Saint Elizabeth

My mother passed away on June 29 after five years of grinning and bearing constant indignities due to living with a colostomy and fainting spells and memory problems because of a weak heart. She had to move out of her home, was in and out of hospitals and rehab facilities, and eventually lived in an assisted living apartment. My father, her partner of more than 50 years, passed away in 2009, after becoming more and more difficult to live with due to his own failing body and mind. Throughout all of this Mom was patient, funny, and a delightful companion. Her nurses loved her, her friends loved her, and her family called her a saint more than once.

It’s hard to know how grief will affect you, but Mom’s passing rendered me mute. I have had lots of ideas in my head, but very little ability to translate them to written words. Shortly after Mom’s death, we went on an amazing trip to southeast England. There are many stories to tell about our vacation but I can’t seem to get started. It took me three weeks to write a simple review on Trip Advisor about the beautiful bed and breakfast where we stayed for most of our time in England.

Because we decided to have her memorial service at the end of the summer after all of our family could make arrangements to come back to Ohio, I have spent the summer in a kind of grief limbo. The excitement of the trip to England dulled the initial pain, but then I returned to my day-to-day existence — an existence without my mom on the other end of the phone line or across the table from me on my trips to visit her.

It seems that the best medicine for grief was to hole up at home and get work done. The busy-ness of taking care of summer tasks that I can’t do doing the school year kept me going. My occasional foray into a social life was bolstered by my faithful and sympathetic family and friends who kept me from breaking down and wallowing in my grief. Even Facebook was a comfort — I heard from many old friends of my mother as well as friends and family from my own present and past.

My niece, the author of the Vanderbilt Wife blog, recently posted two tributes to her grandma. Reading them allowed me to break through my own writer’s block and begin to move on. It’s hard to imagine a life without the presence of my mom’s gentle, supportive spirit. I miss her wry humor, her understanding of my passion for music and performing, and her willingness to listen attentively to my long-winded stories.

Now that my house is clean, it’s also time to clean out and organize my emotions. It’s a new school year, and a new life without my mom — a new normal. The loss of parents is one of life’s passages that people my age endure; many of my friends have gone through this and I know that I will survive just as they have.

The next two weeks will pass in a whirlwind as we enjoy the annual reunion on my husband’s side of the family and then celebrate my mother’s life in her memorial service. It probably won’t hit me again until we get home and I start school, where another group of friends will offer condolences.

There’s still a garage full of boxes from mom and dad’s apartment to open and treasures to be savored and put away. Every box will contain more than one memory of my mom, and as I go through them I’ll remember that she was a human being with failings as well as being a positive role model for me. I know I’ll come to realize that she wasn’t really a saint, but a person to emulate all the same — and that’s a good start toward my new normal.

6 responses

  1. I agree that the loss of a parent leaves a huge gap in your life. Today marks 23 years that my Dad has been gone. I don’t find that I have trouble looking at pictures, or his things, or my memories of him; what gets to me is finding something that I think he would have enjoyed, and there is no way to tell him about it.

    1. Sometimes things happen for a reason and sometimes they just happen. Maybe I was supposed to write about my mother on your dad’s anniversary. Anyway, thanks for commenting and being a friend!

  2. I know we have ALL definitely called her a saint! What a blessing she was, and she will really be missed. I met someone recently who was really into cemeteries and geneology, and I found myself thinking “Grandpa would really love talking to this person.” 🙂 Family carves a place in your heart and never leaves! Love you, Aunt Jennie.

    1. It wasn’t Grandma’s thing initially to visit cemeteries and courthouses, but she became part of the “family business” of genealogy and was as eager as grandpa to unravel the history of the family.That’s why their partnership worked; there was a give and take that wasn’t readily apparent in their later years when you knew them.

  3. […] In the midst of all the hubbub of the last days of school and beginning an exciting vacation in England, my mother passed away in June. We held her memorial service in August when all of the family could gather together and I blogged about her here. […]

  4. […] Mom passed away in June and truly loosed her earthly bonds. When we divided up her possessions, I grabbed that soft blanket and brought it back home with me. It’s been sitting around in a box all summer and I decided that I had better wash it. I forgot that losing the dust of summer also meant losing the smell of my mother. The blankie came out of the wash smelling like my laundry detergent, and yet one more piece of my beloved mother is gone forever. […]

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