.”
On one visit to Seminole before Leon passed, Mother and Leon showed me two black garment bags in their bedroom closet. “We’ve packed the clothes we want to be buried in,” Mother said. “Everything each of us will need is here.” I peeked inside Mom’s garment bag and saw pink. Of course, I thought, Mother always loved pink dresses and pink roses, as I zipped up the bag.
We took Mother’s garment bag with her to the care facility. It was hanging in her closet. When the funeral home came to transport her body, they asked if we had her clothing. We did.
My sister and I met with the funeral director in Seminole the next day to finalize arrangements. We could see Mother early the next morning.
I was stunned as I stepped up to Mother’s open casket early Saturday morning. For her last public appearance, she had chosen a pink dress with a fitted bodice, lace cummerbund accompanied with matching neck scarf. Her long sleeves were pink chiffon with covered buttons at the wrist. Mother usually chose tailored suits and dresses with subtle trimming.
I wondered when and how she purchased the pink dress and where did she get it.
During the visitation, one of Leon’s daughters-in-law said something like, “Now we know what the dress was for. She sent me a photo of this dress cut out of a store’s catalogue in Lubbock and asked me to purchase it and mail it to her.”
For the most part Mother and Leon had been housebound for months before Leon died and Mother had been in the care center in Boerne for over a year. But Mother was an independent, self- sufficient woman as long as she could be.
Hearing the story of how Mother managed to select and purchase the dress she wanted to wear for her last debut makes me smile. This example of her independence, her tenacity and warmth gives me comfort. She took care of business until she couldn’t and then turned it over to God.
Tears still well up in my eyes when I least expect it and my heart is desperately sad. I sob out loud when I am alone. I miss her and remember the difficult times: Daddy’s death, her drive alone to the hospital to have my baby sister after he died and the trip to escort me to The Menninger Clinic.
When I am overcome with sadness, the thought of Mom’s pink dress makes me smile and leads me down a different road, one of pride in my Mother’s strengths. She was independent and still taking charge until she couldn’t anymore and she died with grace and dignity at age 94.
She used to tell me, “The least we can do is look right and act right.” Mother did, until the end.
Since Larry died, my brother Rodney, Daddy and now Mother, I’ve learned to live with grief and loss. These are some of the things that have helped me turn my grief into strength:
7 Healing Steps
- Say the Serenity Prayer.
I say this five times out loud in the morning and at night. It is my mantra and helps me remember to take it one day at a time.
- Do things to lighten your day.
I listen to music, play with my dog, go for walks, read, and look at favorite photos.
I write out my feelings, write what I am grateful for, write down the good times I remember, and I write to address the guilt that creeps up through grief.
- Admit that you may feel relief
I counsel myself that although Mother is gone, she is no longer suffering.
- Breathe deeply.
I sit with my grief and let the tears wash out the hurt.
- Drink a cup of coffee.
I have an imaginary talk over a cup of coffee with the person who has passed. In the case of Mother, she would say, “Get busy, don’t waste the precious time you have.”
- Sometimes just lay in bed.
I give myself permission to just be still. I wait until I am bored and then I get up and do one or more of the above.