Wed, Mar 4th, 2009
In August of 2008, at the age of 74, my mom lost her fight with cancer and passed away. I am writing about this because I feel compelled to share a life changing event. It's something that will have impact on our family for the rest of our lives and can never be reversed. Perhaps, I also write this for therapeutic reasons, as a way to better deal with it.
I'm not going to preach about the ill effects of a life time of smoking but I do feel it's necessary to mention my mom's bad smoking habits. My mom smoked cigarettes all her adult life. She probably started as a teenager. Growing up, I remember how she would light up one cigarette after another when talking on the phone or talking with friends visiting her. I thought nothing of the effects it would have on her or could have on the rest of the family due to second hand smoke. Mom smoked, and to us it was no big deal. Even after she had a heart valve replaced in 1999, I never made the connection that her smoking most likely contributed to this.
I realize that I am not alone and that everyone will one day lose their parents. The exact set of circumstances that lead up to their death is different for each of us and for some can leave a lasting impression. Mom was diagnosed with lung cancer in the summer of 2007 and after a regimen of chemotherapy and radiation; she was given a clean bill of health. Unfortunately, it is common for lung cancer to metastasize to the brain and that is what happened with mom a year after first being diagnosed with cancer.
Only 15 days after being informed that the cancer had moved to the brain my Mom had died. It was a horrible, painful death. At first, her mind appeared to play tricks on her by making her see things that weren't there. Her condition deteriorated over a matter of days until she could no longer communicate to us. The last four days of her life, she appeared to be in pain and living a nightmare of which she could not escape. There was nothing we could do to comfort her, we all felt so helpless. Watching my frail mom struggle to hang on to life was a lot to bear. I viewed her as such a strong women all my life.
It's been seven months since my Mom's death. My wife, daughter and I recently visited my Dad up on the farm. For a split second, I expected to see my Mom walk out the front door to greet us like she always did. My heart sank with that fleeting thought. It's still hard to believe that Mom is gone.
I miss reminiscing with my Mom about the days we lived in Mountain Lakes, NJ in "the spooky house" on Tower Hill Road or about the regular customers that would frequent her dress shop on Main Street in Boonton, NJ aptly named Anneliese's 2nd Venture. Talk of the early days on the farm was common too. My Mom told good stories. I wish I had the foresight to record them for posterity. I can never tell them as good as Mom. The setting for one of my favorite stories my Mom would tell was Anneliese's Cafe in Watsonville, California during the late 60's. It was her Cafe and one day she decided to do some decorating. Outdoors, she found a plant that had some beautiful green and red leaves. She took some clippings to decorate each of the tables in her cafe. She said the little bouquets of colorful leaves really dressed up the cafe. I believe it was the local sheriff, who frequented the cafe that informed her, the beautiful bouquets were poison oak.
Mom loved plants. She was always planting, watering and weeding on the farm. During the summer months she would water constantly. She had an assortment of water nozzles but only one was her favorite - the "Power Nozzle". She could spray a stream of water from California to New Jersey with the Power Nozzle. Growing up, my brother and I viewed her as a watering superhero. She wielded water nozzles like a cowboy does his six-shooters. We called her "Waterman!" Waterman sounded better than Waterwoman to us boys, so that's what we called her. She never knew she was labeled Waterman by my brother and me, but I guess she does now.
Her love of plants could only be surpassed by her love of animals. She was the female version of Dr. Doolittle. When we moved from Mountain Lakes, NJ to the ranch in Vacaville, CA, my mom named the place the Happy M Ranch. She became known as the animal lady. Whenever one of the locals found an animal that needed a home, they would bring it to my Mom. The variety of animals she had on the farm is too great to mention, but all of the common farm animals and many that people don't associate with a farm lived at the Happy M Ranch. She cared for animals like they were her children. When a baby goat or sheep was sick she would let them stay in a cage in the kitchen. The house often echoed with the sounds of various small farm animals. Waking up to the sound of a baby goat or lamb crying for a bottle was normal for our family.
The farm is a lot quieter now without mom. It's hard to describe the hollow feeling her absence creates. That feeling is with me in my own home too. Her memory is still fresh in my mind though. Without effort, I can still hear her voice and imagine she's in the same room. I miss her caring for me, lecturing me and just talking to me. Her death has been a reminder that life is precious. It's also a reminder that I'm not as young as I used to be. My motherloss has increased my spirituality. I'm a firm believer that now she is watching over me and that one day I will see her again.