I have never really cared for stories about the sick and dying. I've never found the subject appealing. In fact, I'd rather avoid the whole thing until that moment when it becomes unavoidable.
My mother was a farm kid. The second of six. She grew up in eastern Montana on the banks of the Missouri River. She lived an abandoned life as a child she once told me, lost in the middle of six kids while cooking for farm hands- helping to scratch a living out of the dirt. The Great Depression was fresh in the minds of the folks back then and they lived a frugal existence, barely making ends meet and wasting nothing. She tried to fix or repair everything that broke. Her harvest gold washer and dryer will testify to that. That was how my mother lived her life.
So about the time my father first showed an interest in my mother, the sparks flew right away. Mother would later tell me that my father was the only person that showed genuine interest in her at that insecure time of her life. Mom said she hated that farm. She hated milking cows. She wanted to get away and my father seemed to offer her the perfect opportunity.
They dated, they were married, and they would have three kids. They would travel all over Montana- chasing the American dream.
The truth was, my parents soon found out that they were incompatible. In a different day when divorce didn't happen- the two of them just stuck it out. Arguing, fighting, and living some miserable existence, I often wished that they would just get divorced. Out of the war zone that was my childhood, I fought back. I did all those things that kids who are raised in an environment like that do. I experimented with pot, I drank, I smoked, I cursed, I ran away, and I barely made it through high school. The night before my high school graduation was the last night my parents ever spent together. I came home that night to find my mother crying and my father packing up a few belongings.
And like my mother on that farm some twenty years earlier, all I could think about was running away. and I did. And I kept running for 30 years.
I tried to live my life differently but in a world of infinite possibilities and very few solutions, my life ended up more or less just like my parents' life had. I got divorced, quit my job, and beset with depression- I used every skill I had ever learned as a cop to examine my life and put the pieces back where they belonged. I quit drinking. I searched for and found the truth. The promise we are all born with.
Mom lived in the same house for over 30 years. She was always gardening and planning various home improvements. I never envisioned a day when she would not be in that house.
I spent countless hours talking with my mother back then, sorting out what had happened and reflecting back on those times. The pieces started falling into place. Everything started to make sense and I began to gain understanding. The anger that had been such a burden throughout most of my life started to fade away. My parents were just living their lives and I guess I had just been an unintended piece of collateral damage. And while that might sound bad, it helped shape who I was and oddly, who I was about to become.
Slowly, we repaired our relationship. And then late in 2012, right after she retired, mom was diagnosed with throat cancer. Mom had beaten breast cancer years earlier in her life and a few other ailments- so she set about the task of getting well. Mom hated to drive and so it would be my duty to drive her everywhere. We had two or three different doctors, tests and imaging, radiation, chemo, throat dilations. I would pick mom up and bring her home. I remember thinking that I must have taken her to 125 different appointments over that two year span. I never missed an appointment.
She never complained- even when her hair fell out.
Mom eventually won that bout with cancer but it was a pyrrhic victory. She never really thrived after that. It was a slow, two year decline until Dec. 22 when my siblings summoned the ambulance for her. We spent the next three weeks at the hospital and I think mom thought she was going to beat this. She was used to winning these battles but this time was going to be different. It was hard for us to watch.
Mom died January 13.
We paid her bills, wrote her obituary, and made arrangements for her to be picked up and cremated. On January 16th we spoke with an attorney about her will, locked up her house, and returned home.
Today I picked up mom's ashes. I put them in my car. As I was driving through Boise, I realized I was taking her home for the last time.
Mom's life taught me a lot of things but not in the way she might have intended.
I've learned that many of the things we learn as children, both good and bad, follow us for a long time. I've discovered that people love in different ways. That some things are worth fixing. I've learned that you can't simply hold people accountable for things they don't know or don't understand. I've learned that people fail- often while trying to do the right things. But mostly I think- I've learned that people are just living their lives. Doing the best that they can. You have to let them be- living is evolutionary and personal. Resentments are wasted energy and mostly untrue. Understanding others and forgiveness are similar concepts. Resolving feelings of guilt and anger are healthy when done right. I had the opportunity to make sense out of all of that while my parents were still alive. I am very grateful I was given that opportunity and it is with tremendous reluctance that I- as well as my siblings- are forced to join the ranks of those who have lost loved ones. This is going to take some getting used to.