Many years ago I was lying on the couch trying to take a nap with my mom, Millie Pete, when I suffered the shock of her mortality. Nothing bad happened—she was peacefully falling asleep holding onto my small 5-year-old frame, but for some reason I realized at that moment that someday she would die. And I began to sob uncontrollably. Once she got out of me what was wrong, she said:
“You won’t have to worry about that for a long time.”
She was right; I had the blessing of her in my life until I was 50, but I’m afraid those fears have now been realized. Mom passed away on May 26, which happened to be her 91st birthday, of natural causes having nothing to do with the virus. I think it was a wonderful opportunity for her to exit the same day she entered this place, and find comfort in her decision to seize it.
I can’t help but think of that little girl who still lives inside me, and I grasp her hand and tell her I’ve got her. She’s going to be OK, even though the first love of her life is now gone. That reliable safety net, someone who always had a comforting word or smile. A clapping of the hands when excited for me or a deep wrinkle between the brows when I could have made a better decision. Just there, at my beck and call.
But here we are now, further apart than a phone call or FaceTime. Prayers offered, but no immediate or even concrete answer. No words of wisdom when I am unsure what to do, no dollar bills in a signed card every birthday. My time with her here is over, even though that nap feels like it was yesterday and part of me is still at a loss at how to handle her departure.
I wrote myself a note in a journal that said, “Am I The Real Deal?” Meaning, my parents raised me to be self-sufficient, both financially and emotionally. And now that both are gone, I am on my own. So, did they do their job? Every sacrifice they made, all the hidden sleepless nights and thoughtful decisions where I was concerned, the tireless efforts to make sure I had enough food and clothing and education, all the things I have always taken for granted—are my actions a testament to those efforts? The remainder of my life will be the answer, and I hope when I reach where my mother has just been that I can say indeed, I lived to my full potential.
As a mother myself, I marvel at the incredible responsibility of holding such influence over my son’s life. Will Mr. Carter be this reflective when I go? Will he feel disoriented and have to get his bearings without me? Will he be eternally grateful for the kindness I showed him as a timid child? Will he carry on, better for having known me?
If so, then he will know also of Millie Pete.