"Death ends a life, not a relationship" ..........Mitch Albom
1991 was the year that hubby and I tied the knot, a quick affair before he headed off to the Marblehead Ocean Race. We joke that he spent his honeymoon with a bunch of sweaty, flatulating men on board a 40 ft sailboat. I was probably the only one unhappy! The vows out of the way, we planned to have a reception on his return, but life sometimes steers us off course.....
My mother had been suffering for years with painful veins in her legs and then she developed a clot that although wasn’t life threatening, it did cause her sleepless nights as she felt the blood pulsing against the blockage. She was of the generation that never complained so the doctor didn’t realize the severity of her discomfort and the operation was pushed back several times due to schedule conflicts. Shortly after we married she finally went in for surgery. She came home to convalesce and at that time sent my sister out to buy a piece of Cranberry glass for a wedding gift. I couldn't have been more delighted. It was a very large piece with a curvaceous body, perfect for floral arrangements or just a centerpiece to admire.
Sadly, mom contracted an infection and had to go back to the hospital for a second surgery, didn’t do so well and was taken back into the OR for a third time. Three surgeries in a short time frame taxed her body and she began hemorrhaging into her abdomen. Out of the blue we received a call that our was dying and would not make it through the night.
When we arrived at her side she was barely coherent with a tube in her mouth so she couldn’t speak. We talked to her and her eyes were frantic as she tried to communicate with us. If only someone had told us to give her a pen and paper. If only we had thought of it...but that time is lost forever and we will never know what she was trying to say. I could tell she was afraid, who wouldn't be? It was a terrible time for her and for us. We watched our mother die when there had been no preparation, no chance to come to terms with losing her.
She lost consciousness shortly after we arrived and then we just waited by her side as her body shut down one organ at a time and finally her heart stopped beating. The nurse told us she had a very strong heart, beating fiercely until the end. We talked to her right until the end hoping she could hear and not feel alone. There are no words in the English language to describe the emotions of that terrible night.
I was numb from the shock. The thought hadn’t entered my head that she would die, then or ever. She was 58, that's only 3 years older than I am now. My mother was strong both physically and mentally her entire life and I'd always viewed her as a rock; invincible; infallible. She was the matriarch, the one you went to with problems, for support and advice and now she was gone. We were just starting to get to know one another as women, not as mother and daughter. There was so much I didn’t know about her and she me.
I cried but it seemed forced, not the kind of grieving that wretches your stomach, steals appetite and the will to live. For several weeks my eyes leaked tears like a facet in need of a new washer but my pain only skimmed the surface. I sat on the sofa and cross stitched a Blue Willow scene and thought of her, remembering, analyzing feelings, and wondering when the numbness would peel away to allow for deeper feelings to emerge. But although the tears may not have been flowing like rivers, the sadness was profound, I barely smiled and dug deep for reasons to carry on.
The public viewing was difficult. There was a gaiety about it that I didn’t understand. I was sad, and I wanted everyone to feel the same way. Loosing my mother was a loss of grand proportions and I couldn't take it lightly. People in my family were saying things like, “It was for the best, she didn’t suffer,” and “She looks good.” Rage brewed under the surface from their stupid words and I wanted to scream, she doesn’t look good, she looks dead! Her body was bloated from the trauma of medications and dying; that cold shell laying there didn't look anything like her.
And her death wasn’t for the best, what kind of stupid thing was that to say. It wasn’t like she suffered through a long debilitating illness with crippling pain. Maybe death in that circumstance would be sweet relief and “all for the best” but she was alive and well less than a couple of days ago taken down by an infection. A senseless death really, ripped from us by a string of bad luck, a dirty instrument, something not sterilized properly? I could see and feel no blessed relief
Bitterness consumed me. I felt there wasn’t enough grief and respect in the room. Taking the cue from the lighthearted manner of family members, people were laughing and talking around her body and kids were loud and running and chasing one another. It felt more like a party than her funeral. I wanted to scream but I stood like a statue and barely spoke to anyone except my husband who held me up that awful day. All I could think was that she deserved better, there should have been tears, a show of respect. Except for my hubby and I welling up, there wasn’t a moist eye in the place, nor a hanky in hand. I felt sick and ashamed to be a part of this strange family.
I’ve been to enough viewings to know that people deal with grief in all kinds of ways but I have never been to one where no one shed a tear. I stood apart from my family and watched in disbelief. I shed tears even now as I write this, our mom deserved a public display of emotion, if not by tears, by sad faces, eyes that tell a tale of grief even when the mouth dares to form a smile. This was no time for jokes and merriment. This was our collective time to say goodbye to our mother. I left hurting for her. I kept my feelings to myself because of my status of black sheep, a title I've been unfairly given because no one cares to know the real me, just judge who they think I am. I’ve been slammed my whole life because I’m a private person who minds her own business and doesn’t intrude on the lives of others. It’s not that I don’t care; I just have enough to deal with in my own life and don't have time to meddle in someone elses. If that makes me a black sheep, than I guess I’m baaaaaad to the core.
So I internalized my feelings and fixated on the wedding vase, the last gift my mother had given me. I clung to it like a life raft. I put it in the dining room on the buffet, a place to showcase its beauty. Next to my life, that vase was the most precious gift my mother had ever given me. The first and last testament of her love.
We were in the process of buying our first house when she passed away and now we were renovating one room at a time. I cleared out everything from the dining room except the table and buffet and although I should have packed up the vase or moved it into the living room, I wanted to see it while I worked. I can’t describe the attachment I felt to this pretty piece of glass but it comforted me, just knowing it was there. So I left it on the buffet and started painting the room.
When I needed to move the buffet to access the wall behind it, I slightly lifted the one side to take the weight of the old steel casters so not to scratch the newly sanded floors when moving it out from the wall. I guess I lifted it a bit too high as the caster fell out of the bottom of the leg so when I sat it back down that leg dropped lower and the buffet tipped forward. I watched in a slow motion horror as my beloved vase tipped over and crashed to the floor below, smashing into hundreds, possibly thousands of pieces.
I stared in disbelief with mouth agape.
And then a scream came, a loud mournful, guttural sound that escaped from the pit of my stomach and worked its way up into my throat. Then another scream followed, as agonizing as the first. And tears....a tsunami of tears, blinding me, splashing down my cheeks, soaking my shirt and floor. I kept screaming and screaming, insane with agony. It was as if my mother had just died but this time I was feeling every shard of pain, cutting at me as if I'd fallen on the broken glass on the floor.
Then I felt panicked, claustrophobic and started to run from room to room, pulling at my hair as I tried to escape the pain. I ran up and down the stairs, screaming and wailing, thrashing about in a madness I haven't felt before or since.
At some point I collapsed to my knees and wept for what seemed like hours. All I could think was that my mother was dead, gone forever. Even though she had died months before, it was as if it just happened and the pain of it felt raw from the open wound.
As the tears subsided I felt totally drained. Too weak to stand, I literally crawled up the stairs on my hands and knees and managed to get into bed. I fell instantly asleep.
The broken Cranberry glass was later gathered and kept in a shoe box. I still have it after twenty two years. I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. I spent months searching for its twin unsuccessfully and will continue to look for the rest of my life. If I find one, I’ll place it on the buffet and pretend it was the original, but so far it seems that vase was a one of a kind, just like my mom. I couldn't even find a picture of a similar piece on the internet, nothing came close.
I often wondered why it happened. Even though it was stupid to leave such a fragile, precious object out during a renovation, how could fate be so cruel? If the moment had a silver lining it might be that the experience was cathartic, finally allowing me to deal with and process my mother’s passing.
My mom died on October 5th so I've been thinking about her a lot lately. This story reminded me that I've wanted to wire wrap a few of the larger broken pieces of Cranberry glass. I've ground down the edges to a smooth finish to wrap into a pendent so I can wear it close to my heart….the place where my dear mom now dwells......