Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Five years on

The advance of winter has always made me a bit melancholy. Besides being darker and colder,  there's the relentless march of holiday enthusiasms, which can wear out even the hardiest. I wouldn't be surprised to learn I have a touch of seasonal affective disorder.

This is also the time of year when my mom Kay died. It happened, after a long slow decline, five years ago on December 13th. I was sure, before the fact, that I'd write about her when she died. It didn't work out that way — I think her long-anticipated passing took me away from contemplation and remembrance. (I wrote just once here, about 18 months before she left.)

By the time she died I was exhausted from the cross-country routine I got into during her last two years. During her long decline, I got caught up in the details of daily caretaking: sponge baths, trips to the bathroom, pull-on clothing, blankets and pillows adjusted just so. As these details became all-encompassing for her and a cadre of home health aides and hospice workers, I worried: I don't want to remember only this.

But as the months wore on, it was increasingly hard to recall much before this world of invalidism encroached. I had more and more difficulty conjuring up any of the thousands of wonderful moments I'd had with my lively, engaging, generous mom.

Now, five years on, as the days shorten, I'm more able to consider her life in full. That seemingly endless period of her diminishing — in fact, just 2 1/2 years of a 92-year run — has at last receded into reasonable perspective. Now I can remember her frequent dinner parties, her long and satisfying pink-to-white-collar career, her kindness towards all who came her way. I can almost hear her regular phone check-ins with friends; I long observed (and learned from) her looking after the lonely, the isolated and the disaffected. She was always ready to put together a gathering or a meal, and her home became the center of her crowd.

For a woman born in rural Texas in 1916, one of 11 children (and one of only two of them to graduate from high school), she became known in her adult life as being remarkably worldly, open-minded and unflappable.

But even as a young woman — before she left Texas to experience the world — she showed self-confidence and an unusual inner strength (she was probably 19 or 20 in this photo).


Over the years I loved calling her to consult on recipes (she was a terrific scratch cook, and could also read cookbooks to unearth adventurous new dishes). She was friends with my friends and had her own relationships with them. (And hired a few, too.) As a Washington-area resident for 60+ years, she kept current with the news and especially loved the ritual of the D.C. Sunday talk shows. She was always keen to see new sights, and she and I had wonderful trips to New York, California, Alaska, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. When my dad was alive, he put off the notion of pleasure travel until he retired — but he died at 63. She understood that lesson immediately; within three months of his death she began to travel the world, and did so for the next 30 years.

As her auburn hair began to go grey, she took the time-honored route of so many women, to become a champagne blonde. She made the most of it, that's for sure. Here she is post-retirement in her beloved garden. (Only at age 91 did she finally agree to skip the color rinse; it turned out that her hair was a beautiful white.)


It surprises me a little that it's taken this long for me to remember more of her than her last couple of years. It doesn't surprise me that — the month she was born, and the month she died — would be filled with many memories and a sharp sense of loss, in part. Even so, I'm so glad I'm able to remember much more of her prime (a long period, for her — a good swath of age 55-85) as the years move on.

And this is how I love remembering her: full of life, engaging and engaged in the world, as she was here.  She was the sort of person who, after a long absence, you could pick up with right away. Maybe that's where I'm getting to now.














5 comments:

Louis Gray said...

Here is what I know. Your mother raised an incredible, well spoken, intelligent, sharp, fun woman she and all of us can be proud of. One who is an industry leader in the companies changing the world. She must be exceptionally proud.

That you remember her full 92 and not just the challenging last 2 1/2 years is important. My mother in law is similarly declining (at 86) and it is challenging to remember when I spotted her around age 80 standing at the top of the ladder to trim trees in her backyard. Yet I know she did.

Remember the good with the bad for it is the entire story which tells the tale. Your mother sounds like a winner and you are an incredible legacy for her. Thanks for your story.

7aae4fc4-3efc-11e0-a2b4-000bcdcb2996 said...

your journey has been an inspiration to me. thanks, dear one.

Jody Tompros said...

I remember your mom so fondly. There was a time from age 6 to 12, Mrs. Wickre was a second mom. I remember us piling into your dad's car and picking her up from the bus. She always had our family for dinner. She was trying to perfect her lazagna and wanted my mom's opinion. I never saw her get mad. I loved that she invited my mom and me to join the two of you to your churches annual Mother-daughter banquet. Kay was so thoughtful of others. Thank you for honoring her. It was an honor to know and love her. Love you, Jody

Jody Tompros said...

I remember your mom so fondly. There was a time from age 6 to 12, Mrs. Wickre was a second mom. I remember us piling into your dad's car and picking her up from the bus. She always had our family for dinner. She was trying to perfect her lazagna and wanted my mom's opinion. I never saw her get mad. I loved that she invited my mom and me to join the two of you to your churches annual Mother-daughter banquet. Kay was so thoughtful of others. Thank you for honoring her. It was an honor to know and love her. Love you, Jody

Warren Jason said...

While I met your mom a few times, I can only remember at this juncture that she was a really nice lady and was always kind to me. She may have been a bit suspicious about my interest in her two year younger than me daughter, but she was chill with me anyway. ;)