I have been lucky in a way that until recently the loses in my life have been at moderate levels. They have prepared me in someways for the recent death of my mother. She was 82 years old so I knew death was coming but now that it finally has it still caught me of guard in some ways.
When I got the phone call from my uncle telling me my mother had died I was in disbelief and stayed that way for several days. We were on vacation and had to drive across country for two days to get back home. The time driving gave me a chance to reflect and begin to think about what life without my mother would be like. When she was younger she had enjoyed road trips. Years ago she had given me her old atlas with rest stops and places to eat marked. She loved to reminisce about the last big road trip we had been able to take. Mom, my sister and I had driven across country, from California to Maine. She and my sister had started out in Ventura, California along with my uncle, Jerry and his daughter. They all went as far as Branson, Missouri. There we all met up and went to a show there together. She retold some of the silly jokes from the show for years.
My uncle and his daughter had to stop the trip there and I joined my mother and sister to drive on to Maine. We made stops along the way at places we would always remember, such as Niagara Falls, where we got to see and do everything on a tour of the Falls area (this was just a few days after 9-11 and many people had canceled their travel plans). We stayed at Bar Harbor, Maine a couple of days before heading back. I had to catch a plane in Massachusetts to get back to work, but my sister and mom drove on the rest of the way back to California. They joked about how they felt like Lucky and Ethel on a road trip together. Neither of them could read a map very well and they frequently got lost on the way back.
I thought about trips like this I had made with my mom as I drove back home to Kansas City to make arrangements to fly out to California to say good by one last time to mom. All the way I kept expecting someone to call and say she was ok and there had been a mistake or to wake up and find out it was a bad dream.
It began to be more real as I sat down to write her obituary. How can you even begin to sum up a life in a few lines of newsprint? Then I decide to put together a slide show for the services. That was when I realized how few photographs I had of her (note to self take more pictures of people I love). Then I though about what music to put with the pictures. Mom had asked that the old song by Kansas “Dust in the Wind” be played but I felt it was too sad and expresses the futility of life to be the only music. I picked an old song by Frank Sinatra, “I’ll Remember You” because as long as I am alive I will remember you, my mom.
When we go to her apartment, where she had spent the last years of her life, it was not the same. It was not mom’s apartment. She had been giving away a lot of her things and my brother and sister had a ready started cleaning and packing things. As I drove around Ventura it was no longer her town. She always loved to go out to eat at special places but they were no longer her places. She even had certain ways to get around town but it was no longer her telling me which way to go.
Talking with the minister about what to say for the service and how to summarize a life in a few words was hard. The day of the funeral finally came and seeing her body in the casket began to make it more real. I spent the morning at the wake. I greeted people for a while but finally sought relief by going out side for a while. There I was able to talk to my daughters and hold my youngest grandson. However, much of the morning is already becoming a blur. I recall the service seemed to last forever, but then ended too soon. My sister came in just before the service started and placed a chocolate in mom’s hand because we all knew how much mom loved chocolate. She said the chocolate would have to last mom until she got to heaven.
After the services a lot of the family went to one of her favorite places to eat where I her favorite meal, a patty melt. We all sat around and told Martha stories. It made me feel good to hear how many people’s lives she had touched.
The day after the funeral my wife, daughters, grandson and son-in-law took a little road trip of our own. We drove up to a little town called Ojai. The only time we ever got up there with mom it had been closed. It was a Monday and most of the little shops had been closed for the day. Together with my family we made new memories doing what we like to do, tasting wine and poking around little shops. We had a nice lunch together and I told them stories about mom.
Our last day in Ventura I took my daughter Debra and her husband out to the marina and the beach mom had loved to come to spend the day, before it got to be too much trouble to go out there. That was one of the ways I knew how tired and weak she was getting.
The last night in Ventura we went to another of her favorite places to eat with mom’s best friend, Sandy. Where I had another of her favorite dishes, a plate of BQ ribs. We sat and told more Martha stories and Sandy talked about what a good friend mom had been to her. She never planned to get close to mom because she was just a room mate but over the course of nearly 20 years more they had become much more than roommates.
On our last day in California my wife and I went to see the Missions in Ventura and Santa Barbara. I recalled going to the Missions and many other places with mom on our road trips together. By taking this road trip this week I remembered mom and all the fun things we did together the last years of her life.
After dinner at a little place right on the beach Michelle wanted to go for a walk on the beach to watch the sun set. While we were sitting there I saw a cloud formation that looked like mom with her arms out stretched saying good-bye.