When Dad died, Mom immediately packed her stuff and moved closer to us. We had counseled her to wait a while, but she was determined. In retrospect, I think she had always had a man to take care of her (she did, after all, grow up in that era), and it seemed she wanted me to kind of take over Dad’s position in her life. I think she was always a bit bitter that I would not do that; I had my own family, my own life that I had to take care of. On the other side of the coin, she was proud of the fact that she did so much that she didn’t know she could on her own.
But try as I might (and I tried a lot), I couldn’t get Mom to integrate into our lives. Multiple times we asked her to bring her crocheting or knitting (she was phenomenal) to the house and just spend the evening, but she couldn’t do that. So, as time went by, I think our relationship suffered. There was never any doubt of my love for my Mom, nor of her love for me. It’s just that our worlds didn’t seem to ever mesh. The “Dillaman guilt” definitely had a field day with me.
And it was difficult. As Mom aged, she got more “old lady-ish;” set in her ways, demanding, and a bit mean. Everyone loved Mom, and I frequently heard how sweet she was. But I think it’s often different for close family. I’m not saying she wasn’t sweet, she was, but I didn’t always see that side. Being my Mom, she never hesitated to criticize me, or let me know I wasn’t calling or stopping in enough. But from my perspective, I was doing what I could. It’s just that Mom had never made a life for herself without her family. To Mom, (and I suspect the Dillaman family of Oscar and Inez), family was everything. Don’t get me wrong, I love my extended family, but I also have a life; full, busy, interesting. And it was hard to reconcile the two. When Beth and I would go on vacation, I would always call my mother to let her know we were on the way, having discussed our vacation plans in advance with her. She always said, “Have a great time, don’t even think about me.” No manipulation there, boy. It took a long time for me to realize that what she was actually saying was, “I depend on you, you’re all I have. What if something happens to you, who’ll take care of me?” It made me sad, because Mom was capable of so much more, she just didn’t know it, believe it, or try for more.
And as she got older still, it got more difficult still. Beth, having the more flexible work schedule, bore the brunt of Mom’s doctor appointments, dentist, eye doctor, whatever. Beth was fantastic with Mom. And as much as Mom loved Beth, it was me that she talked about. Kind of hurt Beth a bit. But when Mom was with me, I only heard critiques of my driving, handwriting, whatever. And “the old days.” She talked a lot about when I was young, but did not much talk about her memories as I got older. I think when I got to about age ten, it became so hard for Mom to let go that she just treasured the earlier years and pined for that “golden time.” She used to say that I was “their whole world.” A lot. I just wanted to be their son, not their “whole world.”
Her dying was no less difficult. Age 90, she fell and cracked her pelvis. The doctor said that structurally, she was no weaker than Beth or I, but that the pain associated with walking was terribly intense. Mom had been living in Brevillier Village in Erie, PA for a while, in independent living up to this point. However, after the fall they moved her into nursing care for rehab. She tried, but the pain was so bad that she had a hard time coping. And this was a woman who even at her age could handle pain like no one I’d ever seen. No matter what, Mom was no whiner when it came to personal pain.
She also had a problem with her white blood cell count; Strike two. We had known about this for some time, but she had refused any treatment, deciding to let it run its course. I wasn’t really happy with this decision, but it was hers to make.
After the injury, her white blood cell count went through the roof. Additionally, due to the fall, Mom had a section of her bowel go necrotic. Strike three. The doctor said Mom would need an operation to remove that section of bowel, but with her white blood cell count in the stratosphere, it was pretty much a done deal that she would not survive the operation. With these problems, the doctor said it was just a matter of time, that she could not come back from this. I took as much time off work as I could, and Beth and I sat by her bed, playing music she would like, talking to her, and just being near. As she slipped away, she could only rouse herself when company came, especially her granddaughters. She loved them dearly, and smiled for them, enjoying their company like nothing else.
As time moved, Beth and I got exhausted, and Mom’s sister, my Aunt Phoebe, came to the hospital to spell us. I cannot say how helpful that was, that Beth and I got a chance to sleep in our own bed at home. But my Mom was slowing down, like a grand old clock who’s spring was tired, and simply could not be wound up again. Mom slipped more, seldom rousing for anything. It was hard watching my Mother die, but this was the last thing I could ever do for her on this earth, and I would not have been anywhere else in the world. Beth and I sat by her bed, twenty-four seven. We took turns sleeping; the staff at Ball were amazing, and more helpful than I can describe. They would make sure that we had coffee, snacks, juice. Beth or I would get tired, and one of us would go to the library and sleep as best we could on the sofa, and then switch off so the other could get a few hours sleep. Somehow, at some point, a hospital bed appeared in the library, and we took advantage of that. It felt so good to stretch out.
There is a cat that prowls the halls of Ball Pavillion. She is friendly, but not overly so. However, as we talked to the staff, they told us of one of the cat’s peculiarities. It seems that, although she was friendly with many, when one of the residents were failing, the cat spent a great deal of time in that resident’s room, often being there for hours on the day that the resident finally died. Not one to put a ton of stock in stuff like this, I did notice on this one particular day that the cat was in Mom’s room quite a bit; rubbing on Mom’s bed, jumping on my lap and staying for quite a while.
That night, I was beat and at one point went to the library, just down the hall from Mom’s room. I might have been asleep for half an hour when Beth woke me and said that I better come to Mom’s room, something had happened. Getting out of bed, I staggered down to Mom’s room, and found that as Beth had observed, Mom’s breathing was ragged and irrhythmic. We watched her breathing slow, and finally stop. The grand old clock was tired and had run down. I closed my Mother’s eyes as I had my Father’s, and we mourned. We stayed with her for a while, and walked down the hall with her to the funeral home vehicle, where she would ride to get prepared for her funeral. The staff and Mom’s best friend at Brevillier lined up and sang farewell as Mom was escorted out to the waiting vehicle.
A number of relatives and friends came to Mom’s viewing, and Mom had been made up beautifully. Beth had picked out one of Mom’s favorite dresses and jewelery, and she looked at peace. We got through the day, as all do who have to lay a loved one to rest, and went home. The next morning, I got a lawn chair and a cup of coffee and drove up to the cemetery where my Mom and Dad were once again side by side. I opened up the chair and sat there, watching the sun come up. I talked to Mom and told her how beautiful she had looked, that her hair was done just like she would have wanted, that Beth had picked out a wonderful dress. I told her that I missed her, and wished that things had been different. But I was glad for how nice she looked on her last day. Weird, but right then a shooting star arced its way across the sky. I don’t know if there is that kind of communication from “the other side,” but it was nice.
I sometimes wonder what Mom said to relatives and friends, if she praised me or pounded me. But I guess in the final analysis it doesn’t matter. I did the best I knew how with what I had. I loved my Mother the only way I could. We were who we were.
I still miss my Mother, no surprise there. I think of her, and although I am sad for me, I am happy for her. For years all she professed was that she wanted to be with my Dad again. Now she is.
A lot of people hated their mother. Due to abuse, neglect, whatever, they are cursed with memories of evil incarnate instead of a loving mother who did all she could to raise her children. Others put a photo of their mother on an altar, elevating their mother to near deity, refusing to remember any blemish, any imperfection that their mother may have had. My mother was neither saint nor satan. She was a flawed human that loved her family with everything she had. She raised her children, loved them, and cherished them with her whole being.
May God bless you, Mom. I owe you and Pop everything that I am, all that I turned out to be. I hope you are proud of what I have accomplished, and I hope to see you someday again, when we are all exactly what we were created to be. I can’t wait to look into your eyes again, and see the Mother that raised me, loved me, taught me. You were the best.