Friday, June 24, 2011

On the Anniversary of My Mother's Death

Wandering at random around the internet, I came across this post, and it reminded of the original impetus for my blogging: the death of my mother. It reminded me that every second we have with each other is precious and we should spend it loving and caring for each other. How this led to blogging sounds like a mystery, but at the time I wanted to scream to the heavens my frustration and anger. The heavens, I knew, would not listen. So, I talked to myself or the aether of the internet.

[That Man’s] origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins -- all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. (Bertrand Russell, A Free Man’s Worship)

The universe is pitiless—not cruel for it neither knows nor cares for anyone—but without concern for our hopes and dreams. But sometimes we can snatch some joy from this world and find love and goodness. Every year at this time I remind myself of these facts and try to live my life accordingly.

I rarely live up to the ideal. Trivia always intrude on my life and turn me from concerns about those I love, and even those I barely know, but that knowledge is always there. Like “Time’s winged chariot”, or the inexorable grinding of a mill, our lives disappear, day by day, week by week, month by month. Sometimes the time goes so quickly you hardly notice until your aching joints and gray hairs bring it all to consciousness. You wonder how it happened, how you turned from the youth in your mind to the middle-aged person you’ve become. I’ve chosen this time of year to remind myself and renew my desires to live for each day. So I want to commemorate my mother, as I try to do every day in things large and small. And I want to mourn her loss and the loss of everything I or anyone else ever has loved or ever will love. My mother, my father, my spouse, my child, my animals, my friends, and I will all ultimately be gone and we will be nothing but dust. But for now, for me, there is something more. And my mom can only live on in our memories.

The surreal feeling of the day she died has not yet fully receded. Everything since has felt just a little like a dream.

It was around three years ago this month (I forget the day) while my brother was visiting, helping me get my house in order to be sold so we could move out when I started a new job. My dad called and said that he’d come home and found Mom collapsed and he’d called 911, that the paramedics were trying to revive her. We weren’t sure what that meant exactly. We stopped working and waited, everything else now seemed pointless and empty, and wondered and talked, thought about our mom and what she’d meant to us and tried not to think about what we all thought had just happened.

And she died.

Just like that, she was gone. None of us knew; none had a queer presentiment of impending doom (aside from the one I always carry inside). Nothing said this was the day when everything would change, when the light would die for one we loved. After, there was nothing even to do, from so far away, but to sit together and reflect, and eventually to go home and try to help Dad. When I reflect now on her life, a life I really knew little enough about, I hope that she was happy and fulfilled.

I think she accomplished a lot of what she wanted in raising her kids. For the most part, we grew to be reasonably intelligent, autonomous, self-sufficient, compassionate, conscientious adults. She was a schoolteacher, was politically active, and spent some of her retirement volunteering. She didn’t have money or fame or wealth, and, while she often struggled to make ends meet, she would not have traded her life for that of anyone else. She had thought about a life traveling and living adventurously, but her best friend from college had chosen that path, so Mom knew what the alternative was and she was happy with her choice. Oddly, most of what makes our lives—and possibly makes them worth living—resides in contingency, the things that don’t happen according to plan, the things that accumulate on our souls without our notice. One day we wake and think about who or what we have become. And she had become a wife, a mother, the glue that held together a fractious family, a caring member of a community. She had never intended to stay, to take up residence in our place, to marry as she did and raise kids, but that became who she was. Or maybe it was just the world in which she revealed who she always had been. She lived an admirable life, and, in the end, I think she had few regrets.

But that does not mean I don’t feel regret. I regret that I could not be there for her to save her somehow, to be with her at the last, to tell her that I love her, to feel her love for me in return. I understand and sympathize with those who cannot face this fact, whose denial leads them to religion. But for me that would be a lie that would dishonor her memory and her life. No one lived her life for her; she was good, not because some magical being wanted it so, but because she, and others who loved her, worked hard to make her so. And that’s why I try to remember, to feel the loss as keenly as before, and to honor her memory by living the kind of life she would have wanted me to live.

Long before the stars burn out from the sky, long before the sun expands and ends all life on earth, long before the earth freezes over, and long, long before the universe goes cold and dark and dead, I will be gone and no one will remember or care about you or me or anything else. But for now and for as long as my synapses can still fire together, Mom, I will love and remember you.

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