Monday, January 24, 2011


Evening Star

Two days after my mother had passed, I found myself sorting through old photos in her now vacant room at the nursing home. I felt overwhelmed, not by the quantity of items, for there was not much to go through, but it was the emotions that were attached to certain items and in particular certain photographs. These I found to be heart wrenching. Every nook and cranny in my Mother’s room seemed to have photos of our family’s past. There were old black and white photos, yellowing with age, images of what once was. A photo of my Mother and Father as a young married couple, their happiness apparent in their smiles and their eyes gazing into the lens of the camera with a sense of anticipation and hope, full of dreams of what the future might bring. There were recent photos also intermingled throughout the agglomeration of prints. My Mother wrinkled from age, hair thin and gray, a slight smile gracing her pursed lips and the twinkle in her eyes dimmed to just a glimmer of what it had been in years past. All the hope, dreams and anticipation she once had seemingly vanquished from her soul. I thumbed through a stack of old photos, stopping at one of me and my Mother when I was only about six years old. I was smiling broadly, probably laughing at something the photographer had said and my Mother smiling the same, as if there were no worries and her dreams fulfilled. A tear slowly trickled down my cheek as more memories came to mind.

“Morning Glory.” That was what my mom used as a greeting to most everyone and in time everyone began to associate this simple and unique greeting to Garnet, my Mom. She would always insist they give the proper response which was “and Evening Star.” I never understood the meaning behind the greeting, and I’m not sure she did either, but it became a part of my Mom as much as her blue-gray eyes and her comedic personality. It’s been said that the Morning Glory flower symbolizes ‘Love in Vain’ and the Evening Star, which is actually the planet Venus appearing on the Western horizon just after sunset, has been used for centuries by ancient civilizations to give direction to lost sailors and to aid in navigation. What-ever the real meaning behind the greeting and response, I like to think it was something my Mom had a clear understanding of and to her it was special.

Three days ago I was called and told my Mother was taken from the nursing home to the hospital. The attending physician sadly informed me that she was not expected to live through the night. I notified my brother and sister and we all made the necessary arrangements to travel and be by her side. Hopefully we would all arrive before she succumbed. My Mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s three years previous and the disease had taken most of her mental faculties, leaving only a worn and sickened shell of a body. As the disease progressed and we saw our mother regress we began to realize the end was near, it still left us in disbelief; unable to accept and comprehend the simple finality of life.

The hospital room was small, my mother lying in her bed, appearing to be unconscious; struggling with every breath was what we watched. We found ourselves trying to breathe deeper ourselves, subconsciously trying to take her next breath for her, only to see her once again grab another gasp of air. The only sound was an occasional beep from the monitors that disturbed the slow, shallow whispers of breathing as we sat in silence. Each of us lost in our own thoughts, struggling with what we knew was inevitable. I found myself dwelling on memories of time past with my Mom. Back to when she was healthy and young, always there to hug me when I was hurt, always giving me encouragement when I struggled, and seemingly absorbing all the pain and sorrow of each of her children with no regret or hesitation. She was the backbone of our family, the cohesion that held the different personalities and souls of our family together.

Looking back to when I was young, I realize now that even though I can only remember a couple of times that my mother actually spanked me, she was our family’s disciplinarian. She kept order by casting a warning glance or quoting a bible verse to make a point, making us feel ashamed and guilty for causing her so much disappointment. She would often say, “Just wait till your father gets home,” a warning that would always put fear in us, but never did it ever come to be. By the time my father arrived from work, the punishment had always been administered in her motherly way, leaving us alone in our room having to deal with the shame that we felt having disappointed our mother.

I remember once being punished in a very unique way. What’s strange is I can’t remember what I did wrong now, but I can vividly remember her punishment. Giving me that glare of motherly disappointment she instructed me to go out to the yard and retrieve a switch. She further instructed it had better be a substantial one. Sobbing and feeling terribly guilty, I slowly did as I was told, bringing her a long, flexible, whip of a stick. As I quivered and sobbed, begging her not to whip me, she simply knelt and instructed me to whip her instead. I stood there confused and bewildered as to her command. With sobs of her own she explained how much it hurt her to spank or discipline me and that she wanted me to feel the same pain and hurt she always felt when administering any form of discipline. I stood there shaking and crying, begging her not to make me whip her. At nine years old, I learned a life long lesson that day about love, life and pain that runs much deeper than I had realized before.

Sitting on her hospital bed, with the smells of antiseptic cleaners and solutions filling the tiny room in the nursing home my mother had spent her last days, I once again began thumbing through the old photos. My emotions were darting from past to present with a confused mingling of thoughts. I came across a photo of my brother and me, posing with our mother on the front steps of our house. I was about thirteen, my brother sixteen and we all appeared happy and content. It reminded me of the time our family was sitting around the dinner table, which was almost always an informal event. Five of us crowded around a small dinette, plates filled from the stove, each describing their individual events of the day. Fish sticks and ketchup, macaroni and cheese and black-eyed peas filled our plates and we each held our glasses out for our mother to fill with her pitcher of sweet tea. When it came my turn for my glass to be filled, there was an urge deep within me to suddenly yank the glass away from the slow pouring pitcher my mother held in her hand. I’m not sure if I thought that it would be funny or maybe just some adolescent prank that was willed into me by some unknown force, but just at the time she began to fill my glass, I yanked it away. The tea went splashing onto the table. For a brief second there was total quiet as what I did slowly began to register in everyone’s mind. I was waiting for everyone to start laughing, and they eventually did, but not until my Mother, the master of discipline, took the full pitcher of tea and poured it over my head. I sat there aghast, drenched in the cold, sweet beverage amongst the roaring laughter of my siblings and my father. This was one of the few times I ever heard my mother use profane language. As she emptied the pitcher over my head she said, “You little piss-ant.” I wasn’t sure what that meant at the time but I figured it wasn’t good.

Sometimes there was no need for punishment because she was adept at giving sufficient warning and explaining what consequences may occur. One of her favorite sayings was “I’ll cut you down to size,” or another one was “I’ll paint your breeches red.” As a parent myself I have tried these simple phrases on my own daughter, but for some reason they never seemed to have the same affect on her as they did on me.

Profanity was seldom used within our family and this may be why that to this day I still feel uncomfortable using profanity in public. With the exception of sh..t, usually pronounced shhheeee, never completing the sound with the final ‘t’ seemed to make it ok to use in a mixed family setting. When riding with my mother in heavy traffic, showing frustration at some inept driver, I would sometimes hear her say, under her breath, “either shhhheeee or get off the pot.” I do remember on a couple of occasions, her ‘flipping off’, ‘giving the finger’ to an unsuspecting driver that either cut her off or made one of many other driving faux pas. I always found this humorous, because it never seemed very natural for her to do. She always appeared to struggle with the necessary dexterity to maneuver her fingers in such a way as to display the necessary finger in a timely manner.

My mother was extremely religious, dedicated to her church and her deep faith in God. She insisted the family attend and participate in the church as well, and I feel deeply indebted to her for these values. Some of my best friends and many of my mentors that I still try to emulate came from these church settings. She would often speak of the relationship she had with God, describing her conversations with God as if it was done with a friend over a cup of coffee. She always seemed to be closer to God than most, and this now brings me a peace of mind, knowing that she will be in heaven soon, without pain and with God whom she knew so well in life.

After much thought I once again began sorting the photos. I found myself putting family photos in one pile, friends and acquaintances in another, attempting to have them in somewhat chronological order. I study another photo, this one recent, of my worn, tired, and sick Mom posing with her new Great-Grandchild Henry. This photo had just been taken a few weeks before and her happiness overcame the pain and sickness of her physical self. Smiling broadly, she looked at the new soul, the small infant Henry in her arms and seemed to briefly be at peace. I imagined her to be saying, “Morning Glory” as she cradled little Henry in her weakened arms.

Mom passed January 7th, 2011, one day before her eighty-third birthday. My brother Ron, my sister Jodie and I were by her side as she breathed her last breath. It’s comforting to know that she passed peacefully and without pain, with her children by her side seeking comfort and understanding from each other, something Mom had always wanted to be. Everything was silent; there was no sound of shallow breaths or beeping monitors, a moment of reckoning for each child as we gazed at her departed soul. I listened for a sound of life, a comforting word from God, but there was only a whisper within myself that simply said, “Good-bye Evening Star.”

Everyone will deal with the death of a loved one sometime in their life, this is inevitable. No matter how well we prepare ourselves for this, it still will remain difficult and overwhelming emotionally for most. Some will try to lay blame for the taking away of their loved one, sometimes blaming God. Some may blame the physicians that treated their loved ones saying it was their fault, their inability to save them from the illness that took their life. Sometimes one will claim that it is not fair, as if there is an option to death. Kahlil Gibran, a famous Lebanese poet, philosopher and artist once wrote, “When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

Thanks Mom for everything, you will be missed.