My mom died on May 29, 2020 at 11:30 a.m. Ever the pragmatist, she chose a doctor-assisted death so we knew right down to the minute when she was going to slip away.
I have a thousand photographs of my mom but this one gets me every time. It is so unlike the Arden most people know and love. Lively, engaged, interested, social.
My dad took this one back in the 70s. I wonder if he saw in her what I am seeing- melancholia, contemplation, solitude. You can practically hear a deep sigh. This is a side to her that very few people experienced. She was not one to discomfit another with her moods or her heavier feelings.
She is in the midst of her favourite things: a 25 pack of Belmonts (she kept cartons of these in the freezer so as to NEVER run out), a bottle of beer, Keady the dog, the swimming lake at the Farm. The only thing missing is sunshine. But that wouldn't fit here in this muted scene of greys and greens.
Now, this is the mom everyone knew. Tanned, slim, smiling, smouldering cigarette in hand. My parents were both ridiculously good-looking. My dad was a dedicated athlete - running, biking, squash, swimming but not just any stroke; he was the master of the butterfly. My mom managed this look on a steady diet of black coffee, cigarettes, and one substantial meal a day. She got up to absolutely no physical exertion unless it was working in her veg garden or pouring another glass of red wine. I did not inherit those genes.
Death is weird. The ultimate fake out. One minute you are here, the lead character in your story. And the next minute you are, simply, gone. The story has come to an abrupt end. I guess this is why we love the idea of legacy. It's the who and the what we leave behind.
Both of my parents died of cancer. Their final days were painful, frightening and disorienting, a head full of morphine and nonsense. They didn't get the chance to die of old age like my 97-year-old mother-in-law who had simply had enough and was ready to move on. Mom and dad were not ready. They were taken.
I like the moms in both these photos. They say something about her complexity and layers. Maybe that's why grieving is so confusing. Which mom do I mourn? Which mom do I miss most? Which mom will I keep on telling stories about?
I'm going to choose to remember all the moms that I experienced, even the ones I didn't like very much. It's the best way to honour the whole of her and I know it is what she would prefer. She didn't like the use of the word perfect in any context which leaves one to conclude that imperfect is a-okay.
We all do our best, don't we?