In late 2001, Daddy retired, and Mamma an’ him sold their house in Floyd County, Virginia, and moved back to the desert that Mamma loved so much. She was so happy, and you couldn’t have gotten that smile off of her face if you tried. Sadly, she suffered a massive stroke on 2 February 2002 – mere weeks after closing on their house in VA and settling into their new place in Carlsbad, NM. Daddy called. He sounded so sure that it was nothing, that I needn’t worry and that he would keep me posted. I disagreed, and Michael and I drove straight through from Yorktown, VA to Carlsbad, NM, in 26 hours with only one stop for a nap.
When I arrived at her bedside, it was clear that she wasn’t going to survive this. The doctors needed an answer as to whether or not we wanted to put her on life support. I knew the answer. We all did. But, at that moment, Daddy couldn’t bring himself to say the words out loud. I think it made it all too real for him. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Daddy and I made the decision together, but I struggle with the guilt of that, not that I doubt what Mamma would have wanted – just the whole what-ifs and maybes that haunt you.
Mamma had told us over the years that she wanted to be cremated, and didn’t want us spending a lot of money on a funeral because it was a waste of money. She didn’t want us to put her in a fancy box only to bury it. She once commented on a big funeral, “Do you know how much hay you can buy for the horses with all of the money wasted on that big production?” That was Mamma, always practical, and the animals came first. We made the arrangements, planning a lovely small memorial service at the house – a few family members sitting around sharing stories of Mamma and laughing, crying, just trying to honor the woman in the way that made sense. There was no casket, no pomp, no-frills – just like Mamma.
We decided to scatter her ashes on the hill that overlooked their home so that Daddy could keep an eye on her from the kitchen window; because of that, we opted for no urn. When the guys came back from picking up her ashes, they walked into the house, in tears with red eyes and runny noses. I saw the package they carried – a plain square box, wrapped in white butcher paper, and sealed with silver bits of duct-tape. I smiled. “Fucking duct-tape! Mamma would be proud.” The boys made the realization, and we all started laughing.
You see, Mamma was the type of person that would give you the shirt off of her back if she thought you needed it even if you protested. Always there to help out and lend a hand. She loved her pick-up truck and blue jeans and kept duct-tape in various locations because you never knew when a bit of “100mph tape” would be needed.
Mamma was like that – always making you feel better about a shitty situation, sometimes at her own expense. She loved hard, and she loved deeply, and if you hurt someone she loved – you’d better watch out.
It was only recently that I was able to forgive myself for being the person that told the doctor that we wouldn’t put her on life support. I know that I wasn’t the only one to make the decision. But, that voice that says you rushed into it, you didn’t give her a chance to fight. Even when a doctor tells you that there is no coming back from this, you have that moment so full of hope that you have to keep from screaming. But, there was nothing that was going to make it better, and she was gone – just a shell. She wouldn’t wake up, and there is nothing that anyone could have done to make any difference.
The reality is that I did the right thing for Mamma, the only thing to do. And it is not lost on me that Mamma was the reason that I was strong enough to make the hardest right decision of my life. I had forgotten that I was that strong. I had forgotten that I have been strong enough all of this time.
With all of the uncertainty and change that this year has brought, I am struggling to find my footing. I try to hold onto the things that Mamma taught me over the years. Even after all of this time – she is still that voice in my head telling me it is going to be alright. I don’t know what she would say about what is happening right now – but I know what she would tell me. “We’ll get through it one way or another.”
Mamma’s right. We’ll get through it.
Happy Mother’s Day