If you’ve met me you’ve met my mother.
I told my mother that’s how I’d start her eulogy. When I arrived in Portland Oregon on Saturday evening she was alive, alert, and except for having difficulty breathing she was essentially normal. So we did what we have always done. We spoke to each other frankly about realities and our thoughts and feelings.
I had planned to come here Tuesday evening. Last night. I had planned to bring my youngest daughter Laura, so she could say good-bye to her grandmother. We had been told she had less than six months to live. I had planned to do a lot of things. I had planned, selfishly, to pop in for a visit. I was going to give the hugs and kisses, get back on my plane, and get a phone call in a month or two that mom had passed away. Friday night that all changed.
My sister called me and said she felt like I didn’t have until Tuesday. So I shuffled some money around and flew out here without my daughter on Saturday evening. I arrived to find my mom talking about taking me to see Crater Lake. I said to her, “I thought you were dying.” She replied, “I’m sorry if I’m not dying fast enough for you”. This is how we talked to each other.
My mother had asked a family friend and our former pastor to preach her funeral. But then she decided that she’d rather just see him while she was alive and skip the funeral. So my sister made a call and he flew out here. He arrived late Monday afternoon. As it turns out, I guess that was all she was waiting for.
We told stories. Recalling shared memories from way back when. Mom lay in her bed laughing late into the evening Monday. Tuesday morning she sat in the chair at her new hospice facility talking with her new doctor. Still cutting up, though she was having trouble breathing. The pastor and I went to breakfast. When we came back she was feeling poorly and clearly weaker. She lay in the bed listening to us discuss religion and beliefs, though I cannot recall her chiming in at all. By Tuesday evening she was unconscious, and around 6 am this morning she passed away. I have never seen a person decline so quickly. The pastor agreed that he had never seen that either.
So here I sit an hour later…
I told my mother when I arrived that I had started writing her eulogy in my sleep on Friday night. I told her that it started with, “If you’ve met me you’ve met my mother”. She said, “If you can finish it I’d like to read it before I go”. I’m sorry mom…I didn’t get a chance to do that. But I’m writing it now.
My mother was loud and opinionated, just like me. She said what was on her mind, and didn’t much care whether you liked it or not, just like me. She was loved by some, tolerated by many, and hated by a few…just like me. She found the humor in tragedy. The last thing she did while she was still conscious was laugh. It was tough to convince the doctors she was dying…I imagine they believe us now.
My mother was not a great woman, but she was a good woman. She did not change the world, except in the way that people who touch individual lives change the world. She raised two responsible, contributing members of society; and her DNA contributed to the creation of three of the greatest grandchildren to ever grace this planet. She died the way she lived, laughing and talking smack.
This morning I became the oldest living Brewer. I am the patriarch of my family now. There is no longer anyone older and wiser for me to call for advice. The buck stops with me. While I am blessed to have a wife, two kids, and a sister who love me, there is a terrible loneliness in that realization.
I will never see her name pop up on the caller ID and think, “Christ…now what?” I will never win another award, get another certification, receive another raise, or do anything that I am either proud or ashamed of ever again, and call my mom to tell her about it. The voice that has asked me all of my life, “Is that the best you can do?’ is silent now. The voice that said, “Douglas, I raised you better than that” will never prick my conscience again.
Those who think they know me will be surprised at how badly I am taking this at the moment, and likely also surprised by how quickly I appear to recover. Those who truly know me will be surprised by neither. I will survive and I will prosper. I have been knocked down, but I will rise again. Because I was raised by a fighter, and I don’t know how to stay down.
I am not comforted by the thought that I will see her again someday, because I do not believe that. But she did… so who knows. I am however comforted by the fact that I saw her before she left. I laughed with her. I hugged her. I kissed her on her forehead and I said good-bye. She did not die alone and afraid. She died surrounded by people who loved her, and a hospice staff that saw to it that she died in comfort and with dignity.
In the end my mother’s legacy will be this. I will take the considerable resources at my disposal and do everything in my power to insure that some poor son or daughter, who does not have the financial means to pay for hospice care, is not forced to watch their parent die in some shitty hospital where they are just an inconvenience to a staff that barely cares.
I called my wife right after my mother’s last breath and I said, “Beverly we’re going to drop an entire ass load of money on this place in my mother’s name.” To her credit my wife, who is also a good woman, simply replied, “Of course we are”.
If there is in fact life after death, my mother is somewhere right now laughing about something…and whatever it is, it’s probably something inappropriate. While I do not cling to that as an article of faith, I hope for her sake that it’s true.
Mom, for the last time, let me answer your question. No. This is not the best I can do. But it’s the best I can do right now. I promise I’ll keep working at it.
Keep cool mommy. Keep cool.