by Marci Phee
(Los Angeles, CA, United States)
Linda Cunningham, 2006
I walked into my bedroom that summer night and she was stripping my pastel, butterfly patterned wallpaper from my walls, making room for the much more grown-up striped wallpaper we had chosen together. It was almost dark; she had one of those work lamps from the garage pointing to the wall. I sat on my bed and babbled on to my Mom about this boy I liked. How tall and cute he was. She quietly listened, nodding her head and putting strips of my little girl wallpaper into a garbage bin.
I wish I would have thanked her for working her hands to the bone to make my room beautiful. For taking the time to shop for new wallpaper and bedding and make sure everything was exactly as I wanted it. For listening to my boy stories. But at 15, you don't see much past boys and kisses. She knew that. It made her happy.
My Mom was always like that with us kids, with me. She did quiet and thoughtful things for us and didn't ask much of us in return. Just that we be happy and move forward in our lives.
I was reading a book recently and in it was a quote about one of the main characters. I read it over and over. I cried. This quote embodied my Mom:
“. . . a woman who will make small demands on life, who will never burden others, who will never let on that she too had sorrows, disappointments, dreams that have been ridiculed. A woman who will be like a rock in a riverbed, enduring without complaint, her grace not sullied but shaped by the turbulence that washes over her."
- A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini
Today is 3 years since she passed away very quietly in the middle of night. We had all said our goodbyes, laid next to her in her Hospice bed, paced the hall. All of her children by blood and marriage and her grandchildren lay sleeping in the waiting room of that Hospice House when she took her last breath. My Dad was in and out of sleep in the chair next to her, his feet propped up on the bed, ankles crossed as if it were an ordinary couch nap. But it wasn't. And he had said his goodbyes, too. Laid next to her. Quietly, enduring without complaint and never burdening any of us is how she lived her life. And how her life ended.
The dull ache of missing her is gone. I don't feel it every moment like I used to. Mostly, I can think of her or talk of her easily, with a smile or laugh and I feel grateful for the Mom I had and the childhood she created for me.
Sometimes, my mind wanders to The Last Few Days. And that is not a dull ache. It feels like a heart attack. Like someone has reached into my chest and is squeezing my heart with both hands, pushing down on my lungs. I usually force my thoughts elsewhere, leaving The Last Few Days alone to calm itself into an ache. Because remembering everyone's pain, remembering her confusion, her frail body, her bald head, her inability to communicate well, the dementia, the overwhelming worry that she had regrets and sorrows and fear . . . well, that serves no purpose for me. It can't ever bring a smile or gratitude like the wallpaper memory can.
I don't want to forget her. I want her legacy to be passed down to my children and my niece. I want them to know how much she loved iced tea (unsweetened), how she looked when she sat in a lounge chair with her freckled legs crossed, reading one of her many books. How she always had mascara smudged on her bottom lashes. That she loved prints of flowers, mauve colors, historical cities and Lifetime movies. That she never traveled farther than Canada or the Caribbean. That she didn't wear much jewelry, just her wedding ring and maybe a delicate necklace or earrings for a special occasion. That she made the best pumpkin rolls known to man and was a night owl and a late sleeper.
Writing these memories and sharing them with my world would make her happy, too.
She is missed as much today as she was 3 years ago.