I'm finding myself a little bit blue this week, down with a case of melancholy with a side effect of mopey. Thinking back, these feelings took root Sunday evening when I was at my dad and Peggy's house surrounded by her family. Which is now my family, sort of. Some of which I met for the first time that afternoon.
I stepped outside for a while to sit in the swing and started thinking about the changes to my family over the years. My mom and dad, my grandparents, my mom's death, my dad's marriage to Ruby, family functions with her children and grandchildren, her passing, seeing her family less and less, and then I was back to where I started on the swing watching Peggy's grandchildren play basketball. Family, at least in my case, fluctuates. Don't get me wrong, I am thankful my dad married Peggy and for what she (and her family) brings to our lives. And yet.
I miss my mom. I'm forty years old, my mom died 26 years ago, and I still miss her.
This is my remember week, the week my 14 year old's world turned upside down so many years ago. My mom was 42 when she died on April something, 1983. I say something because I can never exactly remember the date she died and the date of the funeral. Believe me, it was a blur. I do remember it all happened quickly, around Income Tax Day.
My mom, Joan, had always been very thin, small-framed, even skinny. She had health issues over the years like hyper thyroidism and colitis, which kept her thin. Looking back, maybe there was more to it, but this was what we knew. February 28, 1982, on my grandparents' 51st anniversary, my grandmother had a heart attack and died the next morning while in the hospital. Our little family was in shock as we struggled with the sudden absence of our family cornerstone. I remember the whirlwind of family and church friends offering so much love and support those first few weeks, especially to my grandfather, Archie. He seemed so lost without his bride beside him. After a while though life appears to go on and you attempt to go with it. We all missed Sue so much, but didn't talk about her too much because the hurt was still raw.
I carried on with my 8th grade life, the dramas of junior high, the ups and downs of friends and of course, the pursuit of boys (totally the stuff of notes passed back and forth, in the vein of "Do you like so and so, check yes or no"). The fall of 82 I started high school. Being a teenager and therefore quite self-absorbed, it took a while to fully notice the decline of my mom. We were used to her health concerns and spells over the years, we, and most likely she, thought this was another spell. What we did not realize until too late, was how depressed she really was. She began to see a psychiatrist, who not only prescribed several loopy inducing drugs, he diagnosed her with Anorexia. Remember, this was the early 80s, we didn't know that much about it except for the Karen Carpenter made for TV movie. My mom told us that she didn't agree with the diagnosis, she wasn't really anorexic.
We believed her.
Looking back, I think she was in denial and had been for years. I will never know for sure, but I think she was anorexic most of her life, it just never had a name back in the 60s and 70s. I think her grief over the death of her mother sent her denied disease spiraling out of control. Over the course of 1982-1983 she was hospitalized several times in an effort to help her gain weight, even to the point of a feeding tube through her neck. She would make some progress, but then relapse, until her body just couldn't function any more. I guess we were all in a form of denial, because we did not grasp how serious her condition truly was. In April 1983 she went in to the hospital for further diagnostic measures, except this time she never came home. I remember going in with my dad to talk with the doctor and hearing the words "multiple organ failure" and "needs to be transferred to Methodist". I remember visiting her that evening in her hospital room, the nurses preparing her to be transferred later that night and talking with her for a little while, though she was weak and groggy. I remember her telling me she loved me as I left. The next few days in my memory are quite blurry. ICU visits (though I elected to stay in the waiting room, not wanting to see her connected to all kinds of tubes and machines, though now I wonder if I made the right decision), phone calls and visits from family at home, selfishly regretting missing the drill team try-outs I had practiced for the week before, staying home from school the next day, and hearing the phrase "She's gone." The viewing, the funeral, the finality of it all soon followed. Like I said, it's something of a blur. I remember pieces, snippets almost like photographs, some vivid and sharp, others smudged and faded.
No matter what I remember, I was definitely changed. I remember going back to school and sitting in my freshman typing class and the silence that followed when the girl that sat beside me asked why I had been absent for a week or so. I remember trying to find the right words to tell her, but really, how do you say, "My mom died ", except just to say it. So I did, and she just stared at me in disbelief. I felt like telling her it's okay, I don't believe it either. Eventually word spread and I didn't have to tell too many people, but it was still awkward. I was paranoid my classmates were staring at The Girl Whose Mom Died, and whispering about me. Being teenagers, and just as self-absorbed as I was, they probably weren't, but I imagined they were.
One day blended into the next and time bravely marched on as it is apt to do. I marched along with it. I had a couple of really close friends that helped me stay sane, along with a friend that was a boy and was kind of my boyfriend so I was caught up in typical young teenage stuff like hair, make-up, clothes and Kevin Bacon. As I look back I wish I had talked about it more, but I guess my way of dealing with her death was to file it away under Painful Awkward Subject instead of working through all the grief and related feelings. My dad is a big Move On kind of guy along with being rather stoic, losing my mom ripped him up and it hurt him to talk about it, so we didn't. We should have, but we didn't.
I feel like a part of me was lost back on April something, 1983. I was forever changed, not necessarily in a bad way, but still different. While I am grateful for my dad's remarriage to Ruby, then after her death, to Peggy, I still feel like a spoiled two-year old having a tantrum wanting something that I can't have and not understanding why. I play the what if game a lot, wondering what my life would be like now if my mom was still here, wondering what kind of relationship we would have, etc. I still struggle with jealous feelings when I see families, still with the blessings of many generations being together. The rational side of me knows that those families have their own set of issues, but I still feel a longing for that type of constant. The rational side of me also knows that in this life I will face trials that will make me stronger, that will teach me a lesson, that will serve a purpose even if I don't understand it. But there is the emotional side of me as well.
I am 40 years old and I want my mom.