28 July 2010

A Tribute to Mom

Deborah (Gail) Lincoln Lear, 1942, Philadelphia, PA
Happy baby! (spring or summer 1941)
My mom passed away early this morning, just after midnight, after a two-year battle with ovarian cancer. My dad had called me Monday afternoon to tell me she wasn't doing well, so I snagged an early flight out of ABQ on Tuesday and made it to her bedside by mid-afternoon, in time for her to rally a bit and recognize my voice when I took her hand and told her I was here. I was stunned at how much "spark" she had lost in just the three weeks since I'd last seen her, but when she opened her eyes and looked at me, trying to speak (she could barely breathe by then), I still caught a glimpse of it, and smiled and told her I loved her.

Christmas 1941 (she looks like my Maggie...)

As the evening progressed, her breathing became more and more labored as her chest cavity and then her lungs filled with fluid. My brother and I went home to grab some dinner and a shower but a nurse called back almost immediately, telling us this was the end. We had just another two hours with her, each of us on one side of her holding a hand and telling her how much we loved and thanked her, and my dad by her head or softly rubbing her feet. She was heavily sedated by then and it was sometimes excruciating to watch her struggle a bit more each moment to catch even the shallowest breath. I kept telling her it was okay to let go, that we would miss her terribly but would take care of things; people probably say this more to have something to say than anything, but it was so hard watching her struggle so and not be able to do a thing to help her.

A high-school portrait, 1954 or so
Finally, just after midnight, with me, my dad, and my brother by her side, Mom drew and then released her last breath. In that endless moment disbelief and relief mingled, then were washed over with a tidal wave of sorrow. It is still not really comprehensible; we said goodbye to her several times, including this morning at the crematorium, but... the mind seems ill-equipped to absorb this reality. My brother and I are staying with my dad at their Philadelphia home, which is, as my brother puts it, "all Mom" -- soon after she and my dad moved in in 1985, she began dismantling the 1950s and 1970s renovations and restoring it to its 1860s origins as much as possible. Her hands, along with my dad's (and my brother's in some places) worked and smoothed the plaster that restored the walls after she ripped out the horrid fake-wood paneling. Her vision expresses itself in everything from the curl of the staircase to the perfect placement of treasures from her family and years of discriminating, creative collecting. As I write this on her computer, a mobile of origami cranes that I gave her in 1986 or so dances in the window nearby, and clay sculptures that my brother and I made for her in elementary school sit next to a paper-bag puppet that Lazarus made for her in kindergarten.

Mom, 1962
It comes in waves. I have been scanning and processing pictures from her childhood and early years of marriage and parenthood, and when I pause from the technical work, which absorbs me so well, it hits me again: she is gone. She isn't coming back. She fought courageously, even knowing it was probably a losing battle, and didn't want to let go because she did not want to leave us and her many projects, especially her unfinished oil paintings. A few weeks ago, as she grew weaker and her pain increased, she told my dad, "I thought I had more time." We did, too, Mom. God do we miss you. Mercifully, you are no longer in pain, and we who are left behind can ride the shockingly turbulent waves of grief together. As my father put it this morning, grimly, "Today is the first day of the rest of our lives." It will be okay, but it will always have a huge gap in it. Huge. As life goes on, new experiences and memories will squeeze in around the gap and maybe lessen the ache a bit, but it will never disappear.


eve said...

What a wonderful tribte to your precious mum. My toughts are with you and your family, treasure all those magical moments that you all shared.

Anna said...

Dear Anna,

I am very saddened for your loss. The tribute you wrote is very beautiful. Please pass on our thoughts to your dad.
May you find peace and solace at this difficult time.

Anna (Canada)

KeLLy aNN said...

I'm very sorry to hear this. I know your pain. There is nothing like a parent who shares and spreads their magic, passing it on to their children.

cjg said...

Having sat with my mother as she succumbed to cancer, having held her hand and whispered the same words, that it was okay to let go, I feel this very acutely. Much love to you and your family, Anna.