A year ago today, Mom died. She came within a day of making it to her 86th birthday.
I don’t know that extending her life another 24 hours would have accomplished anything, given that her kidneys were failing, she’d suffered a stroke, and was on a morphine drip.
When the end comes, all you can is embrace it with the understanding that the frail woman before you has led a long life, filled with joy, heartache and ample challenges, and now deserves to be in a place free from pain.
Mom lived for her family – not just us three kids, but her grandkids, great-grandkids, nieces and nephews and the last three of her eight siblings. She carried with her the heartache of losing three babies, all born before me, when they were one or two days old.
As one of nine children in a Mexican American family that worked the crops, she overcame childhood polio, poverty, discrimination and lack of opportunity to attend high school.
She married and divorced twice, worked in a variety of blue- and pink-collar jobs, found solace in the teachings of the Catholic Church, and lived on her own – proudly, stubbornly independent – until one too many falls forced her into a group home and then assisted living.
The last few months of her life were difficult, to be sure. Away from the comfort of home, forced to adapt to someone’s else schedule, unable to prepare her own meals, and living hundreds of miles away from her children and grandchildren, she found much to complain about.
I have nothing but admiration for the many doctors, nurses, aides and other caregivers who tended to her myriad health issues. And I have nothing but gratitude for cousins, neighbors and friends who also stepped forward to offer companionship and/or help cleaning out her house once it became clear she would never return to it.
It was touching and humbling to go through 50 years of accumulated possessions – cards, letters, photos, report cards, religious icons, newspaper clippings, Oakland A’s souvenirs – and relive the world through my mother’s eyes.
When the end came, it could not have been more peaceful. She passed quietly, surrounded by my sisters and me, plus an uncle, aunt and cousin who had come up from Salinas. I know it took enormous willpower to hang in there long enough for the three of us to arrive from Oregon, Alaska and southern California to be together with her at her bedside.
She died in hospice care in the quiet of a darkened room in the assisted living facility where she’d moved in just months earlier. She had tried to make it her “home” with a statue of the Virgen de Guadalupe in one corner and family photos on every available surface.
We held a funeral for her in November, buried her next to her brother Joe, sold her home in December and made donations in her name to her parish and three favorite charities.
Twelve months have passed quickly. Like any son, I loved, admired and clashed with my mother. She lived life on her own terms, whether it was dressing up in bright primary colors, painting her house lavender or giving grief to anyone who she felt had wronged her.
Through it all, she never put anything or anyone above her extended family, displaying an unmatched ability to memorize the birthday of every single relative spanning four generations.
Had she made it this far, she’d be 87 years old tomorrow.
Rest in Peace, Mom.