Wednesday, June 17, 2009
This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on June 13, 2009.
I have never really felt old - at least, not until this past Sunday. Now I'm feeling a bit more mortal, and more than a little lost and lonely.
My Mom died in her sleep Sunday night, a peaceful way to pass from this world. She was 73 and not in the best of health, so while it was not a total shock it nonetheless was a crushing blow to our entire family.As I sit here preparing for her funeral and trying to figure out what to say about the person who brought me into this world, I have been reflecting on my own life. I suspect that is what people do when their last surviving parent dies, and they suddenly realize they are now the oldest generation in their family.
Mom taught me early on about the power of unconditional love. It was from her I learned that no matter how mad I got at my family members, they were still my family. She taught me that even if awful things were said and done between us, we still had to love each other.
And believe me, we tested that premise over the years. We were different in many ways, but we shared a common trait of stubbornness. Neither of us liked to lose an argument, and both of us knew how to throw that particularly cutting phrase in at the end of a battle. Of course, when you fight with your mother, even if you win you still lose. It took a long time for that lesson to sink in.
My parents split up when I was 12, and I became very protective of my mom. As I got older, I wanted to be out with my friends. But Mom needed me home to watch my younger brother and sister while she worked, because affording a babysitter was difficult. That led to many spirited discussions, and usually wound up with me sitting at home. Mom had a job working in the school cafeteria and later in the superintendent's office. That meant she was at my school often, and it was very difficult for me to get away with anything.
After I got married and had children, my mother discovered her true niche in life. She was born to be a grandmother. She loved my two boys with a passion and dedication that was as pure as it was strong. And she told me early on that life was short, and she had no intention of wasting any time.
"When I die, no one is going to be able to say I didn't enjoy my grandkids" my Mom used to say all the time.
Mom spent every moment possible with those boys. She took them places, played video games with them, refereed their indoor wrestling matches, and pretty much allowed them to do anything they wanted. At Christmas time, the toy stores would open early just to get my mother's business. My kids adored her, right up to the day she died.
And when my son gave her a great-grandson last year (did I mention his name is William?) my mother's life was truly complete. Although she knew him for just one short year, he captured her heart completely. Just when she thought she had given all the love she could, she found she had even more to give.
Now Mom is gone, and I'm a grandfather. All the things she did with her grandchildren that sometimes irritated me so much as a parent, I intend to do with my grandchildren. I'm not going to let anyone say I didn't enjoy my grandkids either.
The next time grandson Will does something amazing, I know I will catch myself reaching for the phone to tell my mother all about it. It will be at that time the true impact of this past week's events will truly hit home.
I'm now the oldest surviving member of my immediate family. It is now my turn to complain about high prices, the younger generation, and how the kids hardly ever call anymore.But I know I will never be able to do it all as well as Mom did. I love you, Mom.
BILL GOUVEIA is a local columnist, and the proud son of the late Patricia (Houghton) Keeler. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.