House of Memories

Having been tasked with going to check my parents' home since my mother's death, I have been confronted with a house of memories. It is an eerie feeling, being in this spacious, empty home to be greeted only by my parents' dog, Walter, who was in a state of confusion -- inexplicably staying in my old bedroom with his toys -- not having realized that "The Show Was Over." But yes, the show -- along with all of its drama -- is over, and my childhood home has become a house haunted by memories. When I went to the house yesterday, even Walter was no longer there, having been taken by mother's caretaker, Mia.

My mother shouldn't have died for another 10 years yet, medically, I suppose. We believe that she died of a broken heart. She and my father were very close, so after his passing, being with him -- whatever that meant to her -- meant dying. We -- the health care workers and family -- tried to encourage her, but once she became ill, she stopped eating, was not eager for treatment, and seemed to give up. Until the final two weeks of her life, she was actually in good health for her age.

As my mother was a secular humanist, I don't know what "being with my father" meant to mom, but that is what she wanted apparently, and I don't think that what a person believes or doesn't believe about religious matters makes one iota of difference in one's final disposition following death. There is a reality which transcends mere belief. What counts is the way she treated us. It is no coincidence that my mother's 3 children all grew up to attain Ph.D.s, to be free to be the lefties that we are, to be free and open minded thinkers who wish to do good in the world, and to have an internalized sense of morality. It has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with love. Of course, my father had much to do with our upbringing, but as a stay at home mom, my mother was the primary influence.

We were raised in a very wholesome and healthy environment. We were never physically beaten, never around smoking, no illicit drugs, very little bad language and not much alcohol. We were never derogated emotionally -- we were fortunate children who experienced unconditional love from our parents and no abuse whatsoever, certainly not from within our family. All children should be so fortunate. Materially, we were well off as well, as our parents' lovely, now empty home attests to. But other factors were much more important.

Both of my parents were very sensitive people, but I experienced that most from my mother, who was a great companion to me as a child and even into adulthood as I continued to live with them. In their empty house, I could recall many things -- my mother's playful, silly sense of humor; how my mother talked of her compassion for animals and even plants; how she was morally outraged by animal cruelty; how she, although she said she didn't believe in God, believed that talking to the plants in her garden helped them grow, and she had the evidence of that; how she worried about her sons and their families, even when life was going well for them, because she loved them; how she wanted us to be secure and happy, even as we may have been pursuing paths not of her choosing; how she welcomed each son's choice of spouse regardless of her reservations about her daughters in law. And there was her irrepressible laughter earlier this year when she discovered that she, Craig and I are part Pygmy.

Sometimes, my mother's sensitivity would boil over, but it could be in a good way. I remember the time that we were on vacation, in the Sierras, at a place called Big Virginia Lake, and she saw some nearby teenagers persecuting a hapless squirrel. She yelled at them and shamed them into stopping; I doubt that they ever tried anything like that again. I surmise that I probably learned compassion most of all from my mother -- and empathy, and unconditional love.

There were things that I may have disagreed with my mother about, but as with my father, her tolerance and unconditional love superceded any disagreements. She nurtured her children, but let them be their own people, let them grow in their own chosen ways. Certainly, my mother's kind parenting was conducive to good outcomes and a feeling of self-determination and free will. My mother was friend and confidant to me in a way that far too few children experience. She made me feel very special, yet imparted humility to me; I believe the same is true of my brothers as well.

I was born very late, ane was slow to develop -- slow to walk or talk, for instance. As a result, my mother spoke to me, her youngest, constantly. When I did begin speaking, she says, I suddenly began speaking in complete sentences. By the time I entered school, I had already figured out by myself how to add and subtract large numbers. My communication with my mother was very instrumental in my development, and I believe it led to our emotionally open -- certainly very much so for a mother and son -- relationship. Perhaps it worked better than she intended, as she eventually became concerned about the extent of my soul baring with other people. But I believe it has all worked out for the best for the son she always told was such a handsome, well-behaved, special, gifted child.

When my mother was going through her final illness, the signs were very confusing. I would be told that she was getting better one day, but the next day, she was worse than ever. I am glad that I made the effort to see her frequently and show her how much I cared. Finally, she went to the hospital, two days before she died, so I went there with Mia, not knowing that this would be the last time that I would see mother. I took a card with me that I found in my parents' home, on which I had written some get well wishes. It was one of the flower cards that my mother had made. She had an oxygen mask so it was difficult for her to speak, but I read the card to her as she gazed at me. I had to wonder what she was thinking. A little while later, a nurse told me that I could hold my mother's hand. My mother kept squeezing my left hand tightly with her right hand; she would not let go so I did not feel I should let go, glad that she was showing her affection by squeezing my hand, but feeling somewhat awkward, standing beside her hospital bed, not knowing what was to come. Finally, after about 15 minutes, she loosened her grip so I released my hand, but the love she transmitted to me at that moment and throughout my life, will always stay with me. I was told that she was improving, and she was sent home the next day. I was hopeful that she would recover, but sensed that if she did not recover, she would die soon. Once home, as in previous days, she refused to eat, and refused treatment. The next night, her life expired.

Now, she is with my father again, whatever that means. Perhaps there was a gigantic welcoming party for her. I am eternally grateful to my mother for the wonderful way she raised me, and the sense of worth and self-confidence that she inspired in me, and for all of her efforts even when her energy was lacking, as well as for all the good memories I have of her. She made us work and bond together as a family unit, yet raised each of us as individuals. Thank you, mother!

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