Why Mother’s Day is Somber to Me
“Y ou need to get here if you want to see your mother again for the last time” was what the voice at the other end of the telephone ominously warned one day in May several years ago; so I called my maternal grandmother and informed her that we needed to book airplane tickets and travel as soon as possible.
We all lived in different states; so I took care of the logistics pertaining to travel for both me and my grandmother, who also needed a reservation for a car service to take her from her home to the airport and assistance once she was at the airport — amongst other things. I ensured that she did not have to think about anything regarding this sudden trip — other than thinking about her dying daughter, of course. There was nothing I could do about that.
Why Mother’s Day is Somber to Me
Mother’s Day had just passed that year; but I was determined to get the three of us together in person one more time. Neither the sticker shock of a last-minute airplane ticket — nor the fact that I could not find two seats together so that I could sit with my elderly grandmother — deterred me from this mission.
I arranged for her to meet me airside at the airport where my journey was to commence while hers was continuing. With assistance — more because she tends to get confused in airports and less due to physical complications, as she could walk — she arrived at our meeting spot safe, sound and on time. Now she could concentrate on what was ahead for her while I vainly attempted to get two seats together.
The airline on which I traveled has a policy where the bulkhead row is loosely reserved for those passengers who may need assistance. My grandmother somewhat qualified for one of those seats due to her age; but she was not disabled or handicapped in any way, which resulted in the process being more difficult. I had let the reservations agent via telephone and the gate agent in person know that this request was important, as the last thing my grandmother needed was to travel by airplane without me sitting next to her to at least keep her reasonably comfortable for the duration of the flight.
Fortunately for us, there were no other passengers who needed assistance; so we were awarded two seats in the bulkhead row where I had her sit by the window. I do not like middle seats nor seats located in the bulkhead row; but who cared at that point? All I wanted was to see my mother alive one last time; and I let the personnel who orchestrated the rearranging of seat assignments that I was grateful and appreciative of their efforts. It was clear to me that my grandmother was indeed more comfortable during the flight — as comfortable as one can be, knowing that she will outlive her child.
An Homage to My Mother
You might have read about my paternal grandfather in some of the articles I have posted in The Gate in the past, as he was a major influence in my life. Although she was not perfect, my mother was also a major influence in my life in a positive manner. She was incredibly smart and loved to read. Part of my command of the English language and my vocabulary was directly due to learning from her, as she eschewed phrases and terms such as “ripped off”, arguing that “wallpaper can be ripped off of a wall” instead of meaning that something was stolen or that someone unfairly paid too high of a price for a product or service. Like me, she could not stand “my bad” and “24/7” — and that will be the only time you will see me voluntarily use those terms here at The Gate.
I enjoyed doing puzzles of all types with her even as a child; and sometimes there was a sort of competitiveness as to who would correctly complete a word game or puzzle sooner when I was older. Sometimes we would just talk about current events. I remember my mother once said to me that instead of declaring war on each other, the leaders of two countries should spar in a boxing match. Whoever wins the boxing match wins the war. No innocent lives are spared. Meeting many people during my travels who by perception should hate each other seems to support this rudimentary theory — such as this now-classic story of two citizens from Lebanon and Israel who simply wanted to meet for a drink to toast their friendship but had to travel to the United States in order to meet for the first time because their respective countries were technically still at war with each other.
There were also times where she knew me better than anyone else in the world and can usually guess what I was thinking. Sometimes that was irritating, admittedly; but sometimes it benefited me as well — even if the reason was only because I was more comfortable as a result…
…yet interestingly, I did not get my artistic talents from either my parents nor my grandparents — nor did they travel much at all. The last trip by my mother to where I reside was for the commencement from graduate school where I earned my Master of Business Administration degree — yes, that was also during the month of May — and interestingly enough, when I watch the videos I shot of her while she was visiting, what she said into the camera resembled a farewell speech. To this day, I believe she knew that she was never returning again.
As indicative of her fierce nature, my mother fought a nasty form of cancer for years. I suppose that I should consider it a present that she survived the major operation she underwent on my birthday years ago when she still lived in New York; but it was understandably a difficult time to endure for me — and it did result in her living for years when the prognosis from medical professionals was significantly bleaker.
In other words, she beat the odds; and during her final years of being alive, she would even talk to children in a local school about her experiences with cancer so that they may learn from them.
The flight itself was uneventful; and I saw my mother in that hospital bed, from which she never did leave during my visit. Fortunately, she was in her own bedroom at home; and the smile on her face of being surprised at seeing both my grandmother and I enter the room outshone the bright sun which warmed that May day.
Despite the lack of mobility — she probably could have walked if she wanted to do so — she was still my mother, lucid and sharp as ever. We talked. We laughed. We joked. We recalled memories. I stayed in that room as often as possible to spend as much time with her as possible. It was difficult to believe the warnings by the aide who was there to take care of her that she was declining rapidly, as my mother seemed so normal to me that my mind and conversation focused on her recovery where I even told her that I already booked a ticket to return to see her within the next 90 days — to give her real hope for something to which she could look forward…
…but the decline was eventually evident. My mother fought valiantly to combat it, striving desperately to remain sharp when talking to me, keeping the television on and having reading materials and puzzles surrounding her; but after so many years, the voracious disease was not giving in to her this time, determined to finally claim her life. Every time I held her hand, her thumb would rub mine in response. Along with the nurses, we attempted to make her feel as comfortable as possible.
On the third day when I was there, she was basically incoherent and asleep, as she suffered a vicious respiratory attack from which she never recovered. When I woke up, I sat by her bedside for most of the day, holding her hand from which there was no response from her. I kept my bedside vigil, watching her health deteriorate, eating nothing but a piece of bread for the entire day, holding her left hand until several minutes after I watched her struggle to take her last breath that afternoon while listening to the aide update us that she was to go at any time. Tears welled up in my eyes. She told me the day before not to cry; and I did everything I could to honor what almost sounded like an order. I suppose I somewhat succeeded — at that point, anyway…
…and when she passed away late on that May afternoon, I felt like a piece of me died along with her. Even though I had expected this day to come for years, I could never have been fully prepared for that moment when she died.
I sat out on the back patio near the garden to which she enjoyed tending as they wheeled her covered body out of the house. No longer could I call her to hear her opinion or ask her advice; and it took many months for me to get out of the “I need to call Mom and — oh…yeah…I forgot” mode and have reality finally sink in.
When I arrived at the airport for the flight home — I left my grandmother to be with other members of the family for several more days before she returned to her home, of which I arranged all of the logistics for her so that her trip would be as easy for her as possible — I had some time before the departure of the flight; so I called the reservations telephone number of the airline to cancel the flight in June of that year when I was to return to see my mother. Despite it being a restricted airline ticket, I had no problem canceling it, with the reservations agent being as understanding as possible. I could tell that she felt bad for me.
As some sort of unexpected solace, I was upgraded to the premium class cabin for the flight home. No, none of the airline employees at the airport knew of my situation — rather, it was an expensive airfare on which I qualified for the upgrade anyway. Despite the upgrade, it was a long flight home, during which — please excuse the poor grammar — I had a lot to think about.
Advertisements for Mother’s Day are everywhere every year at this time in May — and all they do is sadden me. “Show Mom you love her.” “Win free tickets for Mom.” “Make her day special.” Getting bombarded with them from all directions does not help at all.
I realize that losing a mother is natural in the course of life. It certainly beats a parent losing a child to a disease or an accident…
…but I have no regrets. It was a gut-wrenching loss for me, and it was clearly one of the toughest moments of my entire life from which I am unsure that I will ever fully recover; but the situation could have been significantly worse — like not seeing her one last time while she was still alive. During those final days, I told my mother everything that I wanted her to know and hear while she was still lucid. A part of me is who I am because of her; so in a way, she still lives on through me.
Bereavement airfares may no longer exist on many airlines; but having reservations agents and gate agents of an airline who can do what they can to ease an otherwise difficult situation in terms of flight arrangements can be a world of difference; and I was fortunate to have experienced that.
If your mother is still alive, please let her know how important she is to you — and not just on Mother’s Day either. In fact, tell everyone who means something to you how much they mean to you and how you are fortunate to have them in your life. It will brighten their days — and yours as well.
Fortunately, I have many hours of video of my mother recorded from over the years; so I can always see and hear her again any time I want.
In the meantime, I still miss my mother — may she rest in peace.
This one is for you, Mom…
Photograph ©2009 by Brian Cohen.