I know the word. But for having walked the hallways of the word when Rick’s mom died, my definition for palliative care now reads ‘Death, sitting on the edge of the bed, waiting to receive’.
I am the first to admit I have no clue as to the mystery of writing. When the week started, I was turning over the idea of ‘opposition’ as the crux of this week’s offering. What I thought was going to come out the end of my pen were observations gained in realizing how I use my elbow as a launching mechanism when I roll over in bed; or how I push off the outside edge of the car door whenever getting out of the car. Opposition. Weight lifters and Olympic athletes understand the function of opposition when they walk into a weight room. Swimmers rely on the concept of resistance in their training regimen.
What I had not counted on was getting my distant son’s e-mail earlier this week. It reads (in part):
“…Grandma is not doing very well–probably dying. I feel that you should know, if you don’t already. She has been having trouble with her lungs, and also has issues with her oxygen intake and heart. Last week she had a cardioaversion done, trying to help with her a-fib, but it didn’t. So today she, along with the girls, finalized the process of putting herself into hospice care…If you want to look into contacting her, or even seeing her, I would contact Jane. She is quarterbacking all of those things…”
After all these years of her not being in my life – ergo, functionally dead, now I was presented with the moment I knew one day would come. The woman who had birthed me was about to be physically, no more.
Unlike many people I know, it turns out I had the good fortune to grow up living in the same house until I left home. This week’s e-mail brought up a vivid memory of standing at the end of our downstairs hallway, looking at a pastel portrait of my mother when she was a late teen. Even as a five or six-year old boy, I remember thinking she looked like a Breck girl…did anyone have a mother as beautiful as mine?
But little boys grow up and the pedestal I’d built for her began to crack as they often do when we start to think of our parents as people. To this day, I cannot point to any one event, but as the years progressed, my mom morphed into a stoically angry woman. She was a formidable force, intent on ordering the planets and stars of the universe we lived in. It may be a goofy analogy, but I remember seeing Dr. Doolittle‘s pushme-pullyu and knowing how he felt. Part of me loved her without question while another part of me was deeply troubled at why she didn’t seem to like me much. With the week’s events as back-drop, rereading my last sentence tells me we kids already understood Fear, fear that despite what was said, Love was not unconditional and it could be revoked…so mind your P’s and Q’s. Looking back, this one sinuous thread ran through our religious life, our school life and the life we thought about as we went to sleep at night. But back then, I didn’t know any different. Without the benefit of any other perspective, that’s simply how it is for anyone. Incorporating such reality is what any kid does in shaping themselves to survive in the place they find themselves in. Right?
My ‘acceptance of fact’ tinted everything I did. It was what steered me to thinking I was called into an ordained ministry…how much holier can you be than to preach – right?
It steered me into a marriage I hoped would change what (and who) I was attracted to. This ‘curse’ will surely pass if I’m getting to enter the marriage bed – right?
If I do all that; if I’m good enough; if I make a name for myself in the corporate church, then my place in the family my mother oversaw was secured – right?
I was wrong on all counts, save one.
When I chose to come out of the marriage and then, the closet, my mother’s rage was as real as it was emotional. Let the shunning begin and no one dared step into the line of her fire. From their perspective, I was persona-verboten…because that’s what mom decided and her will was immutable. And so it was. But I share this not as a story of tragic loss or pain, but rather in an attempt to describe in simplest terms what my new landscape looked like at 26 years of age. I remembered thinking that maybe Christopher Columbus and I had something in common in discovering our worlds weren’t flat…and I was some 15 years younger than he was when he first spied his new world. That had to be good – right?
But back to our story…
When it became clear that my resolve was firm and I wasn’t going to yield, all hell broke loose. That’s not all that uncommon. What was bizarre was that from her quarter, it never ended. As far as I could ever tell, she did not thaw in the least from her stated wishes of banishment. That was her way. She had a masterful way of immolating other family members in having them do her dirty work. And they did. From one point of view, it was remarkably efficient: two birds with one stone. My siblings and the extended family were now party to what she had decided to do to me. Why would they doubt she wasn’t capable of turning her gaze their direction? This seemed to please her.
But people – even family members – tire of being used in such endeavors. And as she grew into her old age, my mom’s loneliness seemed to become ever more comfortable, much preferred to the company of others. One notable exception was going out of her way to dote over my son, fully aware she had successfully denied me the same privilege in a Kansas courtroom so very many years ago. What matter of Soul does that 20+ years later?
But again, this is not a tale for to wail. The same toughness in her served me as I learned to lead my own life on my own terms, not hers. Over the years I’ve been awestruck how the palace I was thrown from proved more of a prison for those remaining inside. My Life went on. The sun still rose and I found Love, Purpose and Meaning in the process of weathering everything she threw at my ‘defiance’. But for all the incalculable human costs, I never let the one last spark of hope for some future reconciliation die out. As faint as that ember was, my son saw it when he joined Rick and I in visiting my fathers grave well after Dad had died. Whatever his motives may be for having sent me this weeks e-mail, I don’t think he is willing to be an unwilling party to his grandmother passing without the chance for such a miracle to occur between my mother and I.
With Rick encouraging me to be a man of my word, I called Jane the very next morning. The two of us having been close when we were growing up, I have reached out to her repeatedly over the years since the excommunication with nothing ever returned in kind. Such is the cost of excommunication in my family. No opportunity for them to see what I’ve become and what I’ve since accomplished. I’ve often wondered what was the toll on Jane for abiding by my mother’s directives.
My hopes were not high as I dialed the phone, but the remotest possibility of a death-bed reconciliation was worth the act of reaching out to Jane one more time. And as frustrating as it was, there were the slimmest few cells in my DNA that wanted to hear her call me ‘Dannybird’ one last time. Maybe mom’s entrance into hospice would change the family landscape.
The first time, I called, from the number Jane knows is mine. The call was answered, but nothing was said. “Hello…Jane. You there? Hello?” Click. I dialed again and the call didn’t seem to go through at all. So I called again, but this time, I used a different phone and she picked up.
Jane, it’s Dan.
“Oh hi, how are you?”
Are you driving? Are you free to talk?
She indicated her son was driving as they were making their way to be with mom, so she was free to talk. I continued, ‘Fine and I’d ask how you are but I understand Mom is in a rough way’.
Do you think she’ll talk to me?
“I don’t know, but I’ll be there through the end of the weekend and I’ll look for the right time to ask her and call you back”.
I asked Jane if she had my number…asking if she had something to write with and gave it to her again…just to be sure.
“OK, I’ll ask her and call you back”.
That’s fine. Good-bye.
Twelve minutes later, I received a text message on my cell:
>Date: Fri, 12 Oct 2012 13:44:43 +0000
>Subject: Sent text asking…
> Message: Sent text asking if she would talk to you. Her reply was absolutely not.
I did not return the text.
Later that night at work, my voice mail started buzzing.
>Date: Fri, 12 Oct 2012 18:12:11 +0000
> “Hi, this is Jane. I guess I’m the messenger. Her answer is absolutely not. Bye”
So there it is.
For telling the truth…for wanting to share my life…what I’ve deeply thought would probably happen, is happening. This is the end to my family story…the same ending that was decreed some 28-years ago. Finally, truly, forever. It was my ‘last call’.
Mom, I wish we had a chance to look into each others eyes and find the words, ‘I love you’. I wish you safe passage into the Night.
SHOWER THE PEOPLE
by James Taylor at the Beacon Theatre (Boston, MA)
“Mom, click on the disc. This one’s for you…”
PHOTO and ILLUSTRATION CREDITS:
One Leaf Left on the Tree and inset (small): http://hdw.eweb4.com/out/144892.html
; Woman Deep in Thought, Teodor Axentowicz: http://labellefilleart.tumblr.com/post/33365463025/woman-deep-in-thought-teodor-axentowicz; pushmepullyu: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061584/; Signature of Christopher Columbus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Columbus; Brother and Sister Laughing: http://www.stremelphotography.com/2011/07/the-s-kids-hays-kansas-family-photograher/; Texting: http://seattletimes.com/html/nationworld/2010284626_teentexting17.html
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