Monday motherhood: Mom

I’ve been at a loss the last several days, even before Sandy Hook.  You see, my mom died a week ago, unexpectedly, and there’s no excellent way to cope with that kind of event.  My father died in 1997 and so my siblings and I are now part of the “Adults with No Parents” club.  It’s not a formal organization, nor even one anyone wants to join.  It just happens, like it or not.  Sometimes there’s anticipation.  Occasionally, we imagine that someday the folks won’t be around anymore.  But when it actually comes to pass that your last living parent passes on?  Well, that feels different.  The part of our lives we lived as someone’s child is gone.  Poof.

She had a heart attack, in case you were wondering.  Or rather the coroner called it a ‘heart episode’.  Regardless, Mom’s ticker shut down and with it, her time with us, her friends, this life.  She’d started to have a rough go of it lately.  We’d moved her from an isolated, three-level condo in the San Fernando Valley to a cottage on Balboa Island in Newport.  She was a block from the bay, two doors from one of my sisters, six blocks from my other sister at her weekend home.  My mom loved it at first but then her early dementia got worse.  The doctor told her she could no longer drive.  She was frustrated about forgetting things, repeating herself, losing the independence she craved.  Who knows if one makes the decision to go or not, but the siblings and I are convinced she looked at the road ahead and didn’t like what she saw.  Mom never wanted to burden anyone.  Unlike many of us who enjoy being taken care of, my mother sort of loathed it.  Perhaps it was the childhood she spent in and out of hospitals with polio, and then the Irish stubbornness afterwards – “I don’t need help.  I can do this myself.”  Whatever it was, the week before she died wasn’t merry and bright.  We all spoke to her; we all sensed it.  And then she was gone.

The girls and I were staying on the Island last weekend for a soccer tournament and so got the news shortly after Mom was found.  (The husband was on a plane to New York.)  They took it hard at first, but they’re kids.  Resilient as hell, back to school.  Back to Christmas and all that goes with it.  Me?  I’m struggling in the normal way a person struggles with this.  Yet I’ve got these three children and it’s Christmas.  Did I mention that?  And so there’s much to do and little time to actually grieve.  I’m not sure what actual grieving looks like but I’ve told my Jewish friends that sitting Shiva, without some of the extreme requirements, makes more sense to me than thisThis is blurting out to someone you barely know that your mom died before they launch into some trivial complaint that you don’t give a shit about.  This is showing up at holiday parties and making small talk with people you don’t know because you didn’t insist on not goingThis is breaking down over the girls’ misguided ideas about Christmas presents and then storming out of the house with the dogs so you can go cry by yourself at the park while they run around.  (Dogs are great, by the way.  They like to lick salty tears.)

In Mom’s senior college yearbook, they described Joan Callahan as “gracious, gregarious, grand”.  She was all that.  She was no nonsense.  She did stuff instead of talking about it.  She was unsentimental, which annoyed us occasionally as we got older, but she was the first person I wanted to tell when something good or bad happened — and then she was thrilled or suffered along with me.  We loved to talk football and politics.  She read the paper every day.  My mom wanted the books she read and the movies she saw (often, always) to be like the foods she ate – enjoyable but not elevated.  She abhorred pretension even as I tried to convince her there was nothing snooty about appreciating fresh vegetables or $12/lb. Peet’s coffee.  Her smile was as warm as her laugh.  She and Dad raised us to be kind and friendly before anything else – so while none of us are doctors, lawyers, or CEOs, we are all surrounded by that which makes life worth living: family and great friends.  There are grandchildren – my three and six others – being raised just the same.  And that’s their legacy.  It made Mom and Dad proud.

I’m sad, though I’m being honest when I say my sadness does not compare to Newtown’s.  (Yet another gun control post of mine is imminent.)  No one would describe my pain as unimaginable – Mom was 82 – but there it sits, in my heart and my head, just the same.  Turning fifty was a new chapter, and now here’s another one.  I’m not sure how this goes.  Nobody is.  But it goes and that’s life and there’s the gift – another day to live, love, laugh as Mom taught us.

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  1. wendy says

    Thank you for giving me more insight into your mom and thus you my dear friend. I will vouch without hesitation that your family is the best of what is best in humans…kind, loving, loyal, friends to the core. We are here for you in any way you want to grieve-laugh, cry, or not talk at all.

  2. Nancy says

    We are so sorry to learn of your Mother’s death. It is hard to lose your last “buffer between you and the world.” Now you have been thrust into the next stage of life.
    We share your sadness and hold you close in prayer.

  3. Rosemary McNutt says

    Dear Jo: please accept my condolences — your Mother was a lovely lady whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the Wesley Generations Day event. She was so proud of you and her grandchildren!!! My Dad passed away on Jan 9, 2012 and I too passed the Holidays in a blur, living at his home and sleeping there for the first time in 44 years on watch as he slipped away from us. No matter the age (my mother was 94, my father 99, and my mother in law died at 102 six months before him)we mourn for them, especially at holidays and particularly miss their participation with the grand and great-grands. BTW I am Mrs. Melinda V’s Mom. Sending you love and prayers. I will keep your family in my heart.

  4. Michael says

    Beautiful JoAnn. My mom is still here, but due to circumstances I was mostly raised by my grandmother. She passed the week we graduated from AADA. She happened to be visiting an aunt in New Jersey when she had a heart attack. She lingered a week so I could go visit her each evening after rehearsal for my final exam play. There’s not a day I don’t think of her. But unlike the first weeks, I’m not suddenly overcome with grief and sobs while walking down the street or climbing the stairs. I can talk about her without choking on tears halfway through what I’m trying to say. But, oh, how I miss her. Thinking of you and your family.

  5. Mindy says

    JoAnn, what a beautiful tribute to your mom (and dad). I enjoyed learning more about your mom and I feel blessed that you shared your thoughts and feelings about your grief.

    I only met your mom a few times, but I remember her to be a teriffic lady and I know for sure that she was very blessed to have you and your siblings for her sons and daughters.

    I’m on hiatus and available for a cup of Jo(e) if you’d like to talk.

    My best to you and your family.

  6. Melinda says

    Dear JoAnn,
    Your mom was an amazing woman and I am grateful that I got a chance to meet her and tell her what she already knew… that her granddaughters and their parents are amazing too.
    My heart and prayers go out to all of you.

  7. Mary Anne says

    Gracious, gregarious and grand is quite a legacy and I know many would describe you and your siblings the same. Laugh and cry and speak about her often – that was what a wise person told me when my dad died.
    Love to you and all your family.

  8. Paul Chitlik says

    Joan was closest person to being an aunt I have on this coast, and I always have had a special place for her in my heart. I keep thinking I’m going to see her or hear her great me with that big smile. I do miss her. She had moxie, gumption, and feist.

  9. Janet says

    Dearest JoAnn,

    I am so terribly sorry to hear about your mom. I too am a member of the “Adults with no Parents” club. I have been a member since 1999 and my heart and prayers go out to you and yours. With deepest, heartfelt sympathy, Janet

  10. Connie yost says

    JoAnn, I’m so sorry that you lost your mom. I hear your pain and loss and though I didn’t know her, I do know her kids, and I like everything about her. No nonsense.

    I think it’s maybe a blessing that the holidays are here. Keep it simple, love those girls, the guy, the dogs. She’s in a better place.

  11. Betsi McIntosh says

    Your Mom was one of a kind- she leaves a wonderful legacy of you kids-
    My Dad died in May at 94- on his birthday-a very wise 9 year old had some great insight about death at the age of 94- she said—“94 good years and one bad day!”
    That’s how I like to think about it….

  12. Paul Webster says

    We were so sad to hear the news last week. All of us are very glad to have shared time with your Mom on several occasions. A Grand and Great Lady for sure! Our sincere sympathy to all of you.

    I KNOW our mothers (yours and mine) are, right now, talking movies and politics and are having a very grand time themselves!

    Much love from the Websters!

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