Every January I get a bee in my bonnet about starting to blog again. This year was no different and I wrote two whole posts before I stopped writing. I was fired up about accountability and Cancel Culture. I still am, but no one else seems too concerned so it’s like screaming into the wind. I had every intention of blogging more – I was shooting for weekly – but then I got a call that changed everything.
The nursing home where my mother lived, where I had been just the day before, called. I didn’t think much of it even though they never call me unless something bad happened.
Something bad had happened, my mother passed away.
I had to ask the nurse to repeat herself three times before I actually started registering the words she was using. I don’t know why it was so difficult for me to comprehend what had happened – the nurse thought it was a blood clot, but we didn’t bother with an autopsy so we’ll never know for sure – my mother had been in poor health for decades. I should have been expecting this call, but it took me completely by surprise.
Here is the obituary I wrote for her last year when she announced she had enough of the lockdowns and was going to kill herself by refusing to eat. She did not, like most of her threats of suicide she forgot about them after a few days – one of the upsides of dementia I guess.
My brother and I just had the memorial service for my mother a few weeks ago. It took us nearly 8 months to put this party together and what a party it was!
It took on a life of its own. A theme emerged early on, actually before she died. My mother – always one to try to one-up my father, wanted to buried in a plastic pink flamingo. You know, the tacky lawn decor from the 60s and 70s? My mother hated pink flamingos, but they sort of became her thing because one year back in the mid 70s my father planted a pair of flamingos in the front yard at our lake cabin. My mother thought they were horribly tacky and complained about them until he yanked them out and threw them in the garage.
For whatever reason my brother and I associated my mother with flamingos and if there was every a gift giving opportunity we gave her something with a flamingo on it – the tackier the better.
We buried my father in a pickle jar because he believed the cost of an urn was outrageous and didn’t want us to waste his hard earned money on one. He did not tell us what a suitable alternative would be. He liked to pickle things and had a lot of pickles jars so we decided why not?
My mother wanted to upstage him, and thus the reason for wanting to be buried in a plastic pink flamingo.
Alas, we could not figure out a way to do it that the cemetery would go along with so mom is also in a pickle jar, next to dad for eternity.
While we could not bury her ashes in a plastic yard decoration, we could make the theme of her memorial that of Pink Flamingos (not the movie, though she would have enjoyed that too). People who knew her arrived in all kinds of pink flamingo attire, it was a wonderful way to honor my mother and I think she would have been just as touched as my brother and I were by the show of solidarity with regard to all things pink and feathery.
It’s been 9 months, and I am still processing the loss of my mother. Since the memorial service last month, my daughter has flown the nest and I am now an empty nester. I haven’t had time to process that either. For most of my life I have been taking care of someone else, and suddenly that is no longer the focus of my existence. It’s weird.
I know most of my readers here did not know my mother, I have written about her a few times over the last 16 years and I wrote a book about her that I have not published because she asked me to wait until she passed – it’s in the hands of a skilled editor as we speak so stay tuned for more info on that in the weeks to come – but I do not believe I captured the essence of my mother. The funny thing is it changes the minute they are no longer here. She approved of the obituary I wrote, she loved it. I believe she would have also loved what I said at her memorial.
It’s no secret that mom and I sometimes had a challenging relationship. The teen years were exceptionally trying on both of us. When she pulled I pushed, when she said up, I went down. It wasn’t that we disagreed so much as we were cut from the same cloth – even though I hated to admit it.
I have my mother hands. I didn’t realize this until my children were born and I started noticing those things – the physical traits we pass on to each generation as well as the behaviors and beliefs that come from growing up in a family.
My mother had two mottos she lived by – Life isn’t Fair, and Shit or Get off the Pot.
Even though my mom suffered from dementia at an early age, and delusions later in life, she was also well rooted in reality. Try your best to make the best of the cards you were dealt.
She was not the easiest person to live with, and she’d be the first to admit she could be difficult at times – but when I started telling friends and long ago neighbors of her passing – the overwhelming response was that they recalled how kind she was to them.
She did not sweat the small stuff – mostly because she could not remember the small stuff. If Kit or I got ourselves into trouble her response was usually laughter – unless you were on the roof and then it was just pure frustration, though often followed by laughter.
When my mother got sick her friends and family rushed in to help my father, Kit and me. I would most certainly not be who I am without my mother, but I would also not be who I am if it were not for those friends and family who stepped in to help when she was recovering in the hospital and beyond.
Life is unfair, but if we are lucky we have people in our lives (and we get to be those people in other’s lives) who rise to the occasion and help balance the scales.
Shit or Get off the Pot – this was another favorite saying of my mother and she said it to me when I struggled to make a decision. She never tried to steer me in one direction or the other – she only wanted me to go in the direction that would make me happy.
That’s all my mother wanted. She wanted Kit and me to be happy and she didn’t care how. In the last decade or so of her life she struggled with delusional thinking. She believed Kit was a CIA operative and that I was the speech writer to Donald Trump.
She hated Donald Trump, but she was so proud of me for pursuing my dream of writing and writing some of the finest speeches she had ever heard. She hated the war that Kit was fighting, but she was proud of him for his service to the country.
It wouldn’t have mattered what we did – it was impossible for either of us to disappoint mom.
Life is short, and you never know when it’s going to smack you for a loop like it did my parents. Use the good china, take the trip, pursue your dreams. We are not guaranteed a tomorrow so make sure today is the best it can be.
You might be wondering why many of us are decked out in Pink Flamingo attire. The truth is mom hated pink flamingos ever since dad planted a pair of them in the yard at the cabin. She thought they were the epitome of tacky. And because she made such a stink about them we always associated them with her and they became her thing – unwittingly.
Since her passing they have become my thing too. They remind me of her grace, beauty and whimsy. They remind me of my mom – someone for whom life had not been fair, but who took a chance and provided my brother and me with an amazing life.