Everyone grieves uniquely when someone they love dies. My mother passed away nearly six months ago. Overall, I have adjusted quite well, as has my family. At least, that is how it appears. For all I know my father and siblings could each be going through their own painful grieving processes. If so, they are not talking about it. My mother’s death last November 10th was hardly unexpected, although it did come quicker than I anticipated. Most of my tears for her loss were shed when she was still alive. Many occurred after visiting her during my many visits to her in the nursing home. While grateful to have time with her during her last days, I was also crushed with every visit, because with every visit she was more diminished. It was heartbreaking to see such a vibrant woman reduced to near total dependence on others. It was hard to stay chipper while feeding my mother, wiping her chin and brushing her teeth. It was little wonder then that her actual death was as much a relief for us as it must have been for her. My life was no longer framed by her decline. My weekends opened up again. There was no reason to rush out and see my father every week as I did with my mother. My father has all the companionship he wants in his retirement community. He seems to have moved on rather quickly too. As he told me, he really lost my mother several years earlier. When her mind went as a result of her disease, much of the woman he loved died too.
That is not to say that no one really mourned my mother’s death. I am sure I will be grappling with her absence for the rest of my life. In truth a day does not go by when I do not think of her. Her absence no longer brings tears, but does bring a certain wistfulness for the time when she was such a presence in my life.
Probably the person most affected by my mother’s death was my wife. For reasons I do not fully understand, my wife deeply cared for my mother. Of course she has a mother of her own that she loves, but my mother did not come with strings and a history. I am not sure that my mother was quite the wonderful woman my wife made her out to be. While she brought no baggage to her relationship with my mother, I had baggage with my mother. She never saw the anally obsessive, screaming mother I remembered from my youth. Her mother, on the other hand, never raised her voice.
It probably does not matter why my wife so bonded with my mother. All that really matters was that my wife was an angel during her darkest days. She visited her at least once a week, usually at midweek when no one else could. She patiently listened to her, spoke honestly of our small little life, helped her with intimate female things, and found unique ways to touch her heart. A few weeks before her death, my wife put together a large photo collage of her children and grandchildren and placed it on poster board at the foot of her bed. By this time, my mother was in the advanced stages of PSP (Progressive Supranuclear Palsy) and could not move her eyes. However, she could stare straight ahead and look at our pictures, courtesy of my very loving wife. Perhaps during those dark times she also could marvel at how many wonderful children and grandchildren resulted from her life, how we all turned out to be such good people, and how we were making our marks on the world.
I do not think my wife has fully grieved over my mother’s passing. Other than her grandmother, my mother was the first woman that she deeply loved to pass out of her life. In retrospect, it was natural that she would be attracted to her. They were born about sixty miles apart and almost forty years apart. They came from poor white families and had similar values. They learned how to scratch a living. Both were introverted. In addition, both knew how to delight family and guests with culinary treasures made by scratch from their kitchens. In retrospect, it is as if I ended up marrying my mother. Moreover, in many ways, it was as if my wife ended up marrying my father. No wonder she feels more wedded to my family than her family.
My father is busy making the best of the rest of his life. After 55 years of marriage, you might think that the idea of another love interest would be far from his mind. That is not the case. He may be 79, but he is in good health. He clearly misses the intimate daily connection of living with a woman. For better or for worse, he has plenty of women in his age group in his retirement community. My mother had only been dead a couple months and he was making carefully considered and very gentlemanly advances toward other women.
I was wondering if my siblings would be offended. So far, no one has spoken up. I spent a week examining my own feelings. By pursing other women, especially so soon after my mother’s death, was he in a way dishonoring my mother’s memory? Should I feel upset or offended? Some small part of me wanted to feel this way, but the other part remembered how absolutely dutiful and loyal my father was during their long marriage. While I am sure their marriage, like all marriages, had its ups and downs, my mother got quite a bargain in my father. He is sober man, cautious with money, steadfast in his devotion, faithful and as devoutly Catholic as she was.
At 79, I am also aware that my father was not going to live forever. How could I not wish him happiness in his final years? Perhaps he will get a reward for his devotion in the heaven he hopes to get to someday. Meanwhile, I see no reason why he should not have a bit of a reward while he is still alive and in reasonably good health. Therefore, I wished him luck. So far though he is finding that these late in life relationships challenging. While I think he harbors ideas of another marriage, I doubt many of the widows he is gently pursing feel this way. They are settled in their apartments. Their wills are signed, sealed and notarized. Their children are probably not anxious to have him inherit any of it. Time will tell whether another marriage is in his future. Nevertheless, I can see why he is interested. After 55 years of marriage, six months of being a bachelor must still be a disconcerting feeling. He dutifully took care of my mother, but she also dutifully took care of him. Even during his short stint in the Navy, someone else did his laundry. He lived at home while he went to college. He is used to having a woman take care of him. His current state is exceedingly unnatural.
On the other hand, my wife is having mixed feelings. She sees my father as the father she never had. (Her father left home when she was six, and divorced her mother at age eight.) While she loves him as much as any of us, I think in some ways she thinks by pursuing women, especially so soon after my mother’s death, he is dishonoring her and their marriage. They were after all devout Catholics. Catholics believe in marriage for life. How could he consider someone else after so much time loving just one woman? I think she is wondering how someone in such a devoted marriage like his could move on so quickly.
Yet he has moved on. In fact, I think all my siblings have moved on. We are still touched daily by the memories of our mother. However, life did not stop when she died. It kept moving on and we were still caught in its vortex. Bills still had to be paid. Our children and significant others still had to be dealt with. We honor my mother, in a way, by choosing life, for she was always a woman in motion. She would want us to do move on. Perhaps that is why while I still miss my mother, it took me only a few weeks to work through the bulk of my grief.
Life is about living. Our ends will come soon enough. For now, simply enjoying being alive and healthy seems a fitting way to celebrate and honor my mother’s remarkable life.