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Has it really been 40 years? August 8, 2014

Posted by phoenixhopes in Grief, Uncategorized.
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Earlier this summer I heard 2014 was the 40 year anniversary of President Nixon’s resignation and was surprised to realize that I don’t remember it happening. Oh, I definitely remember that it happened, I do pay some attention to events going on around me, but I can’t remember the coverage. The resignation of a President is the kind of event that the TV coverage or newspaper headlines become imprinted on one’s subconscious. “Where were you when you heard the news?” My family always watched the news and I was a teenager at the time—I really should remember this. I Googled the date in an attempt to figure out what was happening in my life.

August 9, 1974.

Oh.

Now I understand.

August 9, 1974 was the worst day of my life. It was the day my mother died.

I was 15 and it was the summer between 10th and 11th grade. The summer of my first kiss and my first broken heart (Kevin Hunter, wherever you are, I hope you’re happy). I rode my bike everywhere, often with no destination in mind. I read stacks of books far into the night, waking up bleary-eyed. I was more a child than an adult and if it would have occurred to me to think about it, I would have told you my life was perfect. I loved being a kid.

Two memories stick with me from that summer. First, on a whim, I had flowers delivered for my mom’s birthday. She cried because she’d never had flowers delivered to her before. It was an arrangement in a little fishbowl shaped vase, the only thing in the shop that I could afford. The other memory is making Swedish Limpa bread, flavored with orange juice, from a recipe from Sunset Magazine. I’m not really a fan of rye bread, even a light rye like Limpa. This was the first time I’d ever tried baking with rye flour but the recipe was Swedish and my mother was Swedish and so I gave it a go. I think I remember that it was good and I definitely remember that my mother loved it.

And then she got sick.

For years afterward I unfairly blamed myself for her death (when I wasn’t busy blaming my father, equally unfairly). I believed the logical fallacy that Correlation Equals Causation. Mama ate the bread. Mama got sick. It must have been my fault. I never again made Swedish Limpa bread and very rarely have I eaten it.

My mother had been a semi-invalid for years and rarely left the house. A form of muscular dystrophy runs in our family and that limited her physically. From my perspective as an adult I wonder sometimes if she also suffered from agoraphobia or something similar and if that limited her emotionally/mentally. All I can say for sure is that for years my mother very rarely left the house so when she first got sick it wasn’t obvious, at least not to me.

In my childish mind she went from normal (which usually meant sleeping at least half the day) to extremely sick overnight. I’m pretty sure my dad wanted to call the doctor for days, maybe even weeks but my mom said no. By the time he called she was at the point where he could no longer help her to the bathroom. She was hospitalized immediately and within a day or two moved to the ICU. For the next week I sat by her side or in the hospital lobby.

And then, we got the phone call she was gone and my life was never the same.

So no, I don’t remember the details of Nixon’s resignation or anything else important that might have happened in 1974. I was stuck in a grief deeper than any I had known before or since. Some days I still feel cheated because I never got to know my mother as an adult, to hear her parenting advice and to share favorite books. I didn’t think to ask her much about her life before being my mother—I was still young enough that it didn’t occur to me that she was a person outside of being my mother. I wonder what she would think of the person I’ve become and if she would be proud of her grandkids. When I miscarried I thought of her rocking that grandbaby in heaven.

I can’t quite believe it’s been 40 years since she died. Honestly, I don’t think of her every day and sometimes I can’t quite remember what she looked like. I do, however, remember her love and I will always miss her presence in my life.