It's been a year since mom left us.
It was a crisp September morning, sunny and mild, and I was preparing to process the several bushels of sauce tomatoes that we had picked the Saturday before. Quart jars were sterilizing in the dishwasher, and pots of water for scalding and processing were heating on the stove.
I was standing at the back door looking out at the old picnic table which was groaning under its load of cardboard boxes filled near to bursting with the glistening red fruit, deciding how many tomatoes to allocate to sauce, stewed tomatoes, and salsa, when the phone rang.
It was my dad. His voice was tired, but tight and high with emotion.
"Hi Lisa. Your mom had a really bad night. I think you'd better come as soon as you can."
And in that moment, the tomatoes were forgotten.
Mom told us that she was sick at our family gathering at Thanksgiving 2006. It was her heart, she said. Over the next nine months she had innumerable tests and several surgeries. Instead of improving, she got weaker with each successive treatment. And as she deteriorated, she withdrew from the world as well as her family.
She said she didn't want us to visit her at home, because the house was a mess and she didn't feel up to cleaning or hosting company. She said she didn't want us to visit her in the hospital, because she looked a wreck and didn't want to be on display when she felt so awful. No flowers, because that was just a waste of money. Even talking on the phone was exhausting, she told me. Being the obedient youngest child, I tried to respect her wishes for privacy. So I stayed away. I didn't send flowers. I called rarely.
In June 2007 we took a family vacation to Yellowstone National Park, and since we would be driving within 15 miles of my parents' home to get there, I called dad and told him I wanted to come for a short visit. We wouldn't stay very long, but I wanted my kids to see their grandma. And she agreed to let us come for half an hour.
I was prepared for her to be tired and sick, but I hadn't realized how much weight she had lost since I'd seen her in January. Her face was pinched with fatigue and heavily wrinkled, and she had aged 10 years in six months. She had had a pacemaker put in a week or so before, and she was exhausted and in pain. We couldn't hug her because she was so bruised from the surgery. She sat on the sofa and mostly listened while we all sat around and talked, but every so often she would groan involuntarily. My kids were shocked at the change in their once vibrant grandmother, and the older two were in tears.
As we prepared to leave, I went to mom and knelt on the floor in front of her and gently held her hands. She squeezed my hands weakly and smiled down at me with tears running down her face. "I love you Lisa," she said. "I am so very proud of you for the person you are and the family you are raising." It felt like good-bye. I told her that she was going to beat this and next year she would be out gardening again. "I'm not so sure about that," she said.
That was the last time I spoke with her.
After hanging up with dad, I called my SIL Jessica to make arrangements for the kids after school, and Tom to let him know I was going to Idaho and I'd call him later when I knew more. I picked up my sister Brenda and we started the 3 1/2 hour drive, hoping we'd get to say goodbye before she left.
Mom had other plans. She didn't like being in the spotlight, and I don't think she wanted an audience for her departure. Brenda and I had been on the road for only half an hour when dad called again with the news that she had gone Home.
I miss her. Ours wasn't a super-close call-and-chat everyday kind of relationship, and I don't grieve for her on a daily basis like some people describe. But every now and then the loss sneaks up and smacks me upside the head, like today.
Love you mom. :waves: