Missing Mom


shutterstock_178577732This is the first Mother’s Day since my mom died. When the phone rings at 12:30 a.m., you know it won’t be someone delivering good news. When that call came in the small hours of a Friday morning a few months ago, I knew the instant the phone rang what the news would be. I had been expecting it.

It may sound odd, but I was lucky to be expecting it. Unlike so many, I had been given the chance to say good-bye.

I had gotten another phone call the previous Monday. You should come, I was told, your mom isn’t doing well. She was 89, but for the most part her health had been good. She had even recovered from a bout of pneumonia a few months earlier, an occasion that had brought a similar phone call and a hurried trip to the assisted living facility where Mom spent her last years. When someone is 89 and gets pneumonia, it’s usually time to start making arrangements. But she wasn’t ready to go then, and she said so. And she sprang back to a level of health that amazed everyone who knew her. So after a few days with her last October, I went home grateful for the false alarm.

But this time it was different. I could see it as soon as I walked into the room. She had taken a fall and contracted shingles, neither of which was serious in and of itself, but together they drained what little energy she had left. This time she was ready, and she told me so.

It was I who drove my mom to the place on California’s Central Coast some 15 years earlier. She had suffered a small stroke and she agreed to make the move, selecting a place not far from where one of my sisters lived. I remember making that drive with her and thinking that no one ever moves out of one of those places – someday I’ll be making this trip for the last time.

For several years Mom lived in her own apartment there, living nearly as independently as she had in Los Angeles. She even continued to drive her car. But there came the day when my sister had to take the car keys, and then came the time for her to move into the intermediate-care section of the place. And finally, less than a year later, she moved into advanced care, with a doctor visiting regularly and nurses available 24 hours a day.

Her health problems were more annoying than disabling, but she seemed to enjoy the attention she got from the staff, every last one of whom loved her as they would their own mother. We should all be so lucky as to spend our last days in such a place and surrounded by such people.

And those people knew—it’s their job to know—there would be no bouncing back this time.

So I spent those last few days at Mom’s bedside, holding her hand and telling her I loved her and showing her pictures of her granddaughter on my iPad. She slept most of the time, but I still sat there reading or watching television as the nurses and other attendants came and went, never without telling her that they loved her.

I spent those nights in a motel not far away, telling Mom each night when I left that I would see her in the morning. And that’s how it was that Thursday night when I left at about nine o’clock. Her vital signs were still strong, I was told, and I probably didn’t have to worry too much through the night.

But of course the science is inexact, and as I said before, she was ready. So, strong vital signs or no, God took her just after midnight. I try to assuage my guilt for not being there with the thought that she deliberately spared me from seeing her die.  I’ve been a cop for a long time; she never stopped worrying about me.

After I got the phone call I passed the news on to my sisters, then went to Mom’s place and sat with her as I waited for the man from the mortuary. I’ve long since lost count of how many dead people I’ve seen in my years as a cop. Needless to say, it’s a far different experience when the body lying there near you is your own mother.

The next day, two of my sisters and I sorted through Mom’s things, consigning this to one pile and that to another, trying to organize the mementos of a lifetime of joys and sorrows. And the day after that I drove back home to my family. The trip seemed to take a lot longer this time.

It was always my custom – one Mom insisted on – to call her and let her know I had gotten home safely, and I almost did pick up the phone to make that call. But of course I didn’t have to this time. She already knew.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I miss you.

There are 16 comments.

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  1. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist

    Beautiful, Jack. Your mom was blessed with a good son.

    • #1
  2. Stad Coolidge

    I’m with you.

    I have several friends I grew up with, some I’ve known for over 50 years.  As we were growing up, every friend’s parents were like a second set of parents.  They looked out for us, made sure we weren’t messing up – unless they caught us, then there was hell to pay.  As we grew up and grew older, they started to leave us, one by one.  Sadly, only my mom and a friend’s mom are left.  His mom is over 90, and mine will turn 86 this July.  Where am I going with this?  Oh yeah . . .

    I’m with you.  I know there will come a time when my mother is gone, but having already lost my stepfather, and my “secondary” moms and dads, I’m prepared.  You’re right – the anniversaries of their passing, and of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day – not to mention Christmas – reminds us of whom we lost, but life goes on.  Your piece is beautifully written, and brings a tear to this geezer’s eye.  God bless.

    • #2
  3. Tazio Inactive

    My Mom passed away 2 weeks ago at the far too young age of 66.  I, like Jack, had the opportunity to say goodbye and was with her every day for the last week, but that doesn’t seen to make the sorrow I feel any less.  I would give just about anything for one last hug from her, but will just have to hang on to the memories of the hundreds we shared.

    Goodbye, Mom.  Happy Mother’s Day.

    • #3
  4. MJBubba Inactive

    I am very happy to be going over in a little while to visit with my Mama.   We had a scare with her just a couple of months ago, and she has recovered to a much better state than anyone had expected.  As I sat with her in the hospital, we observed that while she was there she marked the 40th anniversary of the blood transfusion that gave her Hepatitis C.   She is doing extraordinarily well for an old lady who has battled Hepatitis C for 40 years.

    I am blessed with her.  We will celebrate a happy Mothers Day.

    Thanks very much for your post;  it reminds me to appreciate her as a blessing to me.

    • #4
  5. Pseudodionysius Inactive

    She was 89

    Mine is 81. You’re right: to be given the grace of knowing ahead of time is not a grace given to everyone. On Mother’s Day, I encourage every Catholic to consider Gregorian Masses for their deceased Mother. If you need specifics, PM me: its the greatest gift you can give your mom.

    God bless,

    • #5
  6. user_125733 Inactive

    So, strong vital signs or no, God took her just after midnight. I try to assuage my guilt for not being there with the thought that she deliberately spared me from seeing her die.

    Lovely tribute, Jack.  Like you, I knew that my ailing mother would not be on earth much longer and spent her last week right beside her bed, even sleeping next to her one critical night.  The one day I had to go into work was the day I received ‘that call’ from the nursing home.  And I was told, too, that she was sparing me from that final good-bye.  Funny, I didn’t feel as guilty about not being there as I did from my mom thinking that I wasn’t strong to have been there.

    • #6
  7. Father Duesterhaus Inactive
    Father Duesterhaus

    It is just shy of eight years since my Mom passed.  I had my chance to make my good-byes, but still it was hard.
    I was in Fallujah on my second pump with my Marines when the message came.  
    Never will forget that movement home – my people could not have worked harder to get be back to CONUS.
    No matter how much time has passed, the space in your heart is always there when Mom is gone.

    • #7
  8. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter

    I enjoyed the tribute, Dunphy. Very touching.

    • #8
  9. Cow Girl Thatcher
    Cow Girl

    You never become such a “grown-up” that you don’t take a deep hit when your mother dies. It’s been eight years for me, and though she was so ready to join our dad in heaven, we all still feel the gaping hole that her passing created.

    • #9
  10. jeffearlwarren@gmail.com Contributor

    It’s never good when a boy loses his mom–no matter the age.  Well done piece–moving and to the point.  Looks like she did her job well.  Remember this much, at least you will continue to have the dreams.  I dream odd dreams of my parents and grandparents often, and never fail to wake up happier than I went to bed.

    • #10
  11. Kim K. Inactive
    Kim K.

    A beautiful tribute. Not everyone has the chance to say goodbye. But everyone has the chance to say “I love you”. When my son died suddenly I wasn’t given the chance to say goodbye, but it was nice knowing I had talked to him on the phone the night before and told him I loved him and heard “love you too, Mom!”

    If you love someone, for crying out loud, let them know.  There may not be another chance.

    • #11
  12. Jack Dunphy Contributor
    Jack Dunphy

    My thanks to all who responded with such kindness.  I’m so grateful to be part of this community.

    • #12
  13. Pony Convertible Inactive
    Pony Convertible

    This was my second Mother’s Day without mine.  I didn’t get a chance to say good bye it was totally unexpected.  Yesterday in church the Pastor talked about how delicately mothers teach you as you grow.  It was all I could do to keep from laughing.  Delicate was never an adjective used to describe my mother.  She was a strong, determined and loving mother, but delicate she wasn’t.   I miss her everyday.

    • #13
  14. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane

    Beautiful memory.  Thanks for sharing.

    • #14
  15. PsychLynne Inactive

    Jack Dunphy:

    My thanks to all who responded with such kindness. I’m so grateful to be part of this community.

     We are truly grateful to have you, and thank you for sharing this beautiful piece.  

    • #15
  16. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum

    Gorgeous, Mr. Dunphy!  I spent this weekend filled with thoughts of my Mom, hospitalized for nagging angina; prayer became a physical thing, like water I was moving through.  Fortunately, she’s due home sometime today, much relieved of discomfort.  Your story resonates because I probably won’t be able to be with her at that sacred moment, either.  But she will know…

    • #16
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