Sunday, May 10, 2009

A son remembers his mom

I lost my mom 13 years ago. I think about her every day, and thank her every day - particularly this day when we honor the women who gave us life.

In tribute to my mom and all moms on this Mother's Day, I'm reprinting the essay/eulogy I wrote about Edna Pitoniak in my book, Playing Write Field, back in October of 1996.

For those of you who still have your moms, please take a moment to hug them and tell them how much you love them - and make every day, Mother's Day.


When I clasped her frail hands in mine, I couldn't help but notice how cold they had become. It was as if she had been out gloveless on a bitter winter's night. I gently rubbed them in hopes
of warming them, in hopes of comforting her, but the chill would not go away.

By this time, Mom was barely breathing. Her face was ashen. I knew the end was near.

I repeated the things I had told her off and on during the 14 hours I spent by her bedside. How much I loved her. How much everybody loved her. I told her there was nothing to fear. I told her
God was ready to welcome her, ready to free her from the sickening grip of Alzheimer's and cancer.

She gasped for air one final time, and then slipped peacefully away.

I cried for the longest time and, finally, when I couldn't cry any more, I placed her hands by her side, kissed her cheek and walked to the door. I looked one last time and told her, "Until we meet
again, Mom. Until we meet again."

It's strange, but half my life has been spent stringing words together, and yet I don't know if there are any words to convey how much she meant to me, my brothers and so many others.

I owe her so much.

No one ever influenced me more.

She clearly is the reason I chose writing as my life's work.

My earliest memories are of a mother spinning wonderful tales about knights and castles and brave men sailing tall ships on rough seas. She was a masterful storyteller. Her love of the language was obvious.

That she would have a way with words was not surprising, given where she had grown up. Edna Holloway's youth had been spent near the Lake District of Northern England. It was an idyllic
place of green, rolling hills and blue, placid lakes and fields of yellow daffodils for as far as the eye could see. It was a place where poets such as Wordsworth and Byron drew inspiration.

She talked often about the natural beauty of the region they call the Cumbria. Years later, I had the opportunity to behold its grandeur. It was all that she had said it would be.

It was in England that my Mom also learned about the horrors of war. She told stories of heading off to work as a young woman and wondering if she would ever see her parents and brothers
again. She talked about the bone-chilling sounds of air-raid sirens, and about scrambling to shelters while Nazi bombs rained from the skies.

She met and married my dad while he was stationed in England with the U.S. Army, and came to this country along with thousands of other European women who had married American
servicemen. Women who became known as ‘war brides.'

She loved to walk and go dancing and read. It was not uncommon for her to devour three or four books a week. Biographies. Romance novels. Mysteries. The public library had no greater supporter.

She had a wonderful sense of humor. She loved to smile. She loved people. She always looked for the good in them.

At times, she may have been too trusting and may have been taken advantage of. But she wasn't going to change. She wasn't going to allow a few bad apples to spoil the bunch. She taught me early on to judge people by their character and soul, not by their skin color or gender
or social standing. She always had a soft spot in her heart for those less fortunate.

Her life here was not easy. Her relationship with my dad was often strained. And, for many years, alcohol ruled her life. But Mom eventually found the courage to change.

About six years ago, she was dealt another cruel blow when she showed signs of Alzheimer's, a terrifying disease that, among other things, robbed her of the ability to reason and speak coherently.

One of the most difficult, but best decisions my farnily ever made was to place Mom in Kirkhaven, a Rochester nursing home with a floor devoted solely to the care of residents with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.

The workers there, as in most nursing homes, are incredibly dedicated, loving people - their deeds often heroic. It was comforting to know that Mom was in such good hands.

Although Alzheimer's stripped her of so much, it could not strip her of her spirit. She remained a kind and gentle soul till the very end.

During the final hours of my vigil, I couldn't help but notice how many different nurses, aides and administrators stopped by to hug and kiss Mom and tell her how much they loved her. It warmed my heart to know that even during this most difficult time she was able to find contentment and touch others so profoundly.

As I caressed the hands that had stroked me through times good and bad, it finally dawned on me why God had put her through so much. He knew that she would be courageous enough to handle this. He knew how incredibly strong she was. He knew she would inspire others.

When I left the nursing home, about an hour after Mom died, I couldn't help but notice how bright the stars were. Before driving away, I felt a moment of great serenity and joy.

I smiled and gazed once more toward the heavens, and said out loud, "Until we meet again, Mom. Until we meet again."


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful tribute to your mother. Your loving words gave me a glimpse of who your mother was.

Mary OB

Anonymous said...

How lucky your Mom was to have such a devoted son and a peaceful death surrounded by love.

Cathie H.

Iris said...

Scott-I am so glad that you are blogging. I miss your writing in the paper. Felicia says hi,she's back from Dubai for a few weeks.

Anonymous said...

Scott A moving tribute to your Mother. I wish I could have known her. She must have been a wonderful person. She must have been very proud of you a loving and dedicated son.

Dorothy P.