Archive for November, 2015|Monthly archive page

The kindness of friends and strangers

Between Facebook and blog comments, emails, private messages, calls, memorial service visits, cards, gifts, Alzheimer’s Association donations, pops into my office for a check-in and a leisurely weekday lunch complete with coffee and a giant piece of chocolate cake, I can safely estimate that I have received more than 200 messages and other expressions of comfort and sympathy about Mom’s death. Isn’t that amazing? It is sort of like a wedding, when so much good will is directed toward the marrying couple. When we lose a family member, we are showered with love and concern at every turn. It is a nice feeling, and I have learned that I could definitely do more for my friends in this regard. It’s kind of an unfortunate way to learn a lesson – but that is how life is.

I am also learning that thinking much about Mom or being reminded of her triggers tears. (The most surprising example: I burped, and the sound reminded me of the gurgling sound in her throat caused by her upper airway problems.) And that – despite my always-there tendency to emote – anything that makes me frustrated or angry these days also makes me cry. It is still a fresh wound, obviously. But my somewhat fragile state is unexpected. For 10 years, I thought about the terminal nature of Mom’s illness. Even so, it took me by surprise that her death was such a sprint after that marathon. For her sake, that is a good thing.

I think the potential for crying has led me to keep an arm’s length from my wish to appropriately acknowledge all the kindness directed my way. I also get the feeling I have left some official business undone. Both of her sources of income have withdrawn their November payments, so that takes care of that. I received dozens of statements over the years about care covered by Medicare. I rarely opened them. Out of curiosity, I opened the most recent one that arrived in the mail yesterday, which indicated a variety of charges for care that abruptly stopped on Oct. 27, the day she died. There is an outstanding doctor’s bill that exceeds the amount of money left in Mom’s bank account. I still have to pick up her belongings from the nursing home. I thought about donating her clothes, but I want to see them again first.

I will take advantage of this blog to express my deepest thanks for the extraordinary support I have received, not just about Mom, but about the blog itself. I feel loved, cared for, understood, surrounded by a giant virtual hug. I love, care for and hug you all back, and I understand now how tough it is to lose a parent, no matter the circumstances.

Celebrating Bonnie

Laura, Jeff and I felt good about the service we planned for Mom. After it was over, people told us they wished they had known her. We considered that a big compliment. We kept it simple. Patrick opened with his memories of Mom as someone who was simultaneously strong and vulnerable, and whose heaven would be a place at the Algonquin Round Table, with people acting a bit inappropriate and cigarette smoke swirling in the air.

I read excerpts of three posts from this blog. To select them, I searched for the words joy, dancing and laugh. The first described difficulties Mom had early in her illness with the phone – and her ability to laugh at herself despite the frustration. The second was a description of a birthday visit with Mom in 2012, when she turned 75. The third was about a life lesson I learned from her:

“Through her, I’ve learned that even the most damaged people can still find pleasure in life – often from the simplest things. What many consider to be a bleak existence can be marked by endless laughter, dancing and singing, and consistent and comforting social interaction. When something bad happens, it doesn’t have to define the rest of one’s life. Something so bad, and so sad, has happened to Mom, and to our family and her friends. But we carry on, we learn to live with it, we make the best of it.”

Laura spoke about Mom’s unconditional acceptance of who we were. No pressure, no disappointment if we made mistakes or, in Laura’s case, didn’t make a cheerleading team. Or, rather, no disappointment for herself, but real concern for us when we faced disappointments in our young and adult lives. Laura read a poem that she wrote about Mom, which I published in this blog years ago.

Jeff talked about how music had been important in our household, especially to him – music is his profession. He played Mozart on the funeral home’s keyboard, and completed the service by leading a sing-along of “If I had a hammer.” The Peter, Paul and Mary version of that song had come up on his iPod while we were with Mom, and it struck us as a good reflection of her interest in social justice.

Jeff, Laura and I outside Studio 35 Cinema and Drafthouse, which put Bonnie's name up in lights for the occasion.

Jeff, Laura and me outside Studio 35 Cinema and Drafthouse, which put Bonnie’s name up in lights for the occasion.

Julia and Lily, Mom’s granddaughters, each shared how they remembered Grandma. Lily had observed as a little girl that Mom had a tendency to wear striped shirts – and after that, Mom wore stripes for every airport arrival so the girls could find her, and to poke fun at herself. Julia recalled a moment of silence with Mom in the back seat of a car during her “teen angst” years – not an awkward silence, but a quiet show of support from a grandma concerned about Julia’s bad mood.

Many old friends of Mom’s and of ours visited to express their sympathies at the calling hours. And we had a nice turnout for the service – we really didn’t know what to expect in the way of numbers. We followed the funeral home formality with a party at a local cinema and drafthouse, which attracted additional friends as well as those who had made an entire day of celebrating Mom.

If you’re interested in seeing more images of Mom, the funeral home posted a video slideshow on its website.

I am way behind in thanking friends, family and readers for their kindness, and I have been touched by people who have asked what would happen to the blog. I will keep writing this blog for as long as it makes sense. There is much more to remember.