April 19, 2015 by
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Prompted By Anniversaries

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I also wrote about this in a previous post I published on the sixth anniversary of my mother’s death under the prompt Those We Miss.

I will never forget the actual anniversary of the day my mother died, April 19, 2015.

In Jewish tradition, every year we light a candle for the Yahrzeit or anniversary of a loved one’s death. Although it is a beautiful reminder and celebration of a person’s life, it falls on a different day each year because it is based on a lunar calendar. Every year, I have to consult with my brothers about what night to light the candle for our mother. As meaningful as that tradition is, I will never forget the actual anniversary of the day my mother died, April 19, 2015.

Mom with middle brother and me

My father had died a slow, sad death three years earlier in a nursing home, and my mother did not want that to happen to her. Happily, she got her wish. Sadly, I didn’t make it to her bedside in time to say goodbye.

Although she was 91 and had been experiencing stomach problems, the end came very quickly. My brothers, who lived near her, rushed her to the hospital and called me mid-day to say I should come as soon as possible. She had what turned out to be a perforated ulcer and was not doing well. The choice was a 5 to 6-hour car ride or catching a flight from Chicago to Detroit. I opted for the latter, thinking it would be quicker, booked the last seat on the next flight, and threw a few things into a carry-on bag. When my husband dropped me at O’Hare Airport, neither of us quite believed she would die.

With Mom in 2012

Because I barely made the flight and had a middle seat in the last row of the plane, the flight attendant confiscated my small bag. I begged her not to do this as my mother was dying and time was of the essence. I didn’t want to add a half-hour to retrieve it at baggage claim. Despite my begging and tears, the bag was taken. Rain delayed the flight, getting off the plane took forever, and picking up my carry-on from baggage claim added more time to the journey. Plus, I had lost an hour due to the time difference. My sister-in-law picked me up and we slowly drove to the hospital through a pouring rain.

When I finally made it to my mother’s bedside around 11:30 pm, it was clear that they had been keeping her alive so I could say goodbye. I hugged her and told her how much I loved her, but despite one of my brothers claiming she had reacted to my presence, I knew she was gone. As soon as the doctor disconnected the respirator, she died. It was just before midnight.

Perhaps if I had not been so delayed by the airline and the weather, I would have made it on time for Mom to know I was there. She was always there for me and I missed the chance to be there for her this one last time. Her decline had been so rapid that I’m not sure she was aware of much once she lost consciousness at the hospital. I wish I had at least been able to talk to her by phone, but given how quickly she became gravely ill, it wasn’t possible. In retrospect, short of dying in her sleep, this was pretty close to the ending my mother had wished for herself. I knew it was selfish of me to want to prolong her suffering so I could have a final goodbye. As it was, she would never have wanted to be on that ventilator just so I could see her “alive.”

The last time I saw my mother alive was on March 1 at a reception for my niece’s wedding. My in-town daughter’s family also drove there for the celebration, and we were all glad that we had this last chance to see Mom. She hugged her three oldest great grandchildren and held her youngest one, who was a baby. Here’s a picture of my granddaughter with my mother at that party. She was devastated when her Bubbe died.

Bubbe with one of her great grandkids

The funeral was a blur to me. I knew what Mom wanted because she had asked for these things for my father three years earlier. Although it was not customary, we put a spray of roses on her casket and family members threw them into the grave before we shoveled in the dirt. Her children each delivered a eulogy, as did her great granddaughter pictured above. We had framed photos displayed in the lobby of the funeral home. I know she would have liked it. The following October, we put the marker on her grave and did our own dedication service. At lunch after, we shared stories of mom.

Stones are left on top of the grave as an act of remembrance

Every time I drive past patches of Queen Anne’s Lace growing near a highway, I remember my mother and the anniversary of her death. Mom loved this wildflower and often took my kids to pick bunches of it that grew on the grounds of her apartment complex. She always told us that, while some people thought of it as a weed, she thought it was beautiful. It was her ability to see the beauty of simple things and her optimistic view of life that I remember to balance out the pain of that terrible anniversary.

Queen Anne’s Lace

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real, join my Facebook community, and visit my website.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: moving, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    I also mark my parents’ and in-laws’ Yahrzeit each year. The most painful for me is my father’s who was relatively young and also went suddenly. But I couldn’t say goodbye to him in CA while I was in Newton. 32 years later, that remains difficult for me. I understand how you feel and share in your loss. May her memory be a blessing.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    What a sad, terrible anniversary to remember, Laurie, though you have told the story of that day beautifully. I just hope you don’t blame yourself for the delays. . But I can only imagine how difficult it must have all. been at the time. I am thankful that your also have the flowers for your memories of your dear mother.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, John. Of course, I have had many happy anniversaries in my life, including a 50th anniversary, for which I am very grateful. I wouldn’t say I blame myself for the delays, but I still feel very sad that I wasn’t there when either of my parents died.

  3. Marian says:

    I understand all your complex feelings about your mother’s death, Laurie. May her memory be a blessing. I had been at my father’s side (he was at home) a few hours before he died, and traded places with my brother, who arrived from Sacramento. I arrived home at midnight (I lived an hour away), fell asleep, and a few hours later awoke with a start and knew he was gone. An hour later, my brother called to confirm it. I dressed quickly and drove back. Even though I missed the exact moment, my dad hadn’t really been aware of what was going on, so I don’t feel too many regrets.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      It’s a complex issue, Marian. was also not thee when my father died but he had lapsed into a coma and I had seen him before that. I guess that whole day was such a nightmare for me that I replay it in my mind every year, even though there was nothing I could have done differently.

  4. Laurie, what a loving tribute to your mom who you greatly resemble!
    That she saw the beauty in the weeds (Queen Anne’s Lace!) is a lovely metaphor for her outlook on life.

    My mother died in 1998, never gaining consciousness after emergency surgery. But days earlier she must have sensed she was dying when from her hospital bed she asked me, “Why are you holding on to me, I’ve had a full happy life.”

    That comforted me and emotionally I was able to let her go.

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    Although it was incredibly frustrating and sad not to be with your mother earlier, I have to believe that she knew you loved her throughout your life, and who knows, may have had some level of awareness that you were hurrying to her side. That love is more important than just showing up at the last minute. It is just so hard to lose a parent, especially one as special as your mother. May the remembrance ritual help heal.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, Khati. Mostly, I think about the happy parts of our relationship. It’s just the anniversary and remembering the pain and fristration that’s hard.

      • Khati Hendry says:

        I get it. I still am distressed that all the plans for hospice and a good death for my dad still ended up with a very difficult and frustrating last day, and have to focus on the good parts.

        • Laurie Levy says:

          Yes, Khati, as much as we hope we can relieve their suffering and help our loved ones have a “good death,” it’s not always possible. My mother came close to that but my father’s ending was long and full of pain. The saddest part for me was that his mind was totally intact through all of it. I guess that was good for his wife and children but it must have been awful for him.

  6. Ah, Laurie…the pain and frustration you felt, and still feel, comes through in this very honest account. It must have been hard for you to write this…hopefully in doing so you’ve come a little closer to peace of mind, even though of course the sadness will never go away. My heart goes out to you, my friend.

  7. Suzy says:

    Very moving story, Laurie. Thanks for reminding us that not all anniversaries are happy ones.

  8. Dave Ventre says:

    I find the tradition of leaving the stones on the marker to be particularly moving.

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