My mama turned 41 the year I was born. I was her only child, and she doted on me better and more than any June Cleaver or Mama Berenstein Bear ever could have. I only had 30 years of my life with her…the last of which was very difficult and sad. Two weeks after the birth of my fourth child, Nikolas, my mom fell in her kitchen and broke the head of her femur cleanly off. She was slated for hip replacement surgery and was supposed to be walking again within weeks. However, during the surgery, she started having a series of strokes that took away most of her movement, including her ability to swallow or speak. She spent the larger part of her last 14 months in a nursing home, with a feeding tube in her stomach, unable to communicate except with her eyes and one of her hands. In a way, I grieved more in the first few months of her decline than now. We used to talk on the phone for at least an hour several times a week, about nothing much at all.
My mother had struggled with insanely high blood pressure for years, starting when I was a small child. She had horrific side effects from most of the medications they wanted her to take. Once, inexplicably, her leg swelled up to over twice its normal size, and did not return to normal for many months, even after stopping the medication. She had to go buy skirts because none of her jeans fit, and the doctors were baffled. A regular blood pressure reading for her in those days was in the neighborhood of 250/190. The doctors thought it was a marvel that she was still alive.
After more than a soap opera’s worth of different combinations of meds, she finally decided that the side effects from any of the pills were so despicable that she would rather deal with the problem on her own. She became (and remained, until the feeding tube was installed) a strict vegan, eating only the most natural, highly nutritious foods; I have never met anyone with such dedication and rigid adherence to a diet like she had. However, she also had a habit of skipping sleep, due to her compulsion towards cleaning. Four hours a night was “normal” for her, and of course that’s not healthy.
My mother was a textbook case of OCD, although it was never diagnosed. Her home was immaculate and precisely managed, down to the last can of cat food. There is a single square of vinyl flooring in the middle of the kitchen that gleams and shines in contrast to the others around it. In her zeal, my mom had actually cleaned the finish right off the entire floor, and then, one night, had spent a full 30 minutes buffing that one square, just to see how nice she could make it look. She was so proud of that square, and she would point it out every time we came over. I see it now and it makes me smile to remember how happy it seemed to make her.
My mom never worked a day in my life, and I never once was left with a sitter. She would bring me any snack or dinner that my little spoiled heart desired (probably on a TV tray, with a soda), and I had every Barbie, My Little Pony, and Fisher-Price toy you could imagine. She was so devoted to me that I initially had no idea how I would cope with parenthood, cause I was clearly never going to be emotionally capable of living up to that standard! I was probably six years old, and still asking to be carried when we went to the mall. My mom would have roped the moon for me if I’d asked….and I never even understood how lucky I was. I thought all mothers were like that.
However, for all her maternal dedication, my mother was most definitely her own woman. She held over 100 jobs in her life before I was born, from court reporter to airline stewardess. She bought a house as a single woman in the 1970s–AFTER she’d worked to help her parents to buy their own home in the 1960s. She was deeply passionate about vegetarianism, having been veg on and off since roughly the age of 10. More than once, she told me the story of her purchasing two yellow chicks at the dime-store for ten cents each…how she raised them in her bathroom, kissed them, loved them, and played with them until they were so big that they had to be sent away for slaughter.
My mom was raised Catholic, and spent the first 6 years of her formal education in a Catholic school, taught by nuns who would rap you over the knuckles with a ruler if your cursive was a bit sloppy. She was a deeply spiritual person, and adhered to many religions and belief systems in her lifetime. I know at one point, she was very into meditation. She taught me several chants when I was little, and I wish I could still remember them. At one point, she felt strongly that it was immoral to kill bugs, and she actually tried to minimize driving her car on the highway in an effort to protect them. When I was little, I was not raised in any religion. My mom read me stories from a children’s bible, but beyond that, nothing specific was discussed.
When I was 13, my grandparents came to live with us, and life was forever altered for all of us. Our home was suddenly like a nursing home, and I felt very displaced and abandoned. The following year, my grandmother passed, and my mother nearly came unhinged between her extreme grief, caring for her father, and raising me. She renewed her commitment to ethical vegetarianism then, and dove back into Catholicism as well. She also had an insatiable need to read and listen to psychics. I guess she needed to know that she’d see her mother again, that there was an “other side”.
My mother was a Democrat, and very opinionated on politics, especially for someone who didn’t vote! She and my father would argue endlessly about Bush, Clinton, Bill O’Reilley, and even Oprah. I think it was bonding for them. I know my dad misses her so badly, even though she couldn’t argue back for the last 14 months.
The sickening irony is that my mother was also an impassioned supporter of….Jack Kevorkian. She never would have chosen to live out the last 14 months of her life in the way she did. There are many regrets. A DNR could have been signed sooner. But then, perhaps that 14 months of silent purgatory were something that she needed to live through, for her own personal/spiritual reasons. There’s no good to come of speculating on what another person’s Life Plan is really all about, of course. Some things are simply not for us to know.
What I do believe is that my mom has made her peace with her life, her choices, her reality. I know that she was truly ready to move on to the next life, as she would often say; I know that she was unafraid and welcoming of the new frontiers that lay ahead for her. I wish I had been able to tell her, to get her to understand, how much I loved and appreciated her…..and how fortunate I was to have her as my mother.
In loving memory of Emma Louise Davis: September 3rd, 1940 – January 19th, 2011.