Sunday, February 22, 2009

Happy Birthday Mom

Had she lived, today my mother would have been 68, which is still younger than most of my fellow residents here at the home. I miss her, but I missed her more when things were going good with me. After I graduated college, not long after her death, my friend Geoff and I traveled around Europe (a long story in itself) and every time I visited a new city in a new country I wanted to write or call her because I got to go to many of the places she dreamed of going to (I regret never getting around to visiting Australia or New Zealand). Even when I moved to Seattle there were times when things were good or even when I had a good meal at a good restaurant that I wanted to share that with my Mom, and when things got bad and sometimes (financially) scary, I missed having my Mom's place to go back to.

My Mom passed away six months before I graduated college. She was two months away from being 49 years old (not five years older than I am now and I am in sorrier shape than she was at her age).

On January 15th, or 16th (I used to remember) I went to my Mom's place to do laundry. I had last seen my Mom on Saturday afternoon, in the parking lot of where she worked. It had only been a couple weeks, if that, since she had visited a hospital in San Francisco to have a then experimental procedure to have one of two aneurysms removed, the second was to be removed a week after I last saw her. She should have been resting. But she was a workaholic and, though I found her job boring, she really enjoyed what she did. (She was a systems analyst for the State of Washington and she wrote the software that made sure everyone got paid on time). Oh, and the last time I saw her, the reason I met her in the parking lot, was because she was outside smoking with a friend. It is surprising that, considering how much she smoked, it wasn't the cause of her illness or death.

That was the last time I saw her. The last time I spoke to her was a few hours later when she called to invite me and my roommates over for dinner (which she had never done before). Unfortunately I told her I couldn't. Our former roommate, "Poff," who graduated the year before (another long and humorous story) was in town that weekend and we had a party planned. I felt guilty, but I was looking forward to the party, and looking forward to getting closer to a girl who would be there (I did, but not as far as I'd like and it's not a very interesting story). Anyway, I blew off my Mom and partied all night (it was one of the best parties we through and of the two and a half years I lived with these guys, we seemed to throw a party almost every night).

So Sunday I recovered and cleaned up the mess from the night before and nursed a hangover by smoking lots of pot all day. Monday I took my laundry to my Mom's. I assumed she would be at work. Her pickup was in the driveway, but lately she had been carpooling so at first I thought nothing of it. I figured she was at work or asleep (it was around eight in the morning).

I was on my second load when all of a sudden I heard a jackhammer outside. Suddenly I had a weird feeling. If my Mom was there, she couldn't possibly sleep through the noise. I headed upstairs with a sick feeling in my stomach. I found my Mom under the covers in her bed. Her body felt cold and hard. I don't know how much time passed, but eventually I called 911, and then my roommates (Paul, Ethan, and Geoff). The medics arrived pretty fast followed by my roommates, and former roommates Poff and Erik. It sounds weird, but we went to Denny's before going back to school. Many friends (special thanks to Dave and Tanya) came over to express condolences and offer their help, and as much as I wanted to break down and cry, I didn't have time because I had a lot of work ahead of me. (I did wind up spending about an hour in my room, listening to Jimi Hendrix's "Hear My Train A Coming," from the Concerts album, over and over again at a high volume, thinking about my Mom, and trying to make myself cry, but I couldn't). When I emerged from my room my head was clearer and I could deal with what lay ahead.

First, I had to get my Mom's (now my) stuff out of her apartment within 48 hours (according to the landlord who was completely unsympathetic. On reflection I should never have called him and just wrte a chek for the rent). I wound up packing as much stuff in storage that I thought I wanted to keep and gave the rest to the Salvation Army. I am sure that I wound up giving away stuff I would have wanted to keep if I had time to examine every little thing.

I was fortunate that my Mom had very good friends from work who arranged a wake that was held at the grange hall at the Thurston County Fairgrounds. When I attended I was amazed to see so many people (at least 50). When they were giving testimonials I had to leave, I just couldn't listen without breaking down. A few days later I was given her ashes, in a maroon plastic box, by the funeral home. Since she was a veteran the cremation was paid for by the Navy, and I got a very large American Flag, that would have gone on her coffin had we had a military funeral.

I took her ashes to a spot in the Skokomish River, near Shelton, where my Mom took me to fish when I was a child, and where a few weeks before her death we had discussed as a final resting place for her). What used to be a heavily wooded area across from a very small church, was now the beginning of a housing development, across the very same church. What used to be a long walk into the woods to get to the river, was now a couple feet from the side of the road (they had rerouted the river for the development). As I tossed her ashes into the river and I learned that human ashes do not resemble fireplace ashes at all. Some of it floats, and some sink to the bottom. I wished I would have taken her ashes to Potlach, where she used to take me to get rock clams and oysters. The ashes would have blended better. I wound up fling the box far out into the middle of the river. (I know it was littering, but what do you do with a plastic box that contained someones ashes?)

It wasn't until about seven years later, when I was having a breakdown over being dumped by someone when the feelings around the death of my Mom finally got to me. I cried over it for a few days. Then just got mad at my friend who dumped me and got on with my life.

I miss my Mom. Though, while growing up, particularly as a teen, I don't think we connected very well. She didn't raise a finger to stop me from dropping out of high school and let me mooch off her until I was 24. But I also remember that when I was much younger, she was there for my Little League games, keeping score for my team, and helped me get my Tiger, Wolf, and Bear badges in the Cub Scouts (I eventually became a Webelo but when my parents divorced and we moved I didn't join a new den).

I often wonder, had my Mom lived, how my life would have been different. I had intended to apply to graduate school, and I did, to one (University of British Columbia) but my heart wasn't as into it as it would have been had she lived. I would have applied to more places in hopes of being accepted. I wanted to make her proud. But instead I lived off her retirement and insurance for two years, acting the part of an "Independent Filmmaker" and sitting on my ass until the money ran out, discovering too late I didn't have much in the way of marketable skills (the only jobs I had had in the past is deliver pizzas and perform work study for the library at The Evergreen State College (and to my disappointment found hat I would need a Master's in Library Science to get a job at the public library).

Anyway, today would have been my Mother's birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom.

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