My mom with my niece Jessica at my brother's wedding in 1989 at about the age I am now.

This is a repost from two years ago.

My mom died on Tuesday. It was both a surprise and not a surprise. Mom was very active and had come back from several hospitalizations over the last few years. My brother and family were with her on Christmas Day, and one of my nieces and I were with her on the 26th. We had a nice visit. She fixed lunch for us. She told me about going to church on Christmas Eve and how they served communion "the way you do it" [in the Episcopal Church] (my mom went to the Baptist Church). She sang the Christmas songs (despite the fact that she wasn't able to see well enough to read them but of course she'd been singing them for nearly 90 years) and walked right down to get communion even though she didn't usually like to take communion that way (having been used to it being given her in the pew). She said it was really meaningful to her.

On the other hand, she was 89.9 (her birthday is January 18) and had a couple of ongoing health problems that she'd managed over the years, and she also had a TIA last summer and that is often the indicator that a stroke is coming. During the last month she'd had bronchitis and her vision had deteriorated even more. Both her parents died of stroke. Her mother lingered for 18 months in a coma, and this was a huge fear for my mom.

Mom suffered a massive stroke in her bed after she'd had breakfast on Sunday morning (the day our family was opening gifts at our home in Atlanta, having all finally arrived in the same house the night before). According to my brother, who lives near her in NC, she was awake and alert but didn't understand she had suffered the stroke as she was transported to the hospital around noon. During the rest of the day, she was evaluated and cooperated with the doctors, nurses, and techs. But by the next morning, she began to sink into a coma.

By the time I arrived Monday afternoon, she was completely unresponsive. Still, I sat with her and held her hands and told her all the names of our relatives who wanted me to tell her that they loved her. I said the Lord's Prayer and the 23rd Psalm and the Nunc dimittis. She always said that she knew her mother could hear her while she was in a coma, and I think Mom could hear me, too. My brother and I told her good night as we left the hospital to go home and get some sleep.

Early the next morning, the nurse called to say that Mom had died, less than 48 hours after the stroke. She got her wish not to linger on like her mother did. My brother and I figured it was a force of will.

People really loved my mother. She had only lived in her apartment for six months, having moved there this summer, but the techs were crying when they came in to see us while we were packing things up. She had many old friends who were so happy that she had moved back "home" and she always had someone coming to visit her. While she was living in Atlanta, I discovered as I went through her desk, she got cards and letters from her friends in NC every week. The minister at her funeral described her as a confidante, a very caring soul who always tried to do what she believed she was called as a Christian to do, an outgoing, creative person who had a lot of flair. Her friends and our relatives describe her as twinkly, spunky, prissy, a lot of fun, with "that little walk of hers."

My brother and I were able to make all the arrangements and clean out her apartment together in the days after her death. Doing this kind of thing together was good. We had some fun going through pictures and her things (especially her "Minkies" which you just have to see in the *photo below) and we did a little crying together, too. Mom had already distributed many of her things in the last few years and had written details about everything else, from her jewelry and furniture to her obituary and funeral wishes.

(P.S.A.: Please do this for your family. We didn't have to guess about what she would have wanted. It was all there. Make a will and plan your funeral and write down what you want to happen to your belongings and family heirlooms. Mom even specified that the things not specified should go to the person who needs or wants them. This was such a blessing.)

So already her place is closed down, the keys turned in, and we buried her on Friday. I cried a lot on Friday. It's still sinking in.

Now in this time of mourning comes the time too for reflection. Although my dad was a great influence in my life, my mother was much, much greater. My mother had great difficulty during her pregnancy with me and I was a challenging baby. Later, we had the same kinds of struggles with one another that most mothers and teen daughters do, struggles that continued into my young adult life. But through it all, she was the one who towered above all others in my life.

People say that I am a lot like her. (For one thing, I also have "the walk.") I have always tended to see that as a mixed blessing. Many women do, I think. The task ahead, as I see it today, is for me to embrace the parts of that statement that I have heretofore resisted and to live into the parts that I want to do better with Mom as a model - while at the same time keeping it real. Really real. She wasn't a saint, and I don't want to make her into one now that she is gone. One can't really come to terms with a saint, after all.

I have no idea when I will get back to posting regularly here. But I will, I'm sure. 

Life is still beautiful.

*Well, the minkies are not so beautiful but they were a "thing" back in the day. Four whole minks sewn together to make a collar/wrap. My brother and I played with them while she was wearing them in church, much to her consternation. Now they are a little worse for wear, or better: wizened with age. I guess we all are.


Ray Barnes said…
Dear Penny, trust you to be able to put into eloquent words all that was good in your relationship with your mother. I am so sorry to hear this.
The one really good thing about the way she went however, was that she didn't linger, half here and half there as so many stroke victims do.
A truly lovely post Penny, and just what I would have expected from you.
Blessings love and prayers for you X
Thank you, Ray. I really appreciate your words and your prayers.
Perpetua said…
Such a beautiful reflection on the death of your mother, the person she was and your own relationship with her, Penny. I too am glad she didn't linger in coma or survive severely disabled. To go quickly and peacefully is a final blessing in life. My prayers and condolences to you and your family as you come to terms with losing her.
Kay G. said…
My prayers are with you and your family. You have written a very honest and moving post.
Sounds like the apple didn't fall too far from the tree! You seem very much like your mother to me.
And you know that is a good thing.
Nancy Wallace said…
Thank you for posting this moving account of your mother's recent death. What a stunning photo of the rose that seems to be shedding tears. I offer you my condolences and prayers for you and your family in your grief.
Thank you, Perpetual. I know it's going to take a long time.
Thank you, Kay. I do know. :-)
Thank you, Nancy. I appreciate it. The flowers had been sitting outside and I guess when they were brought in the drops appeared. They looked like tears to me, too.
Antonia said…
Dear Penny
I've only just seen your post. My love (though we haven't met I hope I can say that as we've shared our thoughts here) and prayers are with you. I can't put what I hope for you in such beautiful words as yours but know I'm thinking of you.

I'm sure you're already discovering that your memory of the precious last moments you shared with your Mom in that 'thin', holy place between death and life will become a blessing, a source of strength and an ongoing connection with her.

Go gently, and I look forward to welcoming you back.

Antonia x
Thank you, Antonia. I appreciate it! It was a thin, holy place.
Suem said…
Dear Penny,
I am truly sorry to hear of the death of your mother. Parents make up such a strong part of our identity and your mum sounds to have been an amazing influence. I am glad she passed peacefully and that you were able to spend some precious time with her beforehand. Thoughts and prayers with you.