I have to write this before I can write about anything else. But I’ve been afraid to write it because I want it to be perfect. I want it to be honest. I know it will never be perfect and I know I’ll think of something later I forgot to include but I have to get it done so I can move on. I apologize in advance for the length.
Losing my mom
My mom died unexpectedly on December 15. She’d had a tough year, but we thought overall she was healthy and would go on for years. Her family history would suggest that and she’d invested in a very good long term care policy.
I got the call everyone dreads at 6:00 AM. I got lots of calls from Sunny View but this news was different. I struggled to process it. It was the last thing I expected to hear that day.
My sister and I were allowed to see her before they called the funeral home. Funny how we couldn’t go in while she was alive but it was OK now. Everyone there loved my mom and told us how much. They hugged us as we left.
Telling my dad was the hardest part. His assisted living facility also allowed us to go to his apartment to break the news. There’s no way we wanted to tell him over the phone. He took it hard and the three of us cried together for a while. He always assumed he would go first so he wasn’t prepared to live without her, even though he has been since February 1, 2020.
When I mentioned that to him yesterday, he said “but at least I knew where she was”. I wanted to say, and should have, “you do know where she is now and she’s happy”.
Actually, we’d already done much of our grieving. My mom, as we knew her, had been gone for a while. She wasn’t living the way she would have wanted. We could talk to her and she knew who we were but we couldn’t really converse. At times, she seemed quite lucid but then she’d venture off into some delusion or false memory. She wasn’t getting better. So, I prefer to remember her as she was before all of this.
My mom and I were very different from each other, which could make our relationship challenging at times. She never understood my introversion and growing up, I often felt she thought I should change. I always knew she loved me and wanted the best for me. And I loved her.
We were never the type of family that talks to each other every day. We didn’t know every detail about each others’ lives. We did get together for everyone’s birthdays and for holidays. And we’d talk if there was something specific to discuss.
Growing up, she always told me how much I looked like my dad. But others have always said I look like her. I do know that sometimes I see her when I look in the mirror. Maybe an expression. I also hear her sometimes in my voice or the words I use.
So what do I remember?
These are going to be kind of random thoughts, so bear with me.
She shared her love of spooky movies with us. Who takes her young daughters to the movie theater to see Bette Davis in “The Nanny”? We watched lots of Alfred Hitchcock (which I still do now that he’s on MeTV.) In fact, the last week or so I’ve been watching his shows on the DVR while I’m on the treadmill.
My dad was sometimes gone overnight for work and we’d get to eat dinner on TV trays in the family room. One time, we were having spaghetti. As I was rounding the corner out of the kitchen with my full plate of spaghetti in hand, I was surprised by the vacuum cleaner on the floor. We had the canister kind which meant lots of tubes and cords. I abruptly stopped and the spaghetti slid off my plate and all over the floor. Fortunately, we could laugh about it and it became one of our family stories.
You know, we laughed a lot, especially when someone fell or did something stupid. I also remember the time we all drove up to my sorority house in college and saw my pledge mom outside. Later on, she told me how we were all grinning from ear to ear and called us “the smiling Allemans”. I choose to remember us that way.
What I learned from her
My mom made almost all of our clothes when we were in grade school. I loved picking out the fabric as I got older. I was in awe at the fabric store, going through the aisles with shelves of fabric from floor to ceiling. One of my favorite dresses was a hot pink paisley tent dress, which I wore when I was in 6th grade. In case you either don’t remember tent dresses or are too young to know what they are, here’s a picture. And a very faded picture of our family when I wore that dress for our church directory pictures.
Eventually, my mom taught me to sew and I think of her every time I cut out fabric or tie a knot. I still have some of her sewing supplies that I “borrowed” when I moved out on my own.
She instilled in me my love of books. She read a lot to us when we were little and took us to the library until we could go on our own. She also researched anything she wanted to know more about, way before the internet. I’m sure that’s why I am a perpetual learner.
She taught me how to cook and during my senior year of high school, I made a lot of our meals. There are so many things I do today that remind me of that. She always said to wipe off the top of a can before opening it with the can opener. Always run the garbage disposal with cold water and let the water run for a while after you turn it off. Add a slice of cheese to the pot when making tuna (or chicken) and noodles.
Even though I don’t like cleaning my house, I do know how, thanks to her. Every Saturday morning, we dusted and vacuumed and changed our sheets. I do appreciate a nice home, taking care of my things and making it look comfortable and pretty. That’s definitely my mom.
In junior high, for one of my classes, I had to make an old looking map. To do this, you first draw the map on paper, iron it, and singe the edges. She “helped” me with the burning part. I can’t remember why, but as we were lighting the edges of the map with the match, we started laughing. You know, the kind of laughing that just gets worse the more you laugh? We couldn’t blow out the flame and we ended up dumping the map in the kitchen sink and I watched all my hard work burn to bits. I know I made another one but I can’t remember how we avoided a repeat performance.
We had fun helping my sister study, but she didn’t always appreciate us. She’d want us to ask her questions as she prepared for a test. I can still visualize us in our kitchen, asking her questions for a health class test. We asked “how can you tell if someone has a head injury?”. Her answer was “deformity of the head”. We burst out laughing and couldn’t stop. That was the last thing we expected her to say. She always got mad and stomped out of the room. Another of our family stories.
My mom had strong opinions and didn’t hesitate to share them, whether you asked for them or not. She knew about everything and we teasingly started calling her “the professor”. Some of her opinions left her a little close minded and she wasn’t always tolerant of differing opinions. She was right and you were wrong. There were simply some subjects I didn’t bring up. And because she didn’t always understand me, she’d try to tell me how I should (or shouldn’t) feel about something, instead of just listening. She was always trying to fix us.
She always said her job was to make me want to leave home. She did her job well. By the time I graduated from high school, I couldn’t wait to get to college. She was always very independent and I think that rubbed off on me. Fortunately, it prepared me well since I was on my own for many years. I do think she was happy when Tim and I got married, as she didn’t want me going through life alone. It’s easier to be independent when you have a backup!!
She was adamant about my sister and I learning to swim. She didn’t know how herself, evidently because of the polio scare when she was young. There was no way we weren’t going to swim and we tried all kinds of instructors until we found the right one. Now I love being in the water.
My mom worked for many years so my sister and I could go to college without any debt. I will forever be grateful to both of my parents for that. While I started out with nothing after graduation, I at least didn’t have to worry about paying off loans. I didn’t work while I was in school but I worked all summer, made my own clothes, and saved like crazy. That was my spending money for the year.
The later years
In our later years, she and my sister and I would take shopping trips to the outlet mall about an hour away. She would never come out and say she didn’t like something; she’d just say “do you really like that?” with a certain tone. She was like that with a lot of things and you always knew what she thought even if she didn’t say it.
She also got us all started on Brighton and we became some of their best customers. One year, we all got new purses for Christmas.
I made her an afghan several years ago and almost every time I visited her, she told me how much she loved it and how nicely it washed up. We took it to Sunny View when she was there but I don’t think she remembered it, which made me kind of sad. Then they misplaced it, which happened a lot with her things while she was there, and I was frantic about finding it. It finally surfaced, probably in some other resident’s room. I had to send a picture so they could identify it. I have it now and will keep it forever. Or see if one of my nieces would like it.
We didn’t take many vacations while I was growing up and the year I turned 40 (1996), my mom and dad took us all to Disney World. We had the best time and my mom decided they would join the Disney Vacation Club, so we could do it again. We did go several times, as well as to the Disney resort in Vero Beach. Our last trip all together was in 2015. At that time, I think both my parents knew they couldn’t keep up anymore and this would be their last time.
One of the things I kept when we were cleaning out their house last summer was this picture. I didn’t even know it existed.
Here are a couple of the last pictures we have of her before February 1, 2020.
I was lucky to be able to spend so much time with her and my dad while she was going through chemo and surgery for ovarian cancer. Those were long days but now I cherish them. I was their gofer, getting blankets, coffee, lunch, whatever she or my dad needed. I tried to come up with a different baked treat each time so she’d have something sweet to eat. She did like sweets!!
She was so grateful for all her doctors and nurses and told them often. Almost too often. Being with my mother could sometimes be embarassing as she would talk to anyone, and I mean anyone.
We never knew if it was the steroids during her chemo or not, but she talked nonstop when we were there. I’m not much of a talker so it was sometimes too much for me. But that is who she was. And why so many people loved her.
The COVID effect
It still doesn’t seem real, I think because we haven’t had a service or done anything to finalize it. So, not only did COVID mean we couldn’t see much of her this past year, it also means we can’t give her a proper goodbye.
We do plan to have a graveside service on Friday to bury her cremains and have some measure of closure. I know my dad especially needs that, but I can’t deny needing it myself. We’ll have a celebration of life service later in the year, hopefully in the spring, if things get better.
It’s been a tough three weeks. My sleeping has been even worse than normal. I wake up and the first thing I think about is my mom. Nothing specific, although sometimes it’s about something I need to make sure gets done.
I’m taking care of a lot for my dad, including writing to people to let them know. My sister and I sent out thank you cards to those who donated to a memorial. But we haven’t been able to interact with family or friends as we grieve. Sure, we’ve had emails, phone calls, messages, and cards, but that’s not the same as hugging someone as we share our grief. Maybe that’s why I can’t move on. I’m hoping this blog post is my therapy.
My massage therapist said something to me this morning that I won’t forget. She said that people will say “time heals all wounds”, but in reality, time just means the wounds don’t open as much. You’ll still feel the pain as deeply as ever and you’ll never know when it will hit you. And we just need to let it out. Grief is a funny thing.