Yellow Jackets and Laughter
As I’ve mentioned in several previous posts, my mother’s death instigated my drive and desire to begin minimizing. Being responsible for the disposition of her belongings made me realize just how much unnecessary and unneeded things there were in the house. And how those things can hold a wealth of memories. A long life was lived, and memories of her will live on in me, my sisters, and the children (her grandkids are all adults, but they’re still kids to me, you know?). All that’s physically left of her is stuff, and its amazing how many memories are attached to that stuff…so much so that it’s hard to let go of the stuff.
Clearing out both of our unneeded possessions has also uncovered emotions and thoughts that I had either buried or hadn’t really acknowledged.
This is something a lot of people realize when they begin minimizing. Once the clutter is gone, the things that held back memories and emotions are also gone, and those memories and emotions can be a bit overwhelming. Especially for me at this time of year.
The night of February 7, about eight o’clock in the evening, was the last time I saw and spoke to my mother. My sisters Teri, Bobbi, and Beth were there with me, as was Mom’s bestest of best friends, MJ. (Seriously, they were like sisters.) We talked, held her hands, laughed, told her we loved her, and prayed over her. We knew she was dying, she knew she was dying, and this would likely be our last moments on earth together.
She had a number of medical ailments, as most elderly people do. Arthritis, diabetes, obesity, asthma, COPD, chronic kidney disease, myasthenia gravis…the list goes on, but those were the major ailments. During her third admission to the hospital in less than six weeks, we were told that her kidneys were failing. Her only option to survive was thrice-weekly dialysis. Being of sound mind—there was nothing wrong with her brain—and not wanting to be kept alive by a machine, she refused the only thing that could save her life. There would be no last-minute miracle to snatch her from the inevitable end that we all must come to. No reprieve, no nothing. Our mother was dying and we could do nothing to change it.
We probably broke the rules about the number of allowed visitors, but we didn’t care. The nurses knew what was happening to her, and they made no move to enforce rules, though they did gently nudge us out at the end of visiting hours. So there we stood, in our thinner-than-tissue yellow gowns (she had also contracted C. diff while in the hospital so they were required of visitors) and latex gloves, getting in those last few laughs, those last few “I love yous,” not wanting to leave because leaving would be the acknowledgment of the absolute final end to a life long loved and long lived.
But leave we did. And 12 hours later, I received a phone call from my mother’s doctor, telling me that she had passed away. It had only been about 12 hours earlier that I saw and spoke to her for the last time. It seemed like minutes. It seemed like days. It was difficult calling my sisters to tell them, but it was made a little easier knowing they were expecting the call.
Mom had begun planning for her funeral years earlier, but had never completely finalized the plans. We completed them, and held a small viewing for her a few days later. The actual funeral itself wouldn’t take place until April 11, when she was interred with our father at Arlington National Cemetery.
I personally find it appropriate that she be interred there, among all the other heroes who served our country. My father gave 30 years of his life to the defense of this country and he deserves his spot at Arlington. Mom was right beside him for almost every one of those years, serving alongside him, moving with him when he was transferred from state to state and to (West) Germany, taking care of the family stateside both times he was sent to Vietnam, supporting him as he adjusted to civilian life after retiring, and creating that life-long storehouse of memories. She deserves to be there too. Thinking back to her funeral, I remember something I told my sister, Beth. She was surprised when she saw that six members of the Honor Guard were there to act as her pall bearers. “She served too.” For her sacrifices, for her service, she deserved the Honor Guard.
Going to their gravesite today was an important journey for me. I hadn’t been to my father’s grave in more than five years and when we went for Mom’s interment, we really didn’t have the opportunity to spend any time with him. I brought flowers, and laid them on both sides of their headstone. In honor of MJ, Mom’s friend, I laid yellow flowers on her side, to signify the yellow jackets and laughter of our last time together. And I spent time with them, time I needed to just be with them. I know it’s just their bodies in the ground, that their spirits, their souls, their essences, are long gone. But it brings comfort to the living to see the last physical mark that our loved ones have made on this earth. Even if that mark was made after they passed.
Yes, Arthur and Gloria live on in me, my sisters, my nieces and nephews, my grand-niece and grand-nephew, and in all the future generations that may come. I will do my best to honor them, to pass on their memories and the values they instilled in us. And one day, one day, I hope to be with them again.
It’s been a year, Mom, and almost 30 years, Dad, and you’re both still missed every day.