~ ONE WEEK IN SEPTEMBER ~
As Charles Dickens once wrote, “It was the best of times; It was the worst of times...” Just one week in September and in my life...Just one week of telling the mother I really never had goodbye. What a life-changing experience.
I was seven when my mother, Pauline, divorced my dad for another man. In a very few months, she was re-married and had a new child by him. Unfortunately, we children from her and Dad’s marriage were “collateral damage;” leftovers from her old life and in the way of the new one she had chosen. That was where our family tree split. My oldest brothers Tom, Freddie and I were sent packing to live with our dad, while our youngest brother, David, stayed with Mother. By that time, Mother had moved stateside from our home in Alaska with her new family.
Dad took us back to Alaska for two years with his child bride who was a mere 18 years old. Tom, our oldest brother, then age 15, only lasted a few weeks, being so close to our new step-mom’s age. It was after a physical beating from my Dad for not calling her “Mama” that he left to go back to our Mother.
For 3 years I never saw nor heard from my mother outside of one visit when we were traveling back from Alaska to Georgia, our step-mother's home. We were moving back there to make her happy. Dad wanted to see his other sons, now in Oklahoma, so we made a quick, one hour stop at Mother‘s. By then, I was almost 10 years old and beginning to understand in part the repercussions of my parent’s bitter divorce. I had one hour to soak up what little I could of my Mother and then to be put back in the car for the long drive to Georgia while Dad seethed in fury.
While my Dad had severe problems, his motto was, “Don’t do as I do; Do as I say do.” We were taught character, honesty, respect, work ethic and standards...Taught by fear and not by example, yet we learned. The lessons he pounded into us stuck and we turned out to be decent people in spite of our alcoholic parent’s methods of living and the rejection we‘d felt from all of them at an early age.
It was when I was eleven and Freddie, age thirteen, that we started spending every other summer with Mother. We would board the Greyhound bus from Georgia to Oklahoma; two little kids, facing a world of unknowns and charting strange territory alone. It was, however, a relief to get away from Dad, his mental illness, emotional abuse and alcoholism. It was a relief to get away from the step-mother who viewed me as her competition and took her revenge out on me with beatings to the mantra of, “You will be a whore just like your mother.” It started so young that I didn’t know what a whore was, other than it must be a bad thing.
Mother was an enigma to me. Some illusive, inexplicable memory of a childhood past that I couldn’t begin to understand. I was always happy to see her, but never found that mother-daughter bond that had been severed so long ago. My clearest memory of her was her standing at the bus at the end of each summer, tears rolling down her cheeks, waving goodbye. Her husband, my step-father, was always glad to see us go. He resented us for not being his. I knew Mother must love us or she wouldn’t cry when we left. Why didn’t she want us? A child’s mind can’t understand such mystery.
By the time Mother was done, she had seven children from two husbands. From her marriage to my father, there were the Chambers’ children, Tom, Fred, myself and David. From her last marriage there were the James’ children, Jakelyn, Jacob and Paul.
As the years passed, it became clear, even to my young mind, that my parents had made some bad choices in life, all of which affected myself and my other siblings. Both of my parents slid into terrible alcoholism, Mother’s even worse than Dad’s. Her husband was an alcoholic. Both Mother and Dad had emotional problems that required shock treatments, hospitalizations in mental wards, drug therapy. To escape the guilt of abandoning us, Mother slid deeper and deeper into the bottle. The last years Mother spent with her husband and for years afterward, Mother was in a drunken haze. The children they had were left to rear themselves.
Dad’s hatred and bitterness of losing Pauline to another man drove him deeper into the bottle and over the brink emotionally. During the week, and in public, he was a fine, upstanding member of the community and church. On weekends he was a staggering, slurring, mean-spirited drunk at home. Back then, things like Bipolar Manic Depressive weren’t words we’d even heard. Doctors diagnosed him with “nerves” and prescribed accordingly. What he couldn’t sedate with drugs, he did with booze. It was an every few months occurrence for him to have a nervous breakdown. He would curl up in a fetal position, cry copious tears of grief and be incoherent for weeks at a time. The story of our Mother’s betrayal was something we heard countless times. He ate, slept, lived and breathed that anger and visited all of it on us.
After I graduated from high school in Georgia in 1969, I moved to Oklahoma to be near my mother. I hoped to establish that bond. Eventually I met and married my husband. While we lived near her and saw her now and then, I found myself avoiding going to see her too much, for fear I would find rejection once again. From time to time, I would try to ask why she gave us up. I needed to know. Her answer was to blame her husband's family. In her latter years she told my brother, Fred that giving us up had been her greatest mistake and regret. She could never bring herself to tell me that until near the end of her life.
Four parents and none of them seemed to “want” me. Mother was the hardest to understand. I sorted through my emotions for decades, finally coming to the conclusion that the bond was simply not to be. All my life I’d wanted a mother and there she was, distant and unobtainable.
In 2001, we moved from Oklahoma to Mississippi. I went to see Mother to tell her goodbye, figuring that would be my last time to see her alive. She was then 79, in bad health and living with my half-brother Paul, the “baby“ of the family, a hardcore drug addict nearing his 40‘s. Mother‘s guilt at giving us up kept her enabling and financially supporting him all of his life. She never wanted to “abandon” another one of her children. He literally drove her into poverty. What should have been a comfortable time of her life became a tragedy.
I made sure I stayed in contact with her even after we moved. I called her and mailed gifts during that time. On September 4, 2003, I called to wish her happy birthday. It was a much dreaded call as I had found out the night before that she had cancer...terminal, inoperable cancer. Added to that was a diagnosis of Dementia.
After exchanging birthday wishes, I knew I had to have a heart to heart talk with her. I told her that no matter what had happened in the past, I loved her. She spoke of regrets and the “bad decisions” she made in life that effected her children. In spite of the fact I tried to reassure her we had come out fine, her guilt was heavy and cumbersome. We talked of her going “home” to see my brother Tom who had passed away in 1990. Mother looked forward to seeing her "baby" more than anything.
We even laughed when I mentioned that both of her husbands would be waiting for her there. She said, "As long as they stay in their corner of Heaven, we'll be just fine, Sister." She said she was ready to meet her Lord, but no matter what was said, she was feeling guilt like no other time in her life. Nothing I could say seemed to ease that burden for her.
After speaking to her that day, I emailed several friends and family, asking for prayers for Mother. I thought I was at peace in not seeing her again, when two days later it suddenly hit me out of the blue that the mother I’d always wanted was leaving me for the final time on this earth. It was a staggering blow to my heart and soul...That final loss. It literally took my breath away as I sobbed and hyperventilated. I knew then I had to see her one more time and make one more attempt at finding that long lost bond.
Financially speaking, it was impossible for me to make that trip, but in a matter of days, my cousins, Judy and Lynne who lived in Alaska found a way. Lynne had a daughter living near me and I was to ride to Oklahoma with her. Dear, sweet friends of mine helped finance my journey and gave me a resting place on my road trip. I owe a debt to all of them that does not include money. It’s simply a debt of love.
Plans were made and before I knew it, I was headed home. Mother was in a hospital in Texarkana at the time. We found out halfway there that she was to be discharged that day. Mother didn’t know I was coming to see her. I’d left orders with everyone that she not be told in case something happened to cancel my trip. As my little cousin and I walked up to the door of her hospital room, we saw a tiny, pale figure of a woman laying in bed. Slowly, one eye opened and she whispered, “Allison....I knew you would come.”
My cousins from Alaska showed up minutes after we arrived. We spoke to the Oncologist and nurses, bundled Mother up and took her to my half-brother, Jacob and his wife Rita’s home in the country. That is where she used to live and where she chose to die. She said it gave her peace to be back “home.” Jacob and Rita welcomed her with open arms; Rita taking her in like her own mother. I will always be grateful to my sister-in-law, a saint of a woman, for her kindness, compassion and wonderful heart.
My youngest half-brother, Paul depended on Mother to finance his addiction. It came as no surprise when he started insisting she be moved back to the squalor of the trailer they lived in so he could once again have control of her money. We ignored him at that point and at many other points thereafter. It was there that she became so ill that she could no longer care for herself. In his mind, he took good care of her. In reality, the demons that drove him took more from Mother than he realized. She paid a high price for his demons in her health and well being.
Mother’s doctor ordered Hospice. In a couple of days they came out and did an assessment. Only Jakelyn, my half-sister and Rita, my sister-in-law and I were there. Since neither of them felt they could sign the documents, it was left to me to sign the Do Not Resuscitate Order, the No Life Support Order, etc. Hospice left us a Medical Power of Attorney for to be filled out in case we needed it.
It became an ordeal to simply go to Mother’s trailer to get her some clothing and personal items. Because of Paul’s volatile nature and the fact he’d shot a hole in the roof of the trailer just days before, I felt I had to call the police before I went there. The policeman was only too happy to go have a little “talk” with Paul before we arrived. He sat across the street in his police car the entire time we were there, knowing all too well Paul’s nature. It took us just minutes to gather her clothes and some photos to hang by her bed.
Paul was in a panic the entire time, trying to dig through each box to make sure we weren’t “stealing” from him. In his own words, “Everything in here is mine.” I wondered if that included Mother’s panties? Even the one thing Mother begged for, a mirror our late brother had given her his last Christmas became Paul’s property and he refused to let her have it. He paced from room to room, telling me twice his left arm was “tingling,” inferring he was having a heart attack. I finally gave him a deadpan look and said, “Well Paul, I’d suggest you call 911 if that’s the case.” He shut up after that....Guess he found out I wasn’t going to exactly be a sympathetic ear.
When we brought her things back to her, one of the first things I did was to hang photos on her wall. The first was a large picture of our late brother Tom. I wasn’t sure if she could see well enough to see it, so I asked her who it was....”That’s my Baby.” I had to leave the room to cry. Before I came up there, Jakelyn and Rita checked Mother into the hospital for the last time. She seemed confused. She looked up at them and said, “All my kids called me on my birthday except Tom....Oh....Tom’s dead.” They had to leave the room on that one.
For thirteen years since Tom’s death, she rarely brought his name up. She would discuss him if someone else did, but seemed to be in denial. During the week I was there, she brought it up herself. “Sister, all these years I pretended Tom was still alive and in Dallas and was coming to see me any day.” “Mother, now you get to go see him.” “I know, Sister and I can’t wait.” She also looked forward to being with her beloved sister, Martha, who had passed only a couple of years before. While she had many family members that were gone, those two were who she wanted to see most.
The following days passed without many family problems. Mother was kept out of pain as much as possible by Morphine Gel. Rita and I were her primary caregivers at the time and ignored the rantings of Paul as he told us to not keep Mother “doped up” on the pain medications. Paul was not looking at Mother’s drugs from a medical standpoint, but from that of a drug addict, driven by the demons of his addiction.
It was only a matter of time that Jakelyn started venting her temper on me. I know now it was her years of continued drug use that drove her temper, but at that time, I just couldn’t sort it out. I was apparently a good target and one she took aim at time and time again during that week.
Mother and I had many hours of quiet time together in that week. Even with her dementia, we could communicate. It was during those times that she seemed lucid and heard me. It was a time of healing and restoration for both of us. One of the most poignant times was when she looked up at me with her fading eyes and said, “Sister, if you still lived here, you’d take care of me wouldn’t you?” “Yes, Mother, I’d take care of you and you would be at my house right now if I lived here.” “I know you would, Sister.” In her own way, she was telling me she knew I loved her.
The week was filled with “Pauline’s Spa Treatments.” Before Hospice came, Rita and I made one attempt at giving Mother a bath in the bathtub. It was obvious that she hadn’t had a real good scrubbing in ages, other than bed baths in the hospital. Rita ran a warm tub of water and I managed to navigate Mother into it. After a good wash and shampoo, getting her out of the water was another matter entirely. While she was tiny, it was impossible to get her slippery body up out of the bathtub by myself. I managed to haul her halfway up, then had to sit her back down and call for Rita to come help. It took both of us to get her out and back into bed. Fortunately, when Hospice came, they took over the bathing duties.
While caring for Mother, I noticed her dentures were shamefully dirty, so I got her to take them out and give them to me. It took all of ten minutes to scrape away the build up under her plate. One tooth was missing in the front. Food and debris was embedded deeply into the goo she used to hold them in her mouth. She complained that her mouth hurt. I had her rinse with a peroxide/water solution until Hospice could take a look at it. The Hospice nurse found the roof of her mouth infected. Until that was cleared up, her dentures stayed out of her mouth unless she was eating.
On her second day home, I gave her the haircut she‘d been asking for. I’d cut her hair on and off for years and she kept claiming she hadn’t had a haircut in seven years. She had, but they were her own haircuts, hacked up and uneven. As long as I can remember, Mother wore her very curly hair in a short cut. Rita and I got her to a chair on the front porch where I snipped and clipped until she looked like a new woman. She was so weak, she would wobble to one side, Rita would prop her back up and then she would wobble to the other side and on we would go. I noticed how much thinner her hair was and concluded it was another result of the neglect and malnutrition she’d endured while in the "care" of Paul.
Hospice asked that we try to keep her circulation going as much as possible to keep down bedsores. I came up with a massage therapy of my own that Mother thoroughly enjoyed. Filling my hands with lotion, I massaged her legs, feet arms and hands until she was so relaxed, she looked like a wet noodle. It made me so sad to feel the lack of muscle tone and definition in her body. It was like massaging a newborn baby.
Anyone who has ever dealt with a person in dementia knows they can say some bizarre things, many of them laughable, some of them tragic. I chose to remember those funny moments. My cousins from Alaska joined Jakelyn, Rita and I in making Mother laugh at herself. As I always said in life; “Exit laughing.”
Mother got her first dosage of Morphine. After it took effect, she looked out the window and said, “Rita I think you’re right...I do believe those are chickens out there.“ Of course, there were no chickens out the window, but Mother was convinced she saw them, so we agreed that they were, indeed, lovely chickens. We stopped short of going to gather eggs, but got plenty of laughs over Pauline’s chickens.
Walking her back to bed one day, I had my arms under hers and my hands on her chest to support her. There was nothing on her chest wall but skin and bone. I started tapping out a rhythm on her and asked her where her boobies went. “Sister-r-r-r-r, I think they’re down around my feet somewhere.” We both got a good laugh out of that. It was one of those moments though that I felt sadly reflective. The breasts that had nurtured me as a baby were now useless and wasted.
Being the consumate drama queen, Mother could make us hysterical. My cousins and Rita and I were with her as she sat on her “throne” on the couch. Mother faced death head-on. No denying it, but talking openly. I told her that if the funeral home put pink lipstick on her, I was going to whip out my red and make sure she had that on. She flung her arm into the air and in typical drama queen fashion wailed, “Oh Sister-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r, you’re going to paint me up like a two dollar whor-r-r-re in my casket!!!” Of course, we were all hurting from laughing by then, so I replied, “Mother, you’ve worn red lipstick all your life, so does that mean you’ve gone around looking like a two dollar whore all these years?” Her head dropped down and a little sheepish grin came on her face as she said, “I guess I have, Sister.”
Jakelyn called me one night and in a whispering voice, told me I needed to “very gently and carefully” ask Mother about her wishes for her funeral. Jacob, Rita and I had Mother in the living room, so in my typical fashion, I plunged right in. In a few minutes Mother had not only planned her entire service, but we were all, including her, laughing our heads off. I suggested we put a tiara on her head since she was the “Queen.” She was appalled when I asked if she wanted an open or closed casket. “I want people to SEE me, Sister!” The Queen to the bitter end. Jacob asked her what would happen if her grandsons who she had chosen to “cart her carcass” (her very words)dumped her out into the dirt. She said to just haul her up, dust her off and toss her back in the box. What Jakelyn thought would be morbid and too sad of a subject to bear turned into a moment of hilarity. Mother had the “exit laughing” thing down pat.
From Sunday till Wednesday I had only five hours sleep in total. Mother seemed to be a night owl, with the worst of her illness coming after midnight. Rita wasn’t much better off in getting her rest. Nights were spent chasing after Mother, picking her up from the floor after she’d sneak out of bed and try to walk by herself. Some nights were non-stop. The worst night was when she begged me to let her die. The woman who had given me life was now begging me to take hers. The saving grace was being able to call in a Hospice nurse at any hour. In minutes they were there, extending a helping hand until Mother was out of pain and settled back down. It was dawn before I fell on the couch and got a few minutes of rest.
I’d been trying all week to find a way to stay with Mother until the end. I finally had it all worked out and was going to break the news to my husband on Saturday. I wanted so badly to stay with Mother for those last few days, weeks, months she had left. I’d finally found that tentative bond I’d been searching for my entire life and was reluctant to let that go so soon.
Friday was the day I went to get the Medical Power of Attorney signed and notarized in case we found need for it. Sharon, my youngest full brother David’s girlfriend and another precious soul, took me to get this done, giving me a much needed respite from the house. David had been tied up out of town all week, so Sharon stepped in to help where she could.
My sister, Jakelyn was in a dark mood when we arrived back at the house, but I sat down to visit with her anyway. Her temper flared one last time and that was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. I just looked at her and said, “Jakelyn, stop being so condescending.” Maybe that wasn’t the best word to use, but it was all that would come to my shell-shocked mind at the time. I got up and walked into Mother’s room to allow Jakelyn to cool off.
Walking into Mother’s room wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be. Mother was in full blown hysterics herself. “Why did you change my Will and leave it all to you and Freddie (My brother)?” To say I was taken aback is the understatement of the century. Mother didn’t even have a Will, nor was there anything to leave to anyone. That was one thing I’d talked to my siblings and Hospice about that week. Without a Will, her “estate,” such as it was, would be tied up in Probate Court for months. Someone from Hospice offered to have a Notary come out and have her sign a simple Will just to stop that from happening.
“Why are you making all my medical decisions?? Jakelyn’s son said you were going to go back home and then have me put in a nursing home and have me killed!!” All I could do was comfort my dying Mother and assure her that none of that had nor would happen.
After I calmed her down, I closed her door and went back into the living room to confront the only person I knew would have told her that...My sister. After denying her son or she herself told Mother anything, she slipped up and said she had done it.
Maybe it was the stress, the sleep deprivation, or just sheer fury. Jakelyn didn’t have much of a chance to respond this time. It took me only a few minutes to say what I had to say and it wasn’t what she wanted to hear. I never raised my voice, so Mother wouldn’t overhear, but Jakelyn heard me loud and clear. There’s no use repeating all of it, but it started with, “I never knew your hatred and jealousy of me went so deep that it would drive you to make our dying Mother’s last days a living hell.” I let her know that if my mere presence was going to cause her to do this level of damage to Mother, then I would leave that day.
Jakelyn spent another hour or so in Mother’s room, then finally left. I was alone in the house with Mother for a few minutes while Rita walked Jakelyn out, trying to reason with her. Jakelyn made one final attempt at speaking to me, but too much had been said. I had nothing left to say.
I knew it was time to say goodbye to my Mother. Walking into the room where she lay was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Writing this is almost as painful. Mother was curled on her side, weak and exhausted. She looked so tiny and frail, my heart broke. As I stroked her hair, I told her my friend of over 30 years, Kathy was on her way to get me. I don’t think she really understood this was the last time we would see each other. In her mind, I was coming back.
I held her hands and for the first time she heard me cry. Her eyes were closed, but she would murmur to me now and then, so I knew she heard me. As my tears fell on her face, I would wipe them away. I told her how much Freddie and I loved her and she told me she loved us too. For five minutes, I touched her, kissed her hands and face and gave all I could in those last few moments. I told her when she got to Heaven to kiss my brother Tom and tell him we loved and missed him. I did what Hospice advised me to do and “released” her to go on when she was ready. It’s a hard thing to tell your loved one that it’s okay to die, but in many cases, it’s what they need to hear. I promised her we were only “five minutes” behind her.
I heard Rita quietly slip into the room. This angel of a woman was so worried about both Mother and I, yet she stood there without a word, knowing we both needed this. As always, I couldn’t leave without seeing Mother smile one more time....Exit laughing. “Mother, when you get to Heaven it’s okay if you run over and make sure my mansion is in order, but for God’s sake, don’t cook...You were always a lousy cook.” A weak little grin came on her face and I heard her whisper, “Okay Sister, I promise.” She thanked me for cutting her hair one more time. I looked up at Rita and told her to not let anyone cut Mother’s hair again. I wanted that haircut to go with her. Another kiss and tucking her safely into bed, I slipped out of the room.
For over an hour, I sat a room away from her, hearing her ask Rita when Sister was coming back from Kathy’s. For that time, I wept so hard my ribs were bruised. Rita walked back and forth between us, trying to reassure Mother and to comfort me. I called Kathy and got no answer, so I called another friend, Rhonda. I was so hysterical, I wasn’t making any sense, other than begging her to either come get me or find Kathy. She promised she would find someone since she was stuck in a meeting. In minutes, Kathy called. I was incoherent, so I handed Rita the phone and she told Kathy where to meet us.
I knew it would take her around an hour to get to our meeting place. Jacob was on his way home and while I had told Rita just drop me off in town and Kathy would find me, he told her that no one was dropping “his sister” off anywhere. At that moment, in my despair, nothing he could have said could have meant more to me.
There were more goodbyes as I walked out of that house the last time. Rita had given Mother her pain meds, so she was asleep by then. She never knew I’d been in the next room all that time. Jacob, Rita and I stood on the front porch. Still crying, I told my brother what a privilege it was to have that week to come to know the good man he had grown to be. I was so very proud of him. I told him to cherish his wife, as she was going far beyond her call in caring for our Mother. They asked me to please come see them if I was ever back in Oklahoma. I welcomed them to come see us anytime and they promised they would. I can only hope they do. I came to have such respect and love for them in that one short week.
Rita and I drove away from the house. My last memory was seeing through Mother’s bedroom window as the sun was setting in the West. The sun reflected its light off her hair and that was my final glimpse of her on this earth.
The next two days were a blur. Kathy was right where she promised she would be, just as she has been all my adult life. I spent one night with her in my hometown of Durant. We met with Rhonda and with my brother-in-law and his wife the next day. I wasn’t in any emotional shape to be socializing, so sadly I didn’t get to see anyone else.
That afternoon, Kathy took me fifty miles back to where my cousins were staying at my Aunt’s in Hugo, Oklahoma. One last night was spent with them and seeing another dear friend, Cindy who lived in that town. I don’t know if I would have survived the emotional upheaval I was in had it not been for those dear friends and family. My cousin, Lynne, her two daughters, Debrah and Katrina, along with other cousins, Judy, Debbie and one I'd never met, Shelby were there, as well as my Aunt Myrtle...All there to lend comfort when I needed it the most.
The following morning, my cousin’s daughter, Debrah and I packed and readied ourselves for the trip back home. We were all crying and as we started to drive away, my sweet cousins joined hands and sang us a goodbye song they sang at their Christian women’s retreats in Alaska. What a lasting memory of compassion and unconditional love they sang. My broken, shattered and grieving spirit needed that more than they knew.
I don’t remember much of that trip home. My heart and mind was back in Oklahoma. Debrah, that sweet child, wanted to drive me two more hours home and then two hours back to her home. I told her while I appreciated it, I needed time to think and be alone before I got home. I knew I would have to recount everything to my husband, Ralph once he saw me. I never told him anything of what was going on when I was there, knowing how upset he would be. I had her take me to the Greyhound station , where I caught the express bus home. It was only a two hour ride, but time for me to sit alone and think. Ironically, Greyhound Bus took me to my Mother when I was a child and carried me away from her as an adult.
I thought of my grief and the tears I’ve shed for the mother who wasn’t there in my childhood. Those tears themselves are a miracle in their own strange way. Dad never allowed me to cry for my mother. Daring to do so would find him enraged, standing over me with his belt in hand, saying, “Dry it up or I’ll give you something to cry about!” He meant every word he said and had proven it time and time again. I dared not cry for fear his promise to give me something to cry about would warrant a more vicious beating.
Even as an adult, I had a hard time with crying in front of people. Now in this stage of my adulthood, I am crying the tears I wasn’t allowed to cry in childhood. I would think almost that I was losing my mind, but in fact, I know I am finding my heart.
Sorrow and rejection drove me to write for an escape, then writing became my career. I kept sorrow to myself most of the time or wrote it in the words of my poems or hid it behind laughter. Rejection and abandonment have been issues my entire life and now in the fifth decade of that life, I am finally coming to terms with them.
My husband, Ralph picked me up that night and we sat into the wee hours, me crying and trying to explain the unexplainable. He did his best to listen to my incoherent babbling and comfort me. All I remember after that is collapsing in bed and sleeping for hours. It took me over a week to simply begin feeling human again.
A few days after I arrived home, I was looking in my jewelry box and came across a memory. It’s a tiny, clear plastic box. Inside is a baby bracelet they used to put on infants back when I was born. It spells out Pauline in pink and blue beads. That was the bracelet I wore when she gave birth to me in Bakersfield, California in 1950. It branded me as Pauline’s daughter. That tiny bracelet is nestled among two locks of hair, one light blond and one dark blond. Mother gave that to me when I was a teenager. The light hair is mine and the darker lock belonged to my late brother Tom. The Hope Diamond cannot compare to the value of that tiny box of treasures. I know now that I am now, and will always be, Pauline’s daughter.
This story has taken me some time to write. I would write a paragraph ,stop when it became too painful to think, then pick it up later. The true memorial to her is the legacy of love she left with all of us. I hope I have shown that in this brief chapter of my life and in the ending of hers.
In one of my final phone conversations with my mother, she left me with this; “Sister, never forget that I love you.” I promise, Mother...I will never forget.
While it was only a single week in September, it was an incredible week in spite of the pain....Not everything could be told in the format of a short story, but enough that I hope you can see that in the end, this was a love story to the Mother I thought I never had, from the daughter who always wanted to be. “It was the best of times; It was the worst of times...”
My Mother passed away in her sleep on November 8, 2003. Minutes before she fell into eternal rest, she called out to her late sister, Martha. In my heart, I know Aunt Martha was standing there with a big smile on her face, saying, “Come on Home, Pauline.”
I love you Mother...Tell Tom we love him, rest well and we’ll be there someday.
In her final weeks, David, Jacob, Jakelyn and Rita took care of Mother in shifts. It comforts me to know those who she loved, cared for her in the end. Mother asked for me many times and kept telling them that she loved me. She did the same for my brother, Fred. Not a one of her six remaining children went without knowing she loved them. Thank you Mother. We loved you too...She knew that in the end.
My dear cousins in Alaska took time to hold a memorial service for Mother. How honored and thrilled she would have been. Mother was the oldest of her siblings and the last one to go. She lived longer than anyone in her family, then grieved each one lost to her through the years. She cherished her nieces and nephews and kept in touch with them as her life slowly faded away. They came from Alaska, Oklahoma and Texas when they found out she was dying. In her words..."Sister, it feels so good to have people who love me, gather around me now."
Those of Mother's grandchildren who lived too far away to come see her, called her before she passed way. It thrilled her to talk to each one. She left behind six childen, sixteen grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and countless nieces and nephews.
Paul took the last money Mother gave him and instead of paying his rent and bills, used it for yet another drug filled week. He was evicted soon afterwards. He did get a job and kept it for all of three days before he was fired. The last thing I heard was him living in a camping trailer and has been in jail several times. For the first time in his 40 years, he is on his own. I know that a drug addict is driven by the demons of drugs. Paul will have to find his way in life now and I hope he does for his own sake.
My sister's final act of betrayal was to empty Mother's bank account into her own pocket just days before Mother died, leaving her literally penniless when she died. It wasn't the money, but the principal, or the lack thereof. Will I ever see those two again? I have no plans to unless God works a miracle in their lives. A sad ending to our relationship, such as it was. Life does indeed, move on.
Allison Chambers Coxsey
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