“A Year for Mom” is a collection of posts written during 2013, the year of my mother’s final illness and of her passing. Some of the most heartfelt and extraordinary communications I’ve ever sent or received took place during this challenging year. I feel I learned so much that ultimately it was as much a year of gain as of loss. Many of my friends and readers have expressed a wish that I share my experiences. These personal moments are shared . . . from my heart.
My family all had a fabulous Whirl-Purl of a holiday season. I’m sure you’ve had years like this. We all gathered in Colorado. Friends and family who’d said at various times they’d like to visit from out of town, did. Friends who’d wanted to give holiday parties, did so. And if ever we were going to visit local spots that decorated to-the-nines for the holidays, this would be the year.
From our closets we plucked every outfit that could be made to look Christmas-y. We got out our jewels, polished our silver, and hung tiny white lights. We festooned the houses with poinsettias, dug to the very bottom of the boxes to use all the decorations. We planned special menus, practiced-up for a carol-sing, and wrapped presents till our hands cramped. We raced from home to home to celebrate with children and grand-children, parents and siblings, nieces, nephews and God-children.
My elderly parents kept pace with all this, scarcely noticing their advanced years. They did have help from us, but managed a lot of it on their own as well. Mom outdid us all. First she created her annual “House Beautiful,” till their home gleamed and sparkled with seasonal treasures. Then she hosted her ninety-three-year-old sister for a month-long visit. Next she hosted two other short-term house guests, whose stays overlapped with my aunt. One guest sprained an ankle and had to be waited on hand-and-foot, as it were. And to top it off, after managing Dad’s wardrobe, she dressed in her velvets and silks, looking like a million dollars at a round of holiday parties and at my sister Linda’s fabulous Christmas performances at the Broadmoor Hotel.
It seemed like a lot. It seemed like too much. Yet any mention of resting or postponing, cancelling or delaying, was met with vehement dismissal. She Who Must Be Obeyed would not have it any other way.
In January, we recovered. We all put away Christmas. We got started with New Year projects, the first of which was sending out my parents’ annual letter, a task I’ve been doing with and for them for the past decade or so. My sister was scheduled to sing at a gala fund raiser for a theatre company in our favorite little mountain town. We saw a chance for a getaway to force my folks to put their feet up for a long weekend.
That first morning, Mom and Pere slept till 10a.m. for possibly the first time since 1974 (and then, it was because of jet lag). My husband and I waited on them, and they absorbed the attentions gleefully, with Mom actually giggling at the idea of “room service.” The morning we left for home, she pronounced, “I feel like a new woman!” We bundled them into our car, renewed and refreshed. My husband and I were tired, but gratified, pleased at the opportunity to give them a respite.
As a meditation for the new year, I’d been working with a quotation I love that says “giving does not impoverish.” It seemed to have ramifications personally and professionally, economically and emotionally. I thought about giving in a new light, saw giving at the heart of all my work, wondered if I’d given enough. I examined past hurts and was able to forgive them more completely by realizing what really mattered was that I’d given, even when gifts weren’t recognized or appreciated.
The previous year had been filled with professional breakthroughs: five book tours; a keynote address for the American Heart Association’s major Go Red event, which Mom attended as my guest; best-seller status for the first novel in my series. My heart brimmed with gratitude. My head spun with possibilities and responsibilities. How would I take my work to the next level? How would I keep up the pace? How could I do an even better job with my writing and presentations?
As she often did, Mom invited me over. “I have some lovely orange roughy. Would you like to come for lunch?” As usual, I said “Yes!” wondering whether she really thought that only her superb cooking would entice me. She added, “I know you’re very busy. We can make it quick.” Happily, lunch was never quick. My parents asked about every detail of my life: my family and close friends; my time allocations and plans; and always, my writing. “You’re such a good writer,” Mom said, lifting her glass and chinking it against my dad’s. “Let’s drink a toast to Mara. I want to live long enough to see her name on the New York Times Bestsellers list.”