The Longest Goodbye

My mother passed away on Wednesday morning after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. She was only 67 and would have turned 68 next month. I’m not going to go into all of the details of her death, other than that she died in her sleep and she had been experiencing somewhat of a rapid downturn in the last couple of days. This was a day that we were expecting to come, but to have it actually happen still feels surreal and it can hit you like a ton of bricks. She will be cremated (as her parents were) and my dad has expressed his desire to have the urn with her ashes placed in his casket whenever he dies (hopefully a long time from now), as he wants to be buried. My mom was a lapsed Catholic and my dad was raised Protestant (at times he has identified as Southern Baptist, but he does not attend church). Both denominations frown upon cremation, but as her ashes will ultimately be buried at some point, I don’t think most Catholics will have a problem with that. It had been many decades since she had attended mass anyway.

I’ve written about her condition on here before, and when I wrote about it in detail for the first time, it felt like a huge weight lifted off me, as only my family and closest friends really knew about it at the time. A lot of times when this disease strikes, the person is usually quite old and the loved ones who are at my age are usually their grandchildren, not their children. When my grandfather (her father) was battling this same disease, he was a bit older (in his 70s) when he first started showing symptoms, and my uncle (who took on his care and affairs) eventually made the decision to place him in a nursing home, where he spent his final years. When he passed away in September 2014, I hadn’t seen him since my brother’s high school graduation in 2008. My grandfather actually outlived my uncle by three weeks (my uncle died in August 2014, and while my aunt, who we had strained relations with, never told us his cause of death, I suspect it was related to his alcoholism). My grandfather’s death was something I had seen coming for a while, but by that point he was a bit of a distant memory, and I think the pain of seeing her father like that became too much for my mom, which is probably why she stopped visiting him. She was always an emotional creature, an empath.

Having a parent or a spouse going through this before your eyes, though, is a completely different experience. I didn’t really have to say goodbye to her when she finally passed, because in reality I had been saying many goodbyes to her these last few years: goodbye to her as a vibrant, independent woman, goodbye to her as a woman who always seemed younger than she actually was, goodbye to her as someone who could drive their own car (and whose police record was just two tickets: a seat belt violation because her mother wasn’t buckled up in the front seat, and a slight speeding ticket), goodbye to her ability to read and write, goodbye to her being able to walk and talk…I’d been saying goodbye to so many different pieces of the mother I had known for over three decades. Her passing away ended years of suffering and I am at peace with that. And I told her I loved her every chance I got, even when she could no longer understand what was going on around her. We always made sure she knew she was loved.

I feel okay sharing my mom’s first name on here now, no one can hurt her now…so instead of focusing so much on her death, I want to talk about her life.

Her name was Theresa. She was named after her aunt, one of my grandfather’s sisters. The friends and family who knew and loved her best called her Terry. My brother and I just called her “Mom”. She was born July 17, 1952 in Rockland, Maine. Her mother was a full-blooded Sicilian American who was born and raised in Rockland and her father was of mostly Irish descent and was originally from a town near Boston, Massachusetts. She also had a half-brother (my uncle), who was my grandmother’s son with her first husband. While my grandfather never legally adopted my uncle, he raised him as his own (only being his stepson in the legal sense). My grandfather was in the United States Coast Guard for many years, and he’d be stationed in different areas, but her family didn’t really move around that much; they moved to Amesbury, Massachusetts (a small town just past the New Hampshire/Massachusetts state line) when she was a child, and then to Ketchikan, Alaska as a teenager, where my grandfather spent his final years in the Coast Guard before retiring. After he retired, the family returned to Amesbury. She graduated from high school in 1970 and soon made her way to Florida to start her adult life. She opted not to go to college and instead took jobs working in insurance. My grandmother followed her to Florida a few years later when she and my grandfather divorced. Neither of them would ever remarry, but they would remain on friendly terms for the rest of my grandmother’s life.

In the early 1980s, she and my grandmother both took jobs at a photo finishing plant near Orlando (basically, they’d process and develop people’s film into photographs and then they’d bill and send the photos and negatives back to the retailers who’d be serving the individual customers), and it was there that she met my dad. My dad at this time had recently left the United States Marine Corps after three years of service (his initial enlistment had run out and he opted not to re-enlist) and was working in the civilian world again (there’s a saying in the Marine Corps that goes, “Once a Marine, Always a Marine”, and it’s for this reason I never refer to him as a “former” or “ex-Marine”), and when he laid eyes on my mother, he fell hard. He had already developed a reputation as a bit of a naughty boy (who was also in the middle of a divorce from a woman he’d met during his time in the Marines), so my mom kept rebuffing his advances at first, and he was really trying to charm her. She finally agreed to go out with him, and that began a beautiful romance that would last 36 years, 34 of them in marriage. They married in September 1985 after 2 years together as a couple. I was born on March 24, 1987 and my brother was born November 18, 1989 (just a few days after the fall of the Berlin Wall). She became a stay-at-home mom for the next few years while my dad worked various jobs driving long haul tractor trailer trucks and taxis, then at an aluminum siding shop and a printing company. My mom went back to work once my brother and I reached school age, first at the local McDonald’s, then both of our parents went back to work at the same photo finishing company where they met, although by this time, the company had changed its name and moved to another building in Orlando. They worked there until the plant closed in 2005. The last place where my mom worked before she retired in, I think, 2012 or 2013 was back at the local McDonald’s and by then she was already in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

My mom was one of the kindest souls you’d ever meet. She had an amazing talent of being just the dose of positivity someone needed when they were feeling down. She was the one I went to when I needed a heart-to-heart talk, and her hugs and kind words always made me feel better. She loved chocolate and just about anything I cooked for her. (I got it from her mother. Her mother was a great cook and I learned a lot of what I know from watching her cook when I was a child.) She also had a longtime love affair with the novels of Stephen King. I haven’t taken an exact count, but I think her collection consisted of at least 25-30 of his novels spanning his long and storied career. We’d often spend weekends at a family friend’s house, and she and my dad would spend all night playing spades with their coworker and her husband, with the women forming one team and the men forming the other. Meanwhile my brother and I would be hanging out with their son, who was right around our age, while he’d be playing on his Nintendo 64 (usually Super Mario 64 or GoldenEye 007, although we’d also play Super Smash Bros) or listening to Weird Al Yankovic or playing with Pokémon cards or Dragon Ball Z cards. There were always snacks around. Although she was a bit shy on the surface, once she found her comfort zone, she was incredibly friendly and could light up a room with her smile. Her sweetness stayed with her almost to the very end. There were times when she’d experience great mood swings and have moments of depression or irritability, but she’d also have moments, not necessarily of lucidity, where she’d be amused at the smallest things. She always had a soft spot for babies (even though she only wanted, and got, two for herself), and would go into moments of cuteness overload when she’d see one at the grocery store or on TV. (I don’t necessarily have the same reaction with babies, but I do get it when I see kittens. Apparently my soft spot is for animal babies, not human ones. 😂) Even when she didn’t realize that the last babies she met were her granddaughters, she still adored them.

Roxy was her snuggle buddy through much of my mom’s final years, and even as her memory was slipping away, Mom would let Roxy lay her head on her lap and she’d rub Roxy’s head and body. There would be many nights where Roxy would lay in the bed with Mom and me while Dad was working. My dad is by far Roxy’s favorite human, but she absolutely adored my mom as well. She wasn’t able to come into my mom’s hospital bed in her final months, but Roxy knew in a way what was going on with her. Roxy, like the rest of us, is in mourning. She’s been anxious, whining, smelling areas of the yard without going potty. She exhibited the same feelings when our cat was put down in 2014. (Our cat always treated Roxy like a frenemy, but Roxy accepted her as “her” cat and didn’t really cause too much trouble with her. She’ll still chase other people’s cats off our property, but doesn’t mind cats that she considers to be “hers”.)

I think I want to finish this post with a picture of the two of us. This was taken in May 2003, when I was 16. My mom and I were about to head out to my friend’s sweet sixteen party. My friend, whose family was originally from Puerto Rico 🇵🇷, was the only granddaughter in her family, and her grandparents wanted to throw a party for her. Typically in most parts of Latin America, families will throw a formal party for girls turning 15, called a quinceañera (pronounced “KEEN-sahn-YER-ah”, for those of you who don’t speak or know much Spanish), also known as a quince (pronounced “KEEN-say”, named for the Spanish word for fifteen). My friend’s grandparents basically decided to throw her a quinceañera, but for her sixteenth birthday instead of her fifteenth. It was a very formal affair, and my friend had to wear a pink ball gown for the party (it is at this point I should mention that my friend has not really ever been one to wear dresses or the color pink, but she did it for her grandparents). The guests had to dress nicely as well, so my mom and I ended up going to the local TJ Maxx and were able to find dresses for the occasion. My mom’s dress was a simple one with sequins all over it, and I ended up picking a fluttery, almost Spanish-style dress with large dusty pink flowers printed on it. I actually still have that dress, although I long for the day where I’ve lost enough weight to be able to fit in it again. My dad took a whole bunch of pictures of us in the kitchen. This one in particular stuck out. I hope it warms your heart as much as it did mine.

I know I’m entering a new phase in my life and there are major decisions I’m going to have to make about the direction I want to take in it, but first I have to take some time to grieve the loss of my mother and closing this most recent chapter. I’m gonna miss her so much.

3 thoughts on “The Longest Goodbye

    • Thank you. I appreciate that.

      I didn’t mention it in my post, but a friend of mine has been going through a rough time as well. His dog (who is a 16-year-old Pekingese) was just diagnosed with advanced cancer and is scheduled to be put down in a few days. My friend is absolutely devastated to the point of depression. He loves his dog like it’s his son, so it’s been hitting him especially hard. All I’ve really been able to offer him is kind words, so that’s what I’ve been doing. At least I had a few years to say goodbye to my mom. All my friend is getting is a few days. Even in my darkest hours, I’m focusing on someone else. Typical me? 🤷🏼‍♀️

      Liked by 1 person

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