Why Do I Feel This Way?

Meditations on the passing of my mother

I am not an emotional person, but when my father died, I got emotional. I blamed it on the syruppy music in the funeral home. He had been distant for some time, so there was no sense of personal loss.

Five years later, almost to the day, my mother died. I got emotional again. She never got close to anybody -- certainly not to her three children -- so again there was no sense of personal loss. There was no syruppy music, no funeral home, so I can't blame that. Wherefore, then?

Maybe God puts into us a personal bonding, the way a chick bonds to the first moving object it sees after hatching, so that even if our emotional attachment is not reciprocated, we are forever tied. I don't know. All her life, my sister tried to please her mother; she never succeeded. I made a heroic effort one Christmas when I was in high school; when it failed, I just put up a shell and stopped trying.

From my sister Beth I learned that you do the right thing, even if there is no personal benefit. I tried to do that. Not long after my father died I invited Mother to come live here in Bolivar. Beth had been watching over her, but her situation was becoming unstable, so I decided it was my turn. Mother was near the age when her mother and her mother's father both declined into dementia. I told Mother that if she wanted to work with me, I would be better able to provide for her care in a manner agreeable to her; otherwise I would just do the best I can by guessing. She came, but she did not trust anybody -- not even me, as she told me before coming. So I did the best I could, as planned. I have no regrets. The only surprise was how fast it happened. I was a little conflicted about putting her into a care facility against her wishes, but not much. She needed somebody to manage her meds and to make sure she ate right. The doctors said so.

Three weeks ago Mother was on top of the world, trying to manipulate me into adding a fixture to her room. The next week she was hardly awake. I was concerned and asked her doc about it. He said ups and downs like this are normal for a person in her condition, so I gave it no further thought. Beth decided to come down from Iowa and "cheer her up" -- take her for a drive, out to lunch, buy her a new suit. We were on the way to the nursing home when they called and said "Your mother has a fever, so we are putting her into an ambulance." We turned around and drove to the hospital. She died in Beth's hands, there in the ER. I broke up. I suppose(d) it was empathy for Beth.

Beth tells me that Mother worked hard to be the accomplished musician that her sister was naturally. One of my few childhood memories is of lying in bed awake, listening to her play hymns on her accordion. Beth and I each asked for one of those hymns at the memorial service. Becky flew in from the west coast later than the rest of the family, and Beth um, "persuaded" her to sing the Spanish hymn (my choice) at the memorial service. Beth and I were always picking on Becky when we were kids. Becky sang softly (we cranked the mic up to max in the sound room), but beautifully. I completely lost it.

Some of the people who came to the service, I never expected them. I lost it again.

Is this grief over the passing of Mother? Hardly. The hospital room possibly excepted, my emotions welled up when I thought about me, when people expressed sympathy for me, or when my song was sung. My father's funeral was out there in California, in a town where I don't know anybody except the few family members who came. I had nothing to contribute, except to help carry the box. My mother's service was here where I have been going to church for four years and people know me. My favorite childhood song was sung. The pastor encouraged everybody in church to come and support me, and many of them did. I think it would have been easier for me if they'd stayed home.

It's not about me.

It shouldn't even be about my mother.

I'm a nobody, and my mother -- despite her fondest wishes -- was also a nobody. She once had the ability to inspire people to live God-centered lives, but these last few years it was all she could do to work through her extensive prayer list. When we are no longer advancing God's Kingdom, then God has no reason to keep us here.

I had numerous aphorisms that captured my father's legacy to me, but only one from my mother:

Find out what God wants you to do, and do it.
When I get my focus off myself and back on what God has for me to do, the emotional response goes away. This I must do, so help me God.

Tom Pittman
2008 August 6