It was 12:41 am on Thursday, December 29, 2016, when I called my sister and said, “Mother just passed.” Saying the words out loud didn’t seem real. But it was true. Mother, Dorothy Decker Foote, was gone, at the age of 94.
It was a reality I had feared since my father died when I was only nine years old. When we lived in Illinois, Laura once said, “Mom, we’ve been going to see your Mother since she was your age. You always say it might be the last time we see her.” I was in my late fifties then.
Though I had been with mother since 10 a.m. the day before she passed and held her as she labored with each breath, I was stunned. My sister and I had traveled this road with her since our stepfather, Leon, died fifteen months earlier. I knew it was coming anytime. Still, I wasn’t ready.
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.”
Even though I told her how important she was to my sister and me, her grandchildren and her great grandchildren, I felt guilty. I had insisted that she leave her home and move to a care center miles from her beloved friends and hometown, Seminole, Texas.
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.”
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’s 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.
I was stunned as I stepped up to Mother’s open casket on the day of her funeral. 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.”
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 give me comfort. I will miss her terribly, but her tenacity, warmth, independence and grace give me a comfort that passeth all understanding. 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. 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 used to tell me, “The least we can do is look right and act right.” Mother did, until the end.
Since Larry, my brother Rodney, Daddy and now Mother died, I’ve learned to live with grief and loss. Here are a few of the ways that have helped me turn my grief into strength:
- I remind myself that my sister and I did all that we could do to make my mother’s life at the end as comfortable as possible.
- I remember the good times and sometimes write them down.
- I tell someone I trust how I am feeling.
- I drink a cup of coffee and have an imaginary talk with the person who has passed. In the case of Mother, she would say, “Get busy, don’t waste the precious time you have.”
- I thank my higher power for the people I have in my life.
- I sit with my grief and I let the tears wash out the hurt.
- I recognize this is the only life I have and I don’t take it for granted.
- I try to make those I have lost proud of me.
- I think of ways to give back to those I have lost by passing on their love and kindness to others.
The holiday season is especially difficult for many of us who have lost love ones. What healthy ways do you use to make it through this time of year?
(c) Tyra Manning 2018