The evening of the Friday before Mother's Day, 2016, my sister Angie and I had a simultaneous realization with several states between us. Our mother hadn't been on Facebook for many days. I received a message from her moments after noticing.
"Have you heard from mom lately?"
I had last spoken with her on Facebook Messenger the previous Tuesday, but there had not been much to say, things were the same as usual. Friday night I called her home: no answer. Emailed: no answer. Facebook messages: no answer. I couldn't sleep that night, dread...dread...dread. First thing in the morning I called all the local hospitals, she had been hospitalized twice in the last year for pneumonia, but she wasn't there.
Dread. So much fear. Ice in my veins. Angie called the police.
An officer was on the scene within the hour, at our request, for a health check. All the doors were locked, no one answered, both of her cars parked in the drive with no signs they had been moved in several days. He reported being unwilling to enter. We called back. BREAK DOWN THE DOOR IF YOU HAVE TO.
Silence. Waiting. Trying to be hopeful. The call.
Angie: "It's not good. They found her on the couch."
Then tears and tears and lament and confusion and "what do we need to do?"
We set to work when our emotions over come us. We make ourselves busy. The pain can't reach us then.
And now it's been 32 days since we buried our mother and the missing starts to come. Today would have been the Sunday I would make an effort to call my mom. I tried to call her one Sunday a month. She didn't seem to mind that but, was irritated if I called more often.
Truth is, we didn't talk much, my mom and I. When I called I most often could hear the clicking of her keyboard, she responding with half listening answers, me grasping for conversation. Trying to be a good daughter, feeling like it didn't matter. Over the last ten years so much of our interaction was digital, social media creating a relationship that didn't hold up face to face. Online she loved and doted on her grandchildren, in real life they were too loud, too busy, too much. Online I was her wonderful daughter who married a doctor and wasn't I lucky for that? Real life there was so much criticism, nary a compliment outside of "You're lucky you have a good man." And I am! And I do! But I often longed for her to see something worthy in ME, to raise up who I have grown to become. Ever the child craving the praise of the parent.
The strange truth, that everyone knew how proud she was of me, how she praised me, except for me. I wish I could have heard her say it. I wish I had a card, written in her beautiful handwriting, telling me all the things she gave away easily to others. But I don't.
And now I'm left with photos, a record player and a few nostalgic records, trinkets collected from her home, memories. I can't call her anymore. I can't agonize over what to send her for Mother's Day, her birthday. I can't log onto Facebook as I used to everyday, to make sure to like and comment on all of her gardening posts, because that's how she felt honored, noticed. And don't we all just want that? To know that we're noticed?
How do you miss some one who wasn't a part of your everyday? How do you miss a mother who seemingly stopped mothering when you went to college? Who, after spending every day of her life since her teens with children, was just ready to break free. Do you force yourself to miss her? Mostly I mourn the mother of my child hood. The mother who made me biscuits and gravy for my birthday breakfasts, who boiled home made noodles for chicken soup when I was sick, who taught me how to read. I had a mother who took me to the laundry mat and let me pick out a candy bar at the gas station next door even though we had so little extra. I had a mother who made sure I had a little more than I needed even when there was no surplus, a mother who worked hard for small pay for decades so I could be a straight A student, college bound, scholarship recipient, soccer captain.
It's easy to forget she's gone.
The nature of our infrequent connections means that life doesn't feel much different, but then I see a photo and my heart squeezes tight inside of me, and I remember.
This was the last time I saw her face to face, hugged her long, smiled at her, made her laugh. Even in death, I never saw her again. My good bye was to the shell of her, wrapped in a shroud, veiled from connecting to the actual loss. This final visit was shortly before our family moved from Texas to New York. We drove over from Houston, the kids and I and stayed in a hotel for the weekend. Mom met us at this park, the kids played all red faced and sweaty at 9am in the heat of a Texas June, ate lunch at the local deli that gave me my first job. I am SO GRATEFUL I did that. So grateful we ignored the expense of a hotel and dining out and gas and spent these two days with her. We ate dinner at Chili's where the service was slow and she marveled at how well behaved the kids were despite waiting over an hour for their meal. Impressed that I didn't just give them a screen to keep them busy. I soared for days on the compliment, felt loved and honored.
In those two days I noticed how slumped she become, how her back bowed and her breathing seem labored. Decades of smoking, of allowing that to be her "only vice" as she would say. I longed to take her with me. To pack her up with our children and fly her away with us. But that was never meant to be.
In the photos, I miss her.