September 11 has a very different meaning to me than it has for many others. That was the date in 1998 when my mother died. I will not be blogging on the 11th of September in memory of her, and for this post to last a little while longer.
September 11, 1998, was a Friday. I was at work. My Mom had just learned to use e-mail, and she sent me a very funny joke. I responded with a wacko-pun. She replied with a smiley. Such was a common interaction with a wonderful woman who at the age of 80 wasn’t afraid of learning new things.
The house in which my partner and I now live was completing final construction. I had gone to his apartment in Virginia after work to have dinner, spend the night, and then get more stuff together for our big move into our house later in the month.
As usual, I called my Mom. It was my routine to call my Mom every day. Just check in, say “hi”, ask if she needed anything, tell her about the day’s news, get her opinion on things, etc. When I phoned, there was no answer. Since she had stopped driving, it was not likely that she had gone out. I thought perhaps she was in the bathroom and couldn’t reach the phone. I called again a half-hour later and still there was no answer.
I became alarmed. I called my sister who lived closer and got no answer there. I kept trying to call my Mom, and the phone just rang and rang. My partner said, “let’s go over there.” I’ll never forget how agonizing the slow crawl through rush-hour bumper-to-bumper traffic was going from Virginia to my Mom’s home in Maryland (which was in a retirement community around the corner from where we live now.)
When we got to my Mom’s, my sister was there and the look on her face told me what I didn’t want to know. Our Mom had died of a cardiac arrest, peacefully at home, in her usual chair in the den. She had the plans for our house on her lap.
It was so neat the weekend before when my partner and my mother were talking about decorating our house and how the furnishings would be organized (and I was rolling my eyes, muttering, “I never got those gay genes”). Their interaction and conversation clearly indicated to me that they had bonded. I was so happy about that. It took my Mom a number of years to accept that she had a gay son and he was in a permanent relationship with another man.
Suddenly things were very different. How can one describe how one feels when you discover your own mother whom you loved very much, dead?
I don’t remember very much from that night. I do remember calling my sisters and a couple brothers, then lots of people started coming over. The police came (since my Mom died alone), then the coroner to pronounce death, then Lurch and someone else from the funeral home. My oldest niece (my Mom’s first grandchild) practically went to pieces. I remember walking with her arm-in-arm around the parking lot outside while they were removing my Mom’s body from her home. It was so surreal. So strange. And yet so “final.”
I cried, I wailed, and was heartbroken. My partner was so very good to me, and so very supportive. He supported me even though his own heart was broken. He really loved my Mom. Bless him for he quietly dealt with being shunned in the first four years of our relationship.
Then we found “the notes.” My Mom, the ultimate planner for everything, had left notes. Who should receive what… and how she wanted her funeral to be managed, why In the Garden [listen to it by clicking on this link] was the only song she wanted sung at her funeral by our vocalist sister, and why I should stop crying (calling me out by name) and give her eulogy.
She asked in one of her notes that my partner be a pall bearer, which was a big deal. He was the only “in-law” to serve in such a position, the rest of the pall bearers being grandchildren. Her acceptance of my partner by this recognition spoke volumes.
I gave the eulogy at her funeral on September 14. I was never so nervous, but never so proud to do one more thing for Mom.
So while the world will recognize September 11 for other reasons for what happened in 2001, I will remember it for something much more personal to me, and to my family. Ten years ago I lost my mentor and champion. I live my life today through the lessons that she taught me from Day One, and for all of her gifts, I am enrichened beyond belief.
Life is short: show those you love that you love them, each and every day.