I would have liked to call my mother. I would like it to be as it was on Friday, June 7th. That afternoon I called Mom. She did not answer as was usually the case with her iPhone. But a few minutes past later my iPhone lit up with her picture.
I would have liked, as we did that day, to chat for forty or more minutes about my life, my relationship with my five younger brothers, my accomplishments, my children and grandchildren, as well as the one great gift I gave her: the daughter she always wanted. My mom, Dorothy Jean Thomas, always brightened when I spoke of Edna Marie. There’s a void now as Mom and Edna Marie no longer let me know just how unimportant my opinion can be.
Mom suffered the brain bleed and stroke the next morning. By June 23rd she was gone. The first few days of Hospice care, Mom could sometimes feel and return the squeeze of a hand. Her eyes could brighten when a Facetime call brought her caregiver Pam into the room from a long scheduled European river cruise or grandson Adam from his sabbatical trip to Israel. Brothers and family, local and from faraway, sat with her. The three inch three-ring end-of-life binder she prepared eighteen years ago (and frequently reviewed with us) was a comfort as we honored the woman my daughter Melinda wrote about after mom overcame a series of mini-strokes in 2017 entitled Tough Old Broad.
I would have liked to call my mother and tell her that WCT.coach was becoming a reality. I would like to have told her that my son Adam (priest, blogger, and superb web designer) and I recorded an initial Of Use Podcast with Adam as the guest. She would have loved the story of making sure the Snowball microphone actually connected to the iPad. And, she would have loved to hear our voices as Adam answered my three questions: 1) In your training, what was of use? 2) Post-training, What did you learn that became of use? 3) How are you now of use? Mom would be pleased that there are only eight more episodes to collect before the Of Use Podcast debuts this fall.
As was the case with the meandering process of my undergraduate degree (Mom gave me a stuffed turtle with words “Finally Made It” to spur me on during the ten years it took to get those last three credits) and the iterative journey of my autoethnographic doctorate, Mom celebrated my progress in defining my retirement with WCT.coach in that last phone call. She noted that I was living my of use questions. I miss hearing both her challenge and support.
Actually, I miss being able to call my mother. Yet, I still hear her voice. Thankfully, I’m not that much different from anyone who enjoyed a deep relationship with one now physically departed. There are moments when I work with my tools on a fix-it project that I feel my father-in-law’s breath on my neck and hear words of advice (which I’ve learned to often ignore as it begins with a Rube Goldberg style solution, but sometimes is just the right answer!). When I was twelve, I gave Mom a Maxwell House coffee mug for Mother’s Day. I suspect that rather than a phone call, we can have coffee together and Mom will have that mug in her hand.
This story is about grieving. Adam posted a marvelous take on how differing forms of grief is portrayed in the movie Avengers: Endgame. My grief over losing my 93 year-old mother is bound up in experiencing the loss of easy relationship. I can’t simply pick up the phone and pick up where we left off. I find myself surprised by the void that finds other ways to be filled, often with laughter.
My family has attended Guest Period almost every summer for 24 years at Kanuga in Hendersonville North Carolina. Up until her health made it impossible for her to walk the steps of this holy space, Mom loved being there. Her health issues cut short her last stay when she was about 84. Mom needed to return home to the Raleigh area, a five hour drive. My brother Jeff met us halfway. Jeff has been Mom’s primary caregiver and foil for twenty years since she moved to North Carolina. The Friday before this year’s Kanuga trip, we visited Jeff. On the kitchen table rested the marble block style urn with Mom’s ashes (as directed by the three inch three-ring binder). I said we should take Mom to Kanuga with us. The deep laughter and love came with Jeff’s immediate response, “Okay, but I’m not coming to get her if she needs to come back early!”
Forty years ago, post-divorce, Mom took my younger three brothers and moved just north of San Diego California to be near her younger sister and her family (five boys and two girls!). Sometime after Mom arrived, Carl and Emily (my grandparents and parents of Mom and Mig), re-retired from Florida to be nearby. Per Mom’s instructions, the family will gather to place Mom’s ashes next to Carl and Emily at some point later this year.
I love you Mom. I don’t need to call you now to tell you. But I wish I could. Thank you for exhibiting the gift of perseverance. Thank you for your crankiness, courage, and strength. You are evident in my generation and the next generation. Such is the way of love. Thank you for both showing me and walking with me along this pathway. I look forward to our continued conversation.