I struggle to remember what her voice sounded like. The memories have been pushed aside by 30 years of competing sounds.
I close my eyes, furrow my brow, and scrunch my face desperately trying to remember her saying something… anything.
Fear slowly creeps into my awareness… How could I have so easily forgotten? What if I can’t ever remember it again? Stubbornly, I try again and again to summon the sounds of her voice. I desperately attempt to rewind the tape to hear the phrases she used to say to me over and over again.
Panic grips my heart… What DID she used to tell me?
My heart begins to race, my breathing increases, and tears begin to form. My mind fills with sketchy glimpses of recollections from all those years ago… I frantically try to hold onto one of them but it easily eludes my grasp.
Memories can be slippery suckers.
My brain tells my heart, “Calm down, Sandy… Relax… The memories will come… They’re just misfiled for a moment. Have you seen your memory’s filing system lately? It’s a complete and total mess…” lol.
I laugh at my own consciousness for using humor to calm me the heck down. But it really isn’t all that surprising, is it?
I imagine a ginormous memory storage room in the basement of an abandoned building with rows and rows of towering file cabinets. Many of the file drawers are half open with files strewn around all over the place.
Dang, haven’t my memories gone digital yet? There’s GOT to be a way to scan and organize them all, right? Surely, we have the technology…
In my mind’s eye, I physically walk into my memory file room and I reach down to pick up some random file off of the floor. I slowly open the bright red file folder (Why have a file system filled with boring manila file folders when they can be in fun colors?)… lol.
I suddenly realize my Mom loved the color red. Wow… I look around at the brightly colored files scattered around the room and wonder if I’ve color coded the memories according to file color… but as I begin to get lost in that thought I consciously realize I’m in danger of going on another one of my tangents… lol.
As I open the red file, the first thing I see is a picture of my Mom sitting at our Thanksgiving dinner table and smiling at the camera. Her thumbs are in her ears and her fingers are wiggling as she makes a funny face.
I smile and confidently close my eyes again. The sound of her laugh breaks through the previously blank recesses of my mind. Her laugh… Wow… I don’t even know that I’ve ever really focused on the sound of her awesome laugh before….
I remember she laughed pretty easily. I could do my fish lip face during even the most serious of discussions and she couldn’t keep herself from laughing.
I’m now realizing that I used to love making my Mother laugh – and I used to go out of my way to do so… Whoa… I’ve never had that thought before this very moment. Tears are streaming down my face.
Oh sure, there were lots of great times in my Mom’s life… but there was also a lot of pain. There was ample reason for my Mom not to laugh.
She was married to an alcoholic whose addiction eroded their marriage and our finances. The security of home ownership vanished in the rubble of a bad business investment.
After being gone for decades, my Mom returned to the workforce. She studied hard, took the real estate licensing test, and passed with flying colors. However, she flailed as an actual agent despite working her dupa off. I think she just didn’t have the killer instinct or the in-your-face personality necessary at that time to succeed in a highly competitive sales world.
She struggled to find her way – it’s hard to start over again later in life. My Dad continued to drink… He was struggling, too.
She finally found her stride working for a group of doctors from the neonatology department of a hospital. My Dad ultimately quit drinking months after yet another horrible accident that almost took his life. Becoming and staying sober was quite a complicated process and a whole nuther Oprah.
Through it all… My Mom was finally thriving. My Dad was also thriving…
Her cancer diagnosis stole our breath away… and knocked us face down to the ground.
It’s sad to remember that my Mom’s life was filled with so much pain. No wonder I tried so hard to make her laugh.
I remember that as I drove her into Los Angeles for her radiation or chemotherapy appointments we would sing along with the Carpenters, Barry Manilow, and Stevie Wonder at the top of our lungs. We didn’t care how we sounded or what we looked like to the other cars stopped in the excruciatingly frustrating traffic on the freeway.
But it’s the silence on the drive home that crumbles me to this day.
I desperately tried to make it all better. But I couldn’t – No one could. Her particular cancer was just too far along to be fixed – though they really tried… Medical research then wasn’t where it is now.
Mom’s valiant fight stretched a 3-6 month prognosis into 3 ½ years. I’m so proud of her. She fought so hard.
A few memories with sound slowly return as I close my eyes again… I can hear her call my name from downstairs when it was time for dinner… I can hear her yell for me from the back porch in Ohio when I was off playing in the creek and it was time for me to come home…
I wince as I also remember the loud thud when she fell hard onto tile floor in the bathroom. I crinkle my face trying desperately to destroy that particular file. But it’s too late… memory’s scar is reopened seeking to do further damage.
I frantically try to replace that image with a new file…
I softly exhale in relief because I can visually see her face light up as she gushed over every gift that was ever given to her… Her actual voice in my memory is a little muffled… It’s still there… but it’s just faded a bit.
I remember her talking on the phone to her one and only sister who lived out of state. That was back in the stone ages when you were charged an arm and a leg per minute for long distance phone calls. My Mom’s end of the phone would be silent for long periods of time as she quietly listened to her sister’s voice. My Mom was such a great listener…
I wonder if that’s part of the reason it’s hard to remember her voice…. Because she was always too busy listening… Hmmm…
Slowly I remember some of the last coherent things she ever said to me in those last few months in a voice much weaker than her normal, healthy voice:
“Will you sing ‘Amazing Grace’ to me?” – She said this to me over and over one day as she was lying in bed. I sang all the verses I knew with heartfelt gusto… The moment I finished she asked me to sing it again… but she asked me to move 10 feet away…I must have been a tad too loud for her…lol. I kept singing… and she kept asking me to sing again and again. Finally, when I was standing in the doorway after singing it multiple times… she drifted off into sleep. Sleep was hard to come by,
“Why can’t we get this whole dying thing over with?” – She said this while sitting at the dining room table. I have no idea what lame thing I said back to her – but then she followed it up with, “Well, I just wish they would hurry it up.”
“I’m too tired to drink that.” – In the last several months when eating and taking pills became problematic, my job was to crush her morphine pills and put them into Carnation Instant Breakfast or Ensure drinks she attempted to swallow 3 times a day. I quickly learned to crush all of the pills into the first half of the drink and have her finish it before filling her glass with the remaining liquid.
“Who are you?” – Lucidity was a stranger to her those last months. Fear filled her eyes as she looked at me like I was a burglar invading her house. She fought me at times by kicking and biting me. The pain and devastation from the cancer was fueled by the concoction of drugs she was taking. This was not my Mom… but a twisted version of her.
In my efforts to disremember those final months, I’m realizing the former, better days were also shoved and filed away along with the yucky memories.
But today I can hear her laugh with total abandon… It’s as clear today as it was way back then. Her laugh still warms my heart and fills me with joy. It was so danged great to hear her laugh. It made me feel so good to make her laugh back then.
I think it’s why I strive to make people laugh to this day – especially those who are lonely or who are in pain. What an unexpected and stunning revelation…
Thanks, Mom! Happy Mother’s Day!
Note: Mother’s Day can be so hard… Love them while you have them. Enjoy and savor every moment. Take pictures – You’ll need them for your red colored file folders… Happy Mother’s Day!
Happy Trails!… Until We Meet Again…