Almost every weekday over the 12 years my mother lived with me, my morning routine included preparing a brief note to greet her when she rose to start her day. The notes served more than one purpose. Sometimes I included a reminder of something she needed to do (call Jesse, it’s his birthday) or a heads up about my work schedule for the day (staff meeting this morning). Occasionally I added a bit of interesting information (guess who will be on Dancing with the Stars this season) or a quick news flash (thunderstorms predicted today). But always, always the notes were a simple vehicle to share a smile and tell her that I loved her.
Accounting for days when I may have been away on business or on vacation, a conservative estimate would be 3,000 notes. My mother saved hundreds of them, torn from the pages of dozens of those small spiral notepads that invariably leave a ragged edge on one side despite your best efforts to rip along the perforation. She tucked away some of the notepads, too, which in later years also contained messages to the caregivers who arrived at the house shortly after I left and locked up just before I came home. Flipping through these snapshots of our daily life, I can easily see the ebb and flow of her life … and mine.
To begin the story where it ends, the last note I left for my mother summed up exactly how I felt almost every day of those 12 precious years. It was Tuesday, November 5, 2013.
“Mornin’ Mom!” Beneath my traditional salutation were a pair of happy eyes with arched brows, a little pug nose and a wide open smile. The speech bubble declared, “Counting my blessings today and YOU are an important one!” I added, “See you Wednesday night,” because I was leaving on an overnight business trip. “Love, love, love! LJ xo”
That was the last time I ever left Mom for more than the 30 minutes needed to run to the market for a few groceries or to pick up a prescription. Exactly five weeks later she took her last breaths in her bedroom, surrounded by the things she treasured and in the care of people she loved.
The end met her heart’s desire. In the 16 years leading up to her retirement in 1987, she worked as a bookkeeper and then as a licensed administrator in nursing homes. Her worst fear was to become incapacitated, be forced to give up most or all of her belongings, and spend her remaining time being turned, bathed, fed and medicated by strangers who might be kind but had no memory of her youthful beauty and quirky sense of humor.
The end met my heart’s desire as well, which was to fulfill her heart’s desire.
No matter how you slice it, though, the end was still the end. It didn’t matter that scores of elephant figurines looked on from her curio cabinet, or that her favorite Star Trek characters watched from commemorative photos and plates mounted on the wall, or that long perished friends and family stood sentinel in frames. She still died. My mother – my beautiful, funny mother – still died. And I still cried.
Writing about heartache, loss, hopes, dreams, beliefs and love has long been my passion. I consider the ability to put words together in a reasonably engaging fashion a gift. I’ve used it for a multitude of purposes over the years including a respectable first career in journalism, two self-published books with small but appreciative audiences, and a handful of soulful song lyrics. The litmus test for my creations was always Mom’s reaction. Much as you would expect, she loved just about everything I ever wrote. On Christmas, her birthday or Mother’s Day, she typically opened my cards last because she inevitably was consumed with emotion and tears over the sentiments I added inside.
Naturally, when she died, I assumed that one day I would write something immortalizing our relationship. When I discovered that she had saved so many of my notes, I came to the conclusion that I would use them to write a collection of essays, a book or a blog I would call “Notes To My Mother.” The tables turned when she was gone and notes from my mother began to surface. If you stay tuned, I’ll share them with you and reflect for a bit on how each one has inspired, comforted or moved me. Because, now, with about nine months of shocked denial, misdirected anger and reluctant acceptance under my belt, I’m ready to give birth to this weekly online column … aptly titled, of course, “Notes From My Mother.”