Twenty-seven years ago today, on 4/25/86, my mother left this life and moved on to the next great adventure. It is so much easier to think of it that way, rather than mourning the loss of someone so dear to me for the rest of my life. She would never have wanted any of us to be so sad all the time. Not that she wouldn’t have been a little thrilled that we were all pretty wrecked when she left, but dragging the mourning on and on, ad infinitum, would have been, to her, a sure sign that somebody needed to get a different hobby.
My mother was one of those drop-dead gorgeous World War II babes, smoking those Pall Malls, which eventually became Tareytons when she decided using a cigarette with a filter might be a wiser idea. Not wise enough, unfortunately, and the COPD smoking created, along with the resultant congestive heart failure, kept her tethered to an oxygen machine for the last years of her life. I had seen it coming on years before, though. In truth, I heard it.
My cousin Herbie and I used to play tennis at the junior high school up the street from our grandmother’s house. We were 15, slamming the ball at each other as hard as we could, racing around like maniacs, sliding and stretching for every shot. Mother and Aunt Edna had walked up to the school and said they’d like to play, too, so we agreed. Mother had been quite an athlete in her day, playing golf, tennis, softball, bowling, gymnastics, and even basketball, amazing us all with her timing and accuracy. This was the same woman who taught me how to do a hook slide into the bottom of our mimosa tree, which doubled as third base in our front yard; the same woman who smacked a softball so hard it went across the street and crashed through Mrs. McKinnon’s bathroom window. Then, Mother thrust the bat at me and ran into the house! Just a few years later, when I heard her chugging across that tennis court, sounding like a tattered old bagpipe, i thought: SHE’S ONLY 42 YEARS OLD – WHAT HAPPENED TO HER?
What, indeed. COPD & CHF are two terrible ways to die, and two really terrible ways to live. She gave up the smokes eventually, but not soon enough. And, really, I think the only reason she didn’t smoke anymore was the fear that she’d blow the house up with a match struck in a room where oxygen was hissssssssssssing away. The damage to her lungs and heart was already done, though,and what terrible damage it was. Life can get intense and un-fun pretty quickly when you’re struggling for your next breath.
I know that none of us is getting out of here alive, and I know that we are all killing ourselves in one way or another every day. I just wish her life had been easier, and I wish we’d gotten to keep her longer, to see her healthy and teaching her grandkids how to do a hook slide without breaking a hip. That would have been fun to see. And so, on this day, just like I do each year, just like I do each day, I think of her, remembering her as so beautiful and vibrant – the woman with the dimples and quite an arm, too, slinging that ball into third as I slide in right under the tag, just like she taught me. Happy Heavenly Birthday, Mother. I love you much as always, and I hope your day has been – well – just Heavenly.