When was the last time someone told me that they were proud of me? So asks the Daily Prompt, and ushers in a host of memories, many of them tinged with anguish over the loss of my mother.
I never would have imagined that at 48 years of age, with three nearly grown children and a husband of over 25 years, I could feel orphaned. My dad died in 2001, a week before my fortieth birthday. Stunning grief eclipsed that personal ‘milestone.’ My middle-aged crisis stepped into the shadows, and mourning took center stage. Even now, I mourn Dad’s passing. But Mom suffered far more than any of her children. She lost her life’s partner, her helpmate, her reason to get up in the morning. A small, quiet life for two sputtered, gasped, and reduced itself to a daily search for purpose, which Mom often could not find. Always thin, my mother began to waste away — forgetting to eat, finding little pleasure in food that had lost its taste. She put up a fine show when we talked on the phone. Her strong voice belied her frail body; so I took comfort in her interest in her youngest grandchildren who were finishing high school, heading to college, and stirring the whirlwind that comprised my daily life. I managed to ignore how empty Mom’s daily life had become. When illness sent her to the hospital, her ‘recovery’ transpired in a nursing home, where she spent the last four years of her life.
When Mom’s heart stopped, we, her children, like Miss Dickinson, “[swept] up the heart and [put] love away.” The ‘firsts’ without her were almost unbearable. I, who lived farthest from home, had not seen Mom for more months than I care, even now, to admit. I had grown used to being without her, after 26 years married life. But, all that time, she was still here. We could visit. I could call. I could bring her up to date on the doings of her grandchildren. I could tell her about the tomatoes I canned, and hear her voice fill with pride. Oh, she delighted in knowing that I was carrying on the ‘putting up’ tradition. And I could ask her, for the umpteenth time, how to manage the Thanksgiving gravy. No more.
I never would have imagined that not being able to ask her about the gravy would leave me feeling utterly abandoned — orphaned at 48. But it did. With no parent to say “I’m so proud of you,” the singularity of my life stuns; the sorrow lingers. I never would have imagined that.