If a picture says a thousand words this post has six thousand more words.
This “Get Well” card came from my dentists and their staff. I thought that was very nice. My dental exam was scheduled for a few days after my back surgery. I re-scheduled because I wanted my back to be healed before sitting in the chair for the check up and teeth cleaning.
My dentists are a husband and wife team. I use to work with his aunt. She referred me to them some years back when I had a crown emergency. I met more members of their extended families and found they were super-nice high quality people.
I like Amy and Brandon and all the people in their office. They are friends as much as they are health care professionals. Thanks for looking after my dental care and thinking of me as I recuperate. It means a lot to me.
My son flew home to Washington today. I think he is on the ferry to the peninsula as I write. I am so thankful that he flew to North Carolina to be with me.
He arrived a couple of days before my surgery. He helped me to be calm as I prepared for the operation. He stayed at the hospital the day of the surgery as long as he could before he had to leave to take care of my pets. He cooked a lot of delicious meals and left me with food through the rest of this week, plus took care of a lot of clean up around my home that I have not been able to do due to pain.
I am so thankful for my son. I love him.
I wrote the following post last year but I kept it to myself. I published on my blog in January shortly before my son flew out for a post-Christmas visit. It was published as a Guest Post on No More Strangers: LGBT Mormon Forum on March 13, 2013. I am republishing it along with the above thank you note in this post. This version has the addition of age sixteen that he and I both felt should be included in my hypothetical notes to him. It also has a few photos.
The post was prompted last year by two different posts. One was the actual letter of a father disowning his gay son. The other was the letter of a father-to-be to his hypothetical gay son.
These are not actual notes to my son. They give an accurate overview of our relationship. The incidents and pet counts are accurate. The ages are pretty close, but I may be off by a year in some cases.
Thirty Years of Notes to My Son
Age – 1 week
I love you so much. I can’t believe you are here. After losing two babies during pregnancy, your mother and I feel so blessed to have you in our home.
You probably know that I did not spend much time around babies. That is what happens when you are the youngest child in the family. I was afraid babies would break. That is why holding you this morning was so beautiful and bonding for me. You fit in my arms. You fit against my body. You fit me. You are my son.
I thank your birth mother and father for letting you go to come to our home. People cannot believe how similar we look. We know the agency tried to match some physical characteristics of your birth parents with mom and my families, but even I am surprised that you look like me.
Babies change as they grow. It does not matter if you look like me in the future. Appearance does not create a bond. Holding you and looking into your eyes created the bond.
I don’t have any expectation of what I want you to be. I don’t know you well enough to give you suggestions on future hobbies, careers, likes, or dislikes. I want you to be you.
I will always try to be the best father that I can be. I love you, my son. I will always love you.
P.S. We will keep the cats out of your crib. Please stay out of their litter box.
Age – almost 3 years
It has been a while since I last wrote. I have been too busy learning how to be a dad, being with you in the hospital, watching you grow, enjoying every minute as you learn to eat and drink and walk and run. Mom and I really appreciate that you finally learned about potty training.
I am writing because I saw you do something today that I could never do. You were spread out on the floor in front of the television. I don’t recall which cartoon you were watching, but you drew the character free-handed, perfectly. I could never do that when I was young, nor can I do it today.
We have a great time being together whether it is at home or on vacation. I know you are excited about next year’s trip to Disneyland. Please let me know before we reach the rest area if you need to stop instead of two minutes after we have passed the rest area.
I think we will probably have different lives. I don’t think you would like the business world that I live in. I can’t replicate in my late twenties what you can draw before you even start school That is fine with me. I want you to be yourself.
I am trying to be the best father I can be. I love you, my son. I will always love you.
P.S. Thank you for learning to not pull the tails of the two cats.
Congratulations on your two pet kittens. This has been a fun year with our trip to Disney World, the annual passes to the water park, and the new kitties.
Thanks for telling Mom and me what you would like if we adopt a little sister. We realize that you said to make it a boy. We don’t know what will happen, but we know you will be a great older brother if another child is able to join our family.
We love you. We are not trying to replace you. No one can take your place in our hearts.
I love you. You probably don’t’ believe me. I know you are mad that I moved you and mom across the country. I hope someday that you will understand. Things change. Jobs change. Friends change. Most of your close friends from the old neighborhood already moved. The others will be gone by next year.
The past year or so has been very hard. It especially hurt when the last adoption fell through. We go in cycles. Sometimes we are happy. Sometimes we are sad.
I hope you know that I always love you. I hope you will meet and make new friends. I am glad that you let mom and me go with your class on the trip to the mountains. I hope we did not embarrass you too much. I guess we did not since you want us to go with your class to Williamsburg next year.
I am trying to be the best dad I can be. I love you, my son. I will always love you.
P.S. Thank you for remembering to feed the cats and to change their litter. I am glad the orange one is such a good friend.
I can’t believe how much fun we have had lately. I feel so good when we are together. The cruise and the trips to Disney World were nice, but what made me the happiest was just being with you. Thanks for your patience since I needed to stop for twice as many rest areas as you needed.
It is so good to see how happy you are. I have one concern. Please do not compare your grades in middle school to the grades I received in high school. It took me a long time to learn how to be a good student in the academic sense. I never learned to be a good student in the artistic sense.
Let us know some of the things you would like to do so you can use your artistic talent when you are on your own. I don’t expect you to follow my business career. I hope you can do something with your art.
You are a wonderful son. I have loved you since the first day that I saw you. I am trying to be the best dad I can be. I love you, my son. I will always love you.
P.S. Please remember to change the cat’s litter each day. The orange one gets especially vocal when the box does not meet his expectations.
Congratulations on passing the tests and earning your drivers’ license. This is a milestone in the lives of most people. I am both happy and sad.
I am happy because you are very responsible. I do not worry about how you drive.
I am sad because I will no longer need to take you to Greensboro for clarinet lessons. I have enjoyed our weekly trips the past three years. They have guaranteed us time to be together each week. You often talk more freely when we are riding to and from Greensboro. I will miss that time together.
I am so proud of you. Congratulations on being the First Chair in the clarinet section. I love you and am so happy to be your dad.
P.S. Remember what I said a few years ago about the orange cat being real loud when his litter is not changed. He is not getting any quieter.
Your mother loves you. I love you. Mom and I no longer love each other. I know you are afraid that some day we will not love you.
We are doing all we can do to not let our differences come between us and you. Yes, the relationships will be different, but we are committed to not put you in the middle. It’s hard. I never expected to be divorced.
I have learned that my primary personality type is solitary. Maybe this is for the best. I also learned that your primary personality type is idiosyncratic. You do not see the rules of the world the way that I see them. I will try to be more patient the next time you lose the truck registration form.
There is more I am still learning about myself. Even though I am learning about me, that does not in any way lessen my love for you. I am trying to be the best divorced dad I can be. I love you, my son. I love you.
P.S. The cats miss you, especially the orange one. I miss you.
I love you. I told you that as soon as you told me your news. I told you again. I don’t know how many times I told you. I think you got the message.
It did not really surprise me. I’ve had an idea the past few years. I love you. I know gay people who are happy and have good lives. I want you to be happy and gay. I am glad that you thought I would be fine with your news.
I guess the most surprising thing was when I said your boyfriend could come by here at home. You said you are happy together. I want to know this person who makes you happy.
There is more I have to say, but it can wait for another day. I am trying to be the best dad I can be. I love you, my gay son. I love you.
I told you there was more to say last year. I was not ready to tell you back then that I, too, am gay. Thank you for listening to my news. Thank you, also, for understanding why I have decided to not come out and why I have decided to stay single. Thank you, finally, for agreeing to keep this confidential.
Maybe I will change my mind some day. I doubt it. After all, I am solitary and you are idiosyncratic. I am not upset that you lost the truck registration form, again. I think it is kind of funny. Thank you for going ahead and paying for the duplicate registration.
I am trying to be the best in the closet gay dad that I can be. I love you, my son. I love you.
P.S. Thanks for walking the dog and feeding and scooping the litter for the six cats. It does not seem like fourteen years have passed since the orange one joined the family.
This is the hardest letter I have ever written. I normally don’t criticize the clothes you wear, but you do not look good in an orange jail suit.
Driving you to the different counties where you had to go to resolve your offenses was pure hell. Our anger for each other was suffocating. For the first time in my life, I wondered why I had failed as your father.
The part that hurt the most was when you blasted into me about not living my authentic life while your life was better because it was authentic. I thought it was an interestingly infuriating contrast – you, having to depend on me to get you out of jail and drive you around to various counties – criticizing the life I was living. I may not be authentic in your opinion, but at least I have a damn drivers’ license.
But once I got over the anger, I had to concede that you have a valid point. I was angrier with myself that I was with you when I found out you were in jail. And as upset and angry as I am about the legal shit, I admire you for being who you are. I admire you for not being embarrassed that you are gay.
Please be patient with me. I will be more patient with you. I’ll stop swearing. I’ve sworn more in the past two weeks than I have in the previous twenty years. I am sorry.
You have to pay for the consequences of your mistakes. But you are still my son. I will always be there for you. I am trying to be the best dad I can be. I love you, my son. I love you.
P.S. It has been a hard year since the orange tabby died. Our other pets have helped fill the void. I think your dog is great. She is cute, even if my dog and six cats do not like her. I am sorry that my deaf cat scared your Pit Bull and cornered her in the basement.
It was so good to be with you. It was so good to bring you home from the hospital. I have not been that scared for you since you were six months old and had to be hospitalized the evening before the court hearing to legalize you adoption.
There were so many similarities between then and now. Both times the doctors knew part of what was wrong, but something important was missing. Both times you were admitted, released, and re-admitted. Both times it tore at my heart to see all the tubes going in your body. Finally, it exhausted me to see how many times they thought they had the answer, only to find out they were wrong.
You are right. You were a more pleasant patient when you were six months old. If you knew how to swear at that age, at least I did not understand what you were saying.
I hope you will forgive me for intervening and forcing the issue about the doctors on the two teams not talking with each other. Things improved once the nurse realized what was going on. You were very angry with me, but I could not sit back any longer with doctors on two teams who were taking conflicting and contradictory approaches.
I think you have forgiven me. At least that is how I felt when we returned to your apartment after my last dinner with you. I don’t recall you ever giving such heartfelt thanks. You said you would never be able to make it up to me. I cried on my way back to the hotel.
We have been through so much together. Much of it has been wonderful, and some of it has been substantially less than wonderful. I don’t always understand you. You don’t always understand me. But I feel that we have always loved each other.
I am still your dad. I am trying to be the best dad I can be. I love you, my son. I love you. I love you. I love you.
P.S. You were right that I would not get mugged when I walked the dogs through the alley after midnight. A Pit Bull and a Newfoundland are effective deterrents, even if they are as sweet as can be. My two dogs and six cats were happy for me to get back home.
Four months ago you told me you could never make it up to me. You were wrong. I needed you last week after grandma died. Thank you for being there with me.
Your remarks were wonderful. I know you were scared. You probably are the first gay tattoo artist with a pierced nose who has spoken at a funeral in that ward. The bishop knew you loved your grandma and she loved you. He liked what you said.
I love you, my son. I love you. I love you. I love you.
P.S. The third dog did not work out. I found him a great home. Two dogs and six cats are enough.
I love you. Have I told you that before? I think I have. I will say it again. I love you.
Thank you for understanding that people change their minds. Thank you for accepting that I finally decided to come out. Thank you for wishing me well on my search for a partner.
Thanks for answering my questions. I am trying to figure out what it means to live as an out gay man. It is a different world that I do not understand. This role reversal is strange, you being the teacher and me being the student.
You are an example to me. You are a good person. You are a loving person. It is nice to have someone to look to as a good example, especially when he is my son.
I loved being with you in your new place on the peninsula. You scared me several times as you talked about responsibility, yard care, and budgeting. It is strange for me to see you becoming me. I hope it won’t be too weird for you to see me becoming you.
We are more alike than I ever realized. I thought I lost the new registration card for my car. I found it two days before the sticker expired. I have not changed that much.
I am still trying to be the best dad I can be. I love you, my son. I have always loved you. I will always love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.
P.S. I am glad your new Labrador puppy came while I was there. It was fun to watch her play and hold her own with her two older sisters. I don’t understand why you have so many pets. My five cats and two dogs were happy to see me come home.
(Written Fall 2012)
We had an informal viewing line. One sister and I stood closest to the casket. My other sister needed to sit most of the time. My brother was the first one in the line. We were spread out. We visited with Mom’s older brother and his wife, both in their nineties. I recognized almost all the people who I knew when I lived in Bountiful and most of mom’s new friends from Ogden. I remembered some of the people I had met for the first time at Dad’s viewing.
The line was longer than all of us but one brother-in-law had expected. Mom had not lived in Bountiful for two and one-half years and several of her friends had died. We did not expect that their children, plus people who met Mom while she was in the assisted living center in Ogden, would drive to Bountiful for the viewing and funeral.
My brother-in-law had been in the bishopric, served as bishop, and was a high councilman for years. He had attended and presided over many funerals. He said people would drive miles for the viewing and funeral of someone like Mom, who was sweet and well-loved. We had added thirty minutes to the viewing time on his recommendation, but it still was not enough.
I saw a cousin wheel in his mother near the end of the time of the viewing, the aunt who I had been closest to for over fifty years. She was two years older than Mom and was Mom’s best friend. Aging had not been fair to her and she was having a very difficult time in assisted living.
I could see that my cousin and aunt were not going to be able to get through the line. We had already gone over the scheduled time for the viewing. I stepped out of line and walked over to greet my aunt and her son. He and I shook hands and I thanked him for bringing my aunt to the service. I knew it was hard given her health and the distance they traveled.
I knelt in front of my aunt and said, “It is so good to see you.”
She looked at me and said, “I am sorry, but I don’t remember who you are.”
I said, “I am Dean, the youngest son.”
She started crying and said, “Oh, Dean, I am so embarrassed. How could I not recognize you?”
People who were in the foyer at the church started filing into the chapel rather than trying to pass through the viewing line. A break appeared in the line to the Relief Society room, where the viewing was held. One of the employees of the funeral home closed the door to the room. Another one said it was time for the family prayer.
My cousin wheeled my aunt – Mom’s best friend – up to the casket. My sisters stood close by. I stood off to the side, with my son. I watched tears silently fill my aunt’s eyes. My aunt stopped crying and bowed her head in prayer. My cousin wheeled her back far enough for the bishop to step forward.
We stepped forward one last time to see Mom. I kissed her on the forehead and stepped back with my son. My sisters (I think - perhaps my nieces – I don’t recall) did the final placement of Mom’s temple veil. After the family members had all stepped back the casket was closed. The family prayer was offered by my brother-in-law, a beautiful prayer by one of Mom’s extra sons through marriage.
We filed into the chapel. It was full and people were sitting in the overflow area behind the chapel, even though it was the stake center and a weekday morning. We walked in order of age with the children and grandchildren accompanying their parents, except I walked behind my son. My former sister-in-law sat next to my nephew and my son. I sat on the end. The cousin my age who had lost her mobility was wheeled next to me at the end of the bench. She reached over and held my hand – two divorced people with children but no spouses.
A nephew, an active married Mormon, gave the invocation. My youngest nephew read the obituary. My sister gave a tribute. My other sister gave the family eulogy at Dad’s funeral. She opted out of speaking at Mom’s service, so her husband, children, and grandchildren sang “Together Forever Someday” and “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.”
My oldest nephew gave a tribute, spoke of his trips with his grandma to Temple Square and the ZCMI Tiffin Room, and how special he felt on one ZCMI trip when she wanted to buy an accessory for a new dress, something that had a splash of red. How many grandsons, he asked, had a grandma who wore “a splash of red?”
My son stepped to the podium. This is not his blog and he prefers to communicate through his tattoo art, so I will not transcribe his brief comments. They were to the point. She loved him. He loved her. Their love was perfect, and perfect was the best word he knew to describe her.
Our eyes met as we passed, he back to his seat in the congregation and me on my walk to the podium. I placed my written remarks on the stand. I looked across the audience and realized that several hundred people were in the chapel. I could not talk to that many people, so I spoke to Mom.
On a spring morning in 19xx, my grandma awoke with a special announcement – she was pregnant. It was not a new experience – she had five children – but it was unexpected news. She would be forty-two, and her husband would be fifty-four when this baby was born.
Some fifty plus years later while chatting with my grandma, I asked what her first thoughts were when she discovered she was having my mom. Her response shocked me – “(Husband), I will never forgive you for doing this to me.”
She immediately followed up with, “But as I look over my life, having your mom and my younger daughter and son in my later years has been my greatest blessing. My older daughters are in their seventies and are not able to care for me between themselves. Having the younger children has allowed me to spend time with my children without being a burden to any one child.”
We are here today to celebrate and honor the blessing of knowing, of loving, and of being loved by my mom.
Mom was born into an active, loving, diverse three generation family. Her grandma, eighty-three at the time of mom’s birth, crossed the plains as a Mormon pioneer. Mom’s father came to America, via Canada, as a sixteen-year-old looking for a better life than the one that was available to him in England. Her mother was a lively, beautiful young woman who took on the challenges of raising her family and providing mutual support to her mother while mom’s father was away with his work as a mining engineer.
Mom’s older siblings married and moved away around the time Mom entered Stoker School. The family soon grew to include grandchildren. In particular, mom had closeness to her three nieces, who were more like sisters than nieces. She loved her nephew who was always good for providing entertainment for the family.
The family was touched by the deaths of two grandsons, their grandma, mom’s father, and her oldest brother in a two-year period. These experiences drew mom, who was always close to her mother, even closer. They gave her the desire to enjoy the time she had with family and the hope of being reunited with loved ones after death.
In junior high mom became a talented seamstress. One afternoon while my grandma was out, mom took apart a blouse so she could study the pieces of cloth, figure out how they were sewn together, and re-sewed the blouse to show grandma what she had learned. She was a member of the yearbook staff at Davis High School.
Upon graduation she went to work at Morrison – Merrill Lumber Company. She took the Civil Service exam and was hired on at Hill Air Force Base as the first secretary in the Engineering Department. When she left Hill Field a few years later she was one of only two secretaries at the base who held a GS 6 grade level.
Around the time Mom went to Hill Field, a young man entered her life. He moved from Brigham City to Bountiful the previous summer to attend LDS Business College. He lived with his uncle and aunt who were neighbors of Mom’s family.
To quote from Mom’s personal history: “Two girls in our neighborhood asked me if I wanted to join with them to see who could get the first date with that good-looking young man who had just come to town. I replied that I wouldn’t make a fool of myself for any boy. That is the reason I had made myself scarce when he was around. He thought I was stuck up, but I really wasn’t.”
For Dad’s perspective, I will now quote from his personal history: “The (Mom’s) family lived in the house south of us. She was a widow with a boy and two girls still at home. I knew her son and one daughter quite well but thought the youngest daughter was a very stuck up person since she seldom if ever joined in any of our conversations. I did take notice that she came out and sat on their front porch in her shorts when I was working in our yard. She claims it was unintentional but I claim it was too often to be just accidental.”
And so, while our mom was a flirt, she was a selective flirt.
One day in August 19xx as my future parents passed each other on the sidewalk, they spoke to each other. Out of nowhere my future father asked my future mother if she would like to go to a show. To his surprise she accepted. He had just asked for the first date in his life.
They went to a movie at the Center Theatre in Salt Lake, and to quote from dad’s personal history again, “It was not nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. In fact it was quite enjoyable so in about a week I gave it another try.”
Continuing from dad’s history: “We seemed to enjoy being together but the bravest I got for our first five dates was to hold her hand occasionally in a show and then hold her hand while walking her to the door when we got home. On our next date we were parked in from of her house ….I casually put my arm across the back of the seat and then moved it down on her shoulder. Before I knew what was happening she moved across the seat to my side and gave me a kiss that just about took my breath away…..It took me a couple of minutes to recover and I will admit that I returned the favor.”
Mom and dad married on (date) in the Salt Lake Temple. Over the years she taught him how to be a husband, and later on how to be a father.
As a child I liked the fact that our names rhymed. When I learned there was an older sister who died as a baby, I wanted to know more about her. My oldest sister’s death was the greatest sorrow and challenge in mom’s life.
At this point I’d like to talk about some of mom’s traits and interests, and how they have been shared among family members. Mom was a sweet person, much like her Grandma and her own mother. Each loved being a mother and being a grandmother was an especially wonderful experience. That love of being a mom and a grandma is shared by my sisters. And my brother and I, though less prolific than our sisters, really enjoy being dads.
In spite of that sweetness, mom had a less frequently manifested but humorous trait that could be defined as the “Let me yank your chain” gene. This was demonstrated when mom was a toddler, learning to speak, and her sister was taking a high school typing class. Each time mom’s sister made a mistake she would slam the typewriter carriage back and let out a few choice words. Mom stood by her sister’s side saying, “Mate mitates – mate mitates.”
My brother probably inherited the largest share of the “Let me yank your chain” gene. For example, when I was three the family got G, a beautiful Seal Point Siamese cat. My brother, being the logical and mathematical seven-year old that he was, declared that since G was the family cat, we each owned one-sixth of G.
Furthermore, the part of G we owned was based on age, with Mom – a few months older than Dad – owning G’s head. My brother carefully explained to me the parts that our parents, sisters, and he owned, and then informed me that, as the youngest member of the family, I owned G’s tail and rear end.
That made me mad and I ran crying to mom. She asked what had happened and I explained my brother’s allocation of G according to age. Mom comforted me for a few seconds and then said since she owned G’s head, she would give me her share of G. I went back to my brother and announced that I now owned two-sixths of G – her head in addition to her tail and rear end. That love of pets is a shared trait among our family.
Being raised during the Great Depression, mom and dad were both fiscally conservative. As funds became more available, they did enjoy a few indulgences. For example, mom loved shoes. I’m not sure about my one sister, but I think my other sister shares that trait with Mom.
My brother, on the other hand, wears sandals when ever possible and on occasion has been caught in the snow with sandals. My least favorite article of clothing to sell when I worked for Mac was shoes, and they are still my least favorite article of clothing to buy.
Mom and dad could be a bit humorous with their definition of fiscal conservatism. They did not buy a set of fine china until they had been married around twenty-five years. They felt it would be spending too much to buy sterling silver at the same time.
A few years later they went to ZCMI. The item they were looking for was sold out so as they were leaving the store, dad said they needed to buy something so he would not have to pay for parking. Mom walked over to the china and silver department and asked, “How about a set of sterling silver?” It was one of their more expensive “free parking” validations.
On the few occasions when mom disagreed with dad, she referred to him as “your father.” About fifteen years ago I received a letter from mom – typed on her PC – that had some unusual formatting problems.
Midway through the letter, she wrote, “Excuse the appearance, but ‘your father’ won’t support my word processing software any more and is making me learn a new program.” Within three weeks Mom mastered the new software and “your father” once again became “Dad” in her letters.
Around the same time at work we were installing our first software that would load new accounts directly onto our main processing system. During a meeting with one of our offices, a woman who was in her sixties said she did not think she could learn our new software. I told her about my mom learning new software in her seventies and said that within three weeks Mom had it down pat.
My co-worker found encouragement in mom’s example and shared it with several other employees. Without realizing it, mom became an inspiration to four or five women in central North Carolina who needed to learn some new programs.
Mom loved Bountiful and her homes and life with dad and their family, friends, and neighbors. She had no desire to travel widely, but enjoyed some special trips with family.
The first was a trip California with her oldest sister and brother-in-law, who took her to visit another sister and brother-in-law. The next was our family’s tour of the Eastern States before we returned home after our time in Ohio. Mom and dad loved their trip to the northwest and into British Columbia with my youngest aunt and uncle. The two couples were more than relatives – they were great friends. The other big trip was mom’s tour of Europe with my cousin, courtesy of dad and my cousin’s husband.
Next to my oldest sister’s passing, mom’s greatest challenges were her longing for dad after his death and having to move from her home. Our visits and phone conversations could be both sweet and bittersweet.
Last December, while trying to decide what to give mom for Christmas, I concluded there was a limit to the number of trinkets or floral arrangements that could fit in her apartment, and that she would probably be happiest spending Christmas Day together. It was one of our shortest but most enjoyable visits. I returned home to North Carolina, grateful to have spent what would probably be my last Christmas and my last visit with mom.
When mom’s latest series of medical challenges began there were a series of phone calls and e-mails about Mom’s condition, her prognosis, her ups, and her downs. One trait we four children share with mom and dad is that all of us are pragmatic – possibly too pragmatic. With various issues back home in North Carolina, there were no suggestions or hints that I needed to come to Utah for this latest medical round.
I had decided that I would fly out for Mothers Day, which fit better into my schedule. The morning of (date), after taking care of my dogs, I went into the bathroom to prepare for the work day. As I splashed hot water on my face to shave, I looked in the mirror and thought – “Mothers Day might be too late.” I dried my face and hands, walked into my study, and booked a flight to Utah.
It was a visit with some very nice highs – especially the evening of mom and dad’s anniversary – and a few of the hardest episodes that made me wonder why mom had to endure some of the things she was experiencing. Our last visit was poignant. I did not want it to end, and turned around three times and went back to mom before I finally left. She handled it better than I did and smiled with contentment while I cried and tried to regain my composure.
The final cycle began last Sunday with a call to let me know mom was being transferred to McKay Dee Hospital and that she was in a coma. There were a series of phone calls with the siblings and spouses over the next few hours.
Mom was in a coma and the tests showed that her vital organs were shutting down. The final call from a tearful brother told me that based on the medical results and mom’s lack of responsiveness, the decision had been made to let her go.
The next hour or two were a slow motion whirlwind as I wrote a version of this talk, searched out travel options, and spoke with my son who lives in Seattle. After hearing no further word, I called my brother’s cell phone and asked for an update.
Mom’s life began as a shock and a blessing, and that is how it ended. He said, “Mom is sitting up and we are reminiscing about pets.”
I said, “What?”
He said, “We’re talking about G. Let me put you on the speaker phone so you can join the conversation.”
What followed was a ten minute chat, much like the conversations we had years ago before age and illness afflicted Mom and Dad. When I asked, “How are you doing, Mom?” she replied, “Well, I’ve been better and I’ve been worse.”
I called my son to let him know mom was suddenly conscious, coherent, and talking, and he called my brother’s cell phone and joined in the conversation. Mom said how nice it was to have my siblings, their spouses, and my nephew there with her and to have spoken with my son and me on the phone.
Around 2:00 a.m. Monday morning I booked another flight to Utah. As I finished packing a few hours later, my brother called and gave me the news. Mom was gone.
It took me a while to process and comprehend that final chat with mom and the family, and I could not really put it into context until I arrived in Utah and was filled in on the details. The more I thought about it, I felt a sense a peace that among the last conversations we had as a family with mom was about one of the subjects most dear to each of us – our cats and our dogs.
Throughout her life mom always stated her wishes, but then she would add, “Thy will be done.” She did not want my oldest sister to die, but accepted that she did not get to raise my oldest sister on earth. She did not want to die in a hospital, but in the end accepted that would be what happened. I believe that once mom accepted “thy will be done,” the Lord gave mom and us a miracle in the form of a final, enjoyable, entertaining, last visit.
I’ve struggled with how to end this talk. Around 3:00 a.m. this morning, the thought came that I should conclude by sharing a few thoughts about my relationship with Mom. I am the “bonus baby” – the one born after three miscarriages, one death, two near death’s, and one healthy but small baby.
In 19xx Mom received her Patriarchal Blessing which stated sons and daughters would be born to her. After seven pregnancies resulting in two daughters to raise and one son, I feel it took a great deal of courage – and faith – to risk one more pregnancy in hopes of having a second son.
I think my son, my brother, sister, and their spouses were a bit concerned about me yesterday when we went to see mom at the funeral home. She looked beautiful, but we each grieve in our own way and seeing her body did not bring me a lot of peace.
What brings me peace is reading her life story and the letters we exchanged over the years. What brings me peace is looking at the photos and remembering our experiences over the years. What brings me peace is listening to a voice mail she left after flowers and chocolates were delivered for Valentine’s Day, and hearing her end with her signature sign off – “I love you. I love you. I love you.”
The final thing that brings me peace is that mom – after sixty-five years – will finally spend Mother’s Day with my oldest sister. My sister was born on (date). She died on (date), a Saturday, around midnight. The next morning – Mothers’ Day – Mom learned that her first baby had died.
To my oldest sister, “Thank you for letting us have these years with mom. Please give her some extra hugs from each of us.”
And to Mom, “I love you. I love you. I love you.”
I say this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Bishop and his daughter sang a beautiful rendition of “How Great Thou Art,” followed by the Bishop’s comments. I felt at peace even though I cried at times during the service. A nephew who is active in the church gave the benediction.
After the casket was carried by the pallbearers to the hearse we remained and spoke with some of the people in the foyer and outside the church. I do not recall how long that lasted – probably twenty to thirty minutes. I was still a bit overwhelmed by the number of people who had attended the service.
The drive to the cemetery seemed short. My other brother-in-law, mom’s second son by marriage, dedicated the grave. We spent more time visiting with family and friends before returning to the church for a filling, wonderful variety of food prepared by the Relief Society.
I felt exhausted by the time I sat down to eat. I mostly listened to the different conversations. I felt love. I felt peace. I felt empty. I missed my mom.
Written Spring 2011: Recollections on Mom’s Passing – A Year Later
I took U.S. History in the late 1970s at the University of Utah. I was surprised there was little discussion of President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, the Vietnam War and associated protests, or the Watergate Scandal and Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974. Our professor said that historians needed more time to accurately assess those periods and events.
I found that was true after Mom’s death. I wrote about incidents and experiences during Mom’s last three years, but I did not understand how I felt until time put some distance between the events and me. I wrote the following a year after my last visit with Mom.
Views from Adams Avenue Parkway
I have looked through the photos I took during my visits to Mom after she moved into assisted living. I saw on several trips that I took a few photos from the area around the toll booth on Adams Avenue Parkway, just down from her assisted living center..
The top photo looks like a typical country scene. What you may not realize is that Interstate 84 is a few blocks to the south and that Ogden, Utah’s second largest city, is just a few blocks to the north.
She spent the last few years looking at the Wasatch Mountains in Weber County, first from her apartment in the assisted living center and then from her room at the rehab center. She looked forward to waking up each morning, having the attendant open the curtains or blinds, and watching the sun rise over the Wasatch Mountains.
The building to the left of this photo is the toll booth on Adams Avenue Parkway. I don’t recall any toll roads when I grew up in Utah. I followed GPS directions the first time I visited Mom in her assisted living apartment. I was a bit surprised and annoyed when I exited Interstate 84, drove up the hill, and had to stop at the toll booth.
The toll wasn’t that much – just a dollar, I think – and the attendant was very friendly. I pulled away from the booth feeling better. Each time over the next two years when I drove through the toll booth, the attendants were happy. I enjoyed chatting briefly with them since most times this section of Adams Avenue Parkway was not busy. Some of the attendants even remembered I was from North Carolina, visiting my mom, and asked how she was doing.
The area by the toll booth became a transition zone for me. Mom had many ups and downs those last two years. Many times after leaving, I stopped in this area for a few minutes to collect my thoughts, and sometimes to cry.
I did not learn until a 2009 visit that there was a route I could take through Ogden to avoid the toll booth. My siblings thought I was crazy when they found out about all the tolls I had paid, when I could have driven a mile or two north and taken a route that bypassed the toll booth.
I took the alternate route a few times during my last visit with Mom. I found that I missed the beauty – the transition – of the route up Adams Parkway from the freeway. I went back to my old route.
Mom always had goals, even at the end. Her last goal was to build up her strength at the rehab center so she could return to her apartment in the assisted living center. She did not make that goal, but she gave it her best.
The day after her funeral, the family gathered at her assisted living apartment to pack up and make the space available for a new resident. What could have been a stressful time of sadness was full of joy as we worked together and recalled memories with each item we packed.
We each had our own cars. When the apartment was empty, I said that I wanted to stay behind for a few more minutes. I sat alone on the living room floor, stared at the bare walls, and then looked out the window towards the mountains. I thought of the almost 880 days that Mom lived in Ogden and looked at those peaks. I felt she was with me in that room.
After leaving Mom’s apartment, I stopped in the parking lot the short distance from the toll booth. I looked over the valley to the west and the mountains to the east. I thought of all the times I had stopped at this place. It was just a parking area along a road, but it became my sanctuary those two years.
After someone dies there is a point when their loved ones finally realize they are gone. I’ve spoken with enough people to know that the realization comes at different times. For many people, it is when the coffin is closed or the ashes are spread. For me, it was the last time I pulled up to the booth on Adams Avenue Parkway, paid the toll, and drove down the hill.
(I was in North Carolina when both of my parents died in Utah. Some friends said they did not think they could fly across the country to their parents’ funerals. I had wonderful memories from the final visits with both of my parents. Those memories helped me immensely. I think it would be a lot more difficult to be present and have bad memories of a parent’s passing.
This post might be an emotional trigger for some people since it is about death. This is an edited version of two posts that I wrote last fall. It picks up with what I thought would be my last visit with Mom, Christmas Day 2009, and ends before the start of the viewing that preceded Mom’s funeral.)
My son called the evening after I returned home from spending Christmas with Mom in Utah. He had gone to the Emergency Room. Something was wrong with his wrist and hand. The doctors weren’t sure what it was, but he was on antibiotics and doing fine. He had to make two more trips to the ER over the next week. He said he did not need me or his mom to fly out to Washington.
My former wife and I talked between ourselves and decided to over-rule our son. I had a very brief lull in my schedule. I flew out to Seattle expecting to stay five days. What followed were two weeks of anxiety and uncertainty before I returned home, while he was hospitalized until the doctors finally figured out he was allergic to one of the medications. I wrote about that in this post titled “Different Views.”
The whole experience was exhausting. The lull at work ended while I was in Seattle and turned into a whirlwind. I spoke with Mom each week. I spoke with one or all of my sibs almost every week. If we weren’t talking on the phone we were exchanging series of e-mails. Mom was holding her own. She even had a procedure to help her eat and breathe better and handled it well.
Mom needed to go to the Emergency Room in March. She was released to a rehab center to help her build strength before returning to assisted living. My sibs and I spoke. There was no need for me to go out to Utah, yet. I decided I would fly out for Mother’s Day. Mom thought that sounded fine. She hoped to be back at her assisted living apartment before May.
One morning in early April, after letting my dogs out to take care of business and get fed, I went into the bathroom to shave, shower, and get ready for work. I turned the water on and splashed it on my face in preparation for shaving. When I looked in the mirror to apply shaving cream, a premonition came very forcefully to my mind:
“Mother’s Day might be too late.”
I dried my face and hands, walked into my PC room. and booked a flight to Utah.
Mom was so happy to see me. I was grateful to see her again, but shocked at how weak she had become in the few months since Christmas. Some days were wonderful, such as her wedding anniversary. I bought flowers from a nearby store and placed them in two or three vases around her room. We adapted family traditions as needed. Dad’s traditional anniversary orchid did not suit the occasion.
Mom planned Dad’s funeral to the last detail. She had told the children that it was our turn to plan her funeral. She mentioned a few things over the years. She discussed some hymns with my sister. She wanted me to give the main eulogy. She wanted a nephew who she was close to and who was a former mission president to give the theological talk.
My siblings and I agreed that I would try to confirm Mom’s wishes for her funeral during my visit. She and I had the conversation the afternoon of her anniversary. There were no surprises. She added that anyone who wanted to take part could, but the service was not to go over one hour.
Other experiences during that visit were among the worst in my life, seeing Mom so weak and fragile. She continued to smile, but that sapped her energy at times. I had the only argument with my brother that I ever had about Mom’s care, wondering why he did not push the issue with her to go on hospice care. I did not know about the restrictions that my parents placed on him through their legal agreements, but he was not able to discuss those with me. In retrospect I felt bad for the stress he was put under as he carried out my parents’ wishes.
I caught a bug that was going around the rehab center the day before I was supposed to fly home. Luckily, Mom did not get sick. I could not fly so I stayed four or five more days at my brother’s home. I did not dare visit Mom till the last day. I knew she was ready to pass on, but I was not going to send her to Heaven with my bug.
Our last visit was – well – there is no single word that describes what you feel when you know you will not see the person in your life again who loved you the most. I am not saying that she loved me more than the other children because she did not love me more. She loved each of us and did not have a favorite. I know her love for Dad was the deepest. I know my son loves me dearly, I love him, and we have a very strong thirty years bond. I am saying I had a bond with Mom that I have not had with anyone else due to the length of the bond.
Our visit was calm and comforting. We did not say a lot. We mainly wanted to look at each other. Mom bore her testimony to me, but did not ask me to return to Utah or become active in the church. We spoke about how we would miss each other. I had been there about two hours. Mom was wearing out from the visit and I was too since I was still weak from being sick.
I said that I should go before I got too tired to drive back to my brother’s home in Layton. Mom nodded her head in agreement, and I stood up. I kissed her and walked to the door of her room in the rehab center. I stopped. I turned around and walked back to the chair by her bed.
“I can’t go,” I said. I slid my hand under hers so I would not hurt her by holding her hand too tight. I sat. We stared at each other, and smiled.
After about ten minutes I said, “Well, I don’t want this to end, but we know it has to at some point. I love you, Mom. I love you.” She told me she loved me, too. I stood. I walked to the door. I stopped. I turned around, and returned to the chair by her bed once again. We did not say anything. We just stared at each other and smiled.
I was exhausted. I felt like I was going to fall asleep and slide out of the chair. I don’t remember exactly what Mom said, but it told me that she knew it was time for me to leave. I told her I loved her. She told me that she loved me. I stood, her hand resting on mine, and kissed her gently on her forehead for what I knew would be the last time.
I was crying. She was smiling, peacefully. I walked to the door, turned around, and said, “Mom, I love you. I will always love you.” She nodded her head and continued smiling. I turned, and walked down the hall and out the now locked door of the rehab center.
I sobbed uncontrollably once I got to my car. I could not drive. I glanced back and saw something I had not realized during the almost two weeks I had been in Utah. The room across from Mom’s room was empty and the door was open. I could see through the window in that room in the front of the building into Mom’s room at the back of the center. Mom’s bed had been moved forward in her room to accommodate the breathing equipment. I saw mom raised up in bed, peacefully watching the late night news.
I thought, “She is at peace. I should be at peace, too.” It took another minute to regain my composure so I could safely drive. I returned to my brother’s home, chatted briefly, packed, and went to bed. I returned to North Carolina the next day, a Saturday. I wrote an outline for the eulogy I would give during the layover in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
I spoke briefly with Mom Saturday evening and Sunday evening. The next day a problem developed with her phone or phone line. The center tried, but could not get it fixed. We could not talk. I could not coördinate between the time zones to match my calls with the times when my siblings or their spouses visited Mom. I spoke with my oldest sister who lived three hours away from mom. She was having the same problem.
Flying causes major problems for my back. Sitting in hospital and rehab center chairs aggravated those problems. I spend part of that week in bed. On Sunday afternoon I made a quick run to the store.
As I stepped in front of the door to the store, my phone rang. I glanced down, saw it was 4:30 p.m., and saw the name of the rehab center on my caller ID.
“We are sorry to call you and know that you are in North Carolina. Your mother developed a breathing problem. She is not responding to our treatments. We feel that we need to call 911 to transport her to the hospital, but we cannot reach any of your siblings to let them know what is happening.”
They confirmed the home and mobile phone numbers they had for my siblings which matched the numbers I had. I said I would try calling. The center had authorization to transfer Mom to the hospital, but hoped that someone from the family could be there before Mom arrived.
I said I would try calling my siblings and some phone numbers I had for their spouses while they called 911. I called back a few minutes later to report that I had only gotten voice mail, but I had left messages.
Mom was still at the rehab center because the ambulance had not arrived. As the second call was ending, I asked, “Is Mom conscious?”
“Not really – she is in and out,” the center’s assistant administrator replied, “but if you have a message I will be glad to give it to her.”
“I have not been able to talk to her for a week due to a phone problem in her room,” I said.
“Let me give you my mobile phone number,” the assistant administrator said. “Give me a minute to get down to your mother’s room and then call my number. I will hold the phone to her ear. If she is able to speak, though, you probably won’t be able to understand what she is saying due to the breathing apparatus.”
I timed it exactly one minute and called the number. The assistant administrator answered and I heard her say in the background, “This is your son in North Carolina. He wants to speak with you.”
I could hear the breathing machine working for Mom as the assistant manager held her phone down to Mom’s ear. “Mom, I love you,” I said. “I am praying for you.”
“I love you, dear. I love you,” she said through the breathing mask. I understood every word. I felt they would be the last words I heard from my mom in this life.
(I wrote the italicized timeline and narrative below for myself the day before I returned to North Carolina after Mom’s funeral. I wanted to remember and understand the events leading up to Mom’s passing and the days after her death. It has some fragments and overlap. I am leaving it that way so it is less “filtered.”)
Sunday – 4:39 p.m. – Called to the rehab center to let them know I had not been able to reach any of my siblings, and asking them to give my love to Mom, We had not spoken in a week due to a problem with the phone in her room. The care center administrator offered to take her personal cell phone to Mom’s room so the two of us could speak, but warned me that I probably would not be able to understand Mom’s voice due to the breathing mask she was wearing.
Sunday – 4:44 p.m – What I though would be my last conversation with Mom – very short – I told her I loved her & that I was praying for her – she told me she loved me, and I understood every word she said.
Here’s where the call log lost some calls.
Within a minute of the above call I reached my brother-in-law on his cell phone. He and my sister had just pulled over to let two ambulances pass. They were getting ready to turn on the street of Mom’s rehab center for a visit. I told them at least one of the ambulances was for Mom.
My brother-in-law called about ten minutes later. Mom was in a coma when they arrived and unresponsive. She did not respond in any way. I felt a little strange wondering if I was the last person Mom would talk to in this life. My brother-in-law and I had a few more phone calls while I tried to find my brother and other sister.
About forty-five minutes later I reached my other sister. They were on the way home when she got my earlier voice mail, and immediately turned around for the three-hour drive to Ogden. Shortly afterwards, my brother called. I don’t recall, but I think I had one more phone call with my brother. Here is where the log on my mobile phone resumed.
Sunday – 8:26 p.m. – Received phone call from my brother. Based on the test results and opinions of two doctors, life support was being disconnected and Mom was being put on palliative end-of-life care per the instructions in Mom’s legal documents.
One doctor estimated Mom would die in twelve to twenty-four hours. Another guessed it could be as long as seventy-two hours. One brother-in-law is a doctor. When he learned what Mom’s test results were, he agreed that death would come soon, I think within a day.
No calls or text messages for the next hour and twenty minutes – Checked flight schedules – wrote a first draft of a funeral talk – Called my son and told him what was happening. I could not book a flight before 11:00 a.m. due to the time I would need to take my dogs to board at the vet’s, but I hope to be in Utah and see my mom again before she died.
Sunday – Around 9:35 p.m. – Called my brother’s cell phone & asked what was happening. He said Mom was sitting up in bed and they were talking about family pets. I was in shock. He put me on the speaker phone. We visited for 10 minutes. Mom was coherent and fully engaged in the conversation with my two sisters, their husbands, my brother and his wife, their son, and me.
Sunday – 9:46 p.m. – Called my son and told him Mom was coherent and conscious – gave him my brother’s phone number – He called & joined in the conversation with Mom and the others.
Sunday – 10:06 p.m. – Sent text to my brother asking if Mom responded to the oxygen treatment and if he felt she would die in the next day or two.
Sunday – 10:17 p.m. – He replied they had not done any more treatments, but Mom was still talking and alert.
Sunday – 11:30 p.m. – Follow up message from my brother about my son’s conversation with Mom
Monday – 12:03 a.m – Sent text message to my brother asking if he was at a place where we could talk;
Monday – 12:05 a.m. – He replied and asked which phone number to call – the phone rang a minute later. I asked what had happened. He said Mom woke up for a minute, saw everyone there, said it was good to see everyone and asked if this was planned, and fell back asleep.
A bit later, she woke up again, and started a conversation that lasted about 2 hours. At the end she said she was getting tired and wanted to watch the news. She could not see the TV, so she told my brother to turn it off so she could go to sleep. My sister-in-law said the “Night night – sleep tight – don’t let the bed bugs bite” jingle and wished Mom sweet dreams. Mom smiled her cute smile and waved good-bye.
Monday – 12:15 a.m – While talking with my brother, received a text message from my son saying he had booked a flight to SLC – I replied I was bombing out on flights – The ones I’d seen earlier were no longer available
Monday – Around 2:00 a.m. – Finally finished flight & rental car reservations – sent e-mail to my siblings & son to let them know my travel schedule
Monday – 5:15 a.m. – Had not slept, so I got up to take care of the dogs.- showered, dressed, and got into work around 6:30 a.m. – Spent an hour sending e-mails cancelling meetings I was supposed to conduct and giving instructions on the topics of discussion so people could continue working on the projects. Spent another 30 minutes talking with people on the phone.
Monday – 8:15 a.m. – Called the vet from work in between other phone calls – spoke to my critter sitter about the cats and arranged to board the dogs. Got gas for the car, transported the dogs to the vet and returned home around 10:15 a.m. to start packing
Monday – Around 10:50 a.m. – Received call from brother – Mom had just passed away – Cried – My brother was picking my son up at the airport, who was in flight. I asked him to tell my son because I did not want to leave the news as a voice mail, and I would be traveling to RDU when my son arrived in SLC.
I called my former wife during a break on the drive to the Raleigh/Durham Airport to let her know Mom had died. She expressed very kind sympathies. She then told me that her father-in-law, who I knew was ill, had passed away that morning. Our son lost two grandparents the same day.
I flew from Raleigh Durham Airport to Detroit, the same airport where I had the almost five-hour winter weather delay while flying to Seattle when my son was sick in January. There was a ninety minute spring weather delay.
I called my brother and told him about the flight delay. He told me about the proposed funeral program to see if I had any suggestions or changes. My sisters and I had wanted someone from his family to take part. He did not feel he should talk given his feelings about religion. His son, who was atheist, agreed to read the obituary.
I was surprised to learn that my son said he wanted to give a short tribute. He is a gay tattoo artist who is not active in the church. I think the last time I attended church was when he gave a talk his senior year of high school.
My brother also said the cousin who Mom wanted to give the theological talk was out of the country and could not get back until several days after the funeral. Rather than adjust the time for the other parts of the service, my siblings wanted me to talk for twenty minutes instead of ten so I could add more stories. I felt that I needed to add some gospel principles that Mom and I shared so the talk would have a spiritual part.
I wondered what, if anything, the Bishop would say. The Bishop at Dad’s funeral met with Mom and me and said that funerals services should be like a Sacrament Meeting without the sacrament. There should be minimal references to family events. Talks should be based on the scriptures. Mom told him about the church callings that the speakers held. She said I was giving the opening prayer as Dad’s son, and preempted any discussion about my lack of church activity.
We had two gays and an atheist along with former Bishops, a former Stake President, and priesthood and auxiliary presidency members on the program. The new Bishop and his daughter were singing “How Great Thou Art,” per Mom’s request. I asked my brother if the Bishop had given any direction similar to the Bishop for Dad’s funeral. My brother replied that the Bishop said the service was up to the family and did not make any comment about turning it into a Sacrament meeting type service.
Shortly before boarding my delayed flight, I received an e-mail with a draft of the obituary. A brother-in-law noticed that the date of death was wrong – Sunday rather than Monday. He sent an e-mail. In the flurry of activity of people in three cities in Utah and me in route via air, no one saw the message with the correction.
I arrived at my brother’s home around 1:00 a.m. Mountain Time, sixteen hours after leaving home to drive to the airport. We talked till 4:00 a.m.
Later that day, while reading the obituary, we saw the death date error. My brother and I started laughing. Mom was one of the family genealogists. She and my aunt spent years following false leads due to errors on records and in family tradition. We had messed up the death date in the obituary of the most date-conscious member of the family. We contacted the funeral home. The obituary was re-run the following day with the correct date of death and updated on the Internet.
Tuesday was hard from late morning through early evening. By Tuesday evening things were settling down. My son gave me a lot of comfort. I think that was the day we met with the funeral director to discuss the service. My sisters chose most of the items that Mom had not pre-selected, but deferred the floral arrangement on the casket to my brother and me. We ate at a nice restaurant near the funeral home and had a good visit before my sister and her husband had to return to their home about two and one-half hours away.
Wednesday seemed fine. I re-wrote my funeral talk. I worked on the digital photo display for the viewing. I needed some more photos and decided to go to Mom’s apartment at the assisted living center and look through her albums the next morning. I think that was the day I picked up my nephew who flew in from Seattle. I think my nephew from the midwest arrived the next day.
Thursday morning – went to Mom’s apartment – seemed strange – so many conversations were held here over the previous 2 1/2 years – the day started going down hill – it was my worst day.
Late Thursday afternoon – my brother, the sister who lived close to Mom, their spouses, my nephew (I think), my son, and I went to the funeral home to give our approval for how the funeral home had prepared Mom’s body. My other sister and her husband were still at their home in central Utah. I think he was on call at the hospital and could not get coverage from another doctor till the day of the funeral.
My two sibs and their spouses were talking normally. They were pleased with how mom looked. My brother gets comfort from seeing photos of his late son in the casket so he brought his camera to take pictures of mom in the casket. My nephew and son stood back.
I was standing near my sibs and their spouses but I was in a different zone. I felt empty. It did not look like Mom. It was Mom’s hair, forehead, cheeks, chin, and hands, but it was not Mom’s smile. A funeral director cannot wire a smile on a corpse, and Mom always smiled.
I am the photographer of the family. I normally return home from trips with 200 to 300 photos per day that I am out-of-town. My brother was surprised that I did not have my camera with me at the funeral home. I had not taken a single photo in the three days I had been in Utah.
I said that the funeral home had done a wonderful job, but that was not how I wanted to remember Mom. I stood back from the casket looking at the corpse. It was not the Mom I knew.
I took one photo with my mobile phone on the off-chance that in later years I wanted to have a photo of Mom in the casket. I thought the floral spray my brother and I selected matched the casket and Mom’s personality.
I walked away from the casket and sat on a sofa as far away as I could get. My family continued talking, sharing wonderful memories. My son walked over to me and asked me if I was alright. I said I was fine, that seeing Mom’s corpse just did not bring me any comfort. I think he took my hand – a very rare gesture in our relationship. We hug when we see each other and when we leave, but we do not hold hands. He sat by me and put his arm around me. I leaned on his shoulder.
My sister-in-law came over and quietly asked me if their talking was bothering me. It was not. It’s just I did not want to be a part of the conversation. She asked if I was going to be okay. I said I would leave if I needed to get out of the situation.
The others glanced over and saw my son sitting with me and my sister-in-law talking with me. I saw a look of concern on my brother-in-law’s face. I think my brother noticed it and turned around and saw me with his wife and my son.
They came over and asked if I was okay, and if they need to leave so I could have some time alone with Mom. I said they were fine. It did not bother me that seeing Mom’s body brought them peace, but it did not do anything for me. I wanted to remember her as she was the last time I saw her at the rehab center, smiling at me, and not how she looked in the coffin.
I don’t recall how long we had been there – probably thirty to forty-five minutes. I think my brother-in-law suggested that we go to a restaurant together for dinner. We agreed and left the funeral home. I started feeling better once I got to the car.
I was mostly back to my normal self by the time we sat down at the restaurant. We placed our orders. I saw that everyone was looking at me. I think I made some snide comment. They said I had scared them and they hoped that I was okay. We had an enjoyable visit. As we were leaving, one of them – I think my sister – said it was good to have me back. They thought they had lost me at the funeral home.
I struggled with how to end my talk. I don’t recall how many versions I had written, but each one seemed empty. I finally gave up around 1:00 a.m. the morning of the funeral and said I was going to bed. I hoped I would have some inspiration at least by the eighteen minute mark of my twenty-minute talk.
Friday – 3:00 a.m. – Woke up and finally realized how I wanted to end my talk – could not get back to sleep
Friday – 5:00 a.m. – Finally got up, stopped at McDonald’s for breakfast, and drove to Antelope Island and thought things over – shot a few photos for the first time during the trip. Replayed the voice mail messages from Mom that I saved to my mobile phone. Called home and listened to Mom’s voice mail messages I had saved on that phone number.
Friday 8:00 a.m – Returned to my brother’s home – re-wrote the end of my talk; Did a practice run for my sister-in-law, who thought it sounded fine and that Mom would like the talk; Got ready for the viewing and the funeral.
Friday 9:15 a.m. – Drove from my brother’s home to Mom’s chapel in Bountiful; Visited with a few people who were already there setting things up; Recognized some of the Relief Society women who I had met forty-three years earlier when we moved to the ward and thanked them for all they had done for my parents; Also thanked them for what looked like a wonderful meal that could feed hundreds; Watched the digital photo display;
Fall 2012 Introduction
I thought that living 2,400 miles away from Mom would make it harder to be aware of her condition in assisted living. I discovered, unexpectedly, that I was a “gatekeeper” among the siblings who lived in Utah. Due to the long phone calls Mom had with me, I ended up having many of the most in-depth conversations with her. I did not realize that until after talking with my siblings about things that I assumed Mom had discussed with them.
The late winter, spring, and summer of 2009 were especially difficult. The time zone difference was hard. My staff at work started recognizing when I had been up till 2:00 a.m. talking with my sibs in the Mountain Time Zone. We had some e-mail chains among the four children that had so many messages that sometimes we lost track of who knew what.
We are all very independent, a trait we picked up from our parents. There are some real personality differences, with three more introverted children and one extrovert. My two sisters are religious and my brother is agnostic. My sisters say I am spiritual even though I am not religious.
Even though we are different from each other, each of us were actively and patiently involved in mom’s care. We had a very loving mother and it was easy to love her in spite of some very difficult challenges.
The following is a draft of a letter that I wrote to one of my sisters so she could see all of my thoughts. It did not get sent because we ended up having a long phone call and discussed the information in the draft.
Spring 2009 Draft of Letter
Thanks for the messages. They reflect a lot of the same impressions I’ve had about Mom. The last two phone calls both had decidedly negative tones.
The very frank talks Mom and I had last spring and summer were about the fact that she would rather be with Dad, (our deceased sister), Grandma, and Grandpa. She even acknowledged a bit of jealousy. I don’t ever recall her having or sharing that emotion before.
She seems obsessed with her money situation even though (brother who handled her finances) says she is fine. She is also upset for not putting the home on the market when she moved to assisted living. Shortly after Mom moved, which was after the sub-prime mortgage melt down but before it spread throughout the rest of the mortgage market, I told Mom I was concerned about the future of the housing market. I said if she felt she might need the money from the house that she should consider putting it on the market in late winter/early spring. I said she may not have another opportunity to sell at the higher price if the sub-prime meltdown worked its way into other segments of the mortgage market. She told me several times in the past few months that she made a mistake by not selling the home as soon as she moved.
I was quite surprised when she decided to sell the home last summer. I felt she was six months late in making the decision. After learning about the frustrations she was causing the three of you out west - saying, “I want you to have (item) but you can’t take it yet” – I decided to make the August trip.
She never said before the trip that I needed to come out to visit, but I felt if I came it might jump-start the process of selling the home. While I was there I said that I got the impression that she wanted to me walk through the house before the siblings removed the remaining items. She said that was correct. She insisted that I take a glass bell I had given her several years ago. I later learned she promised it to (sister) a few weeks earlier so I sent it to her once I got home.
She does not understand the impracticability of moving large items from Utah to NC, that our homes are already full, or that items she loves may not match the decor of our homes or be to our preferences. I was very happy to receive the books and the smaller items, but there was no reason she could not have let you or the others take the items she had already told you to take.
It was very obvious to me a week after I returned that any plans to empty the house so it could be sold had stalled. I felt she was using all the conditions for removing items as a way to slow down selling the home. I think she would be happiest if she could go home and pass away in her sleep, but I don’t see that happening.
She complains about her heart and vital organs being so strong while he legs and arms are so weak. During the August trip she listed seven or eight people who are in their 90s in assisted living and made it very clear she did not want to live that long.
Her mind is not as clear as she thinks. (Brother) was there a few weeks ago when I called. During the conversation with both I told them I was going to Panama City, FL after a conference in Savannah. We spoke about it for around fifteen minutes. The following week I mentioned Panama City and she asked if I was going to see the Panama Canal. I said, “No – Panama City Florida.” She said, “Oh, I never knew you were going there.” She had forgotten a fifteen minute conversation the previous week.
She is forgetful on a lot of things. I thought maybe it was because I was calling around 8:00 p.m. her time so I called earlier the following week, but she was just as forgetful.
I am glad that (sister and brother-in-law) met with the woman at the assisted living center. If Mom needed to moved to another level of care I think the woman would have suggested it during the conversation. Compared to others, Mom is probably still quite well.
I had the same impression as you that they could care for her if she had broken bones or other physical limitations. I did not know that she would have to move to a nursing home if it took more than one assistant to care for her.
I think she puts herself in positions that might speed up dying, but when she was on the floor for some time several weeks ago I think the “fighting will” kicked in so she struggled until she could finally get to the call button. I don’t know if she knows how long she was down, but I had the impression it was anywhere between 15 – 30 minutes based on all the things she told me that she tried to do before she could finally reach the call button.
I’m not quite sure what to pray for at this point. I have prayed that she would be happy at the assisted living center and get the care that she needs. I know she would rather be dead, but I don’t feel I can ask in prayer for that wish to be granted.
Fall 2012 Post Script
I flew out to Utah a few weeks after the phone call in which the above items were discussed. It was the most challenging visit in six years. My siblings were worn out. Mom was worn out but upset that she was still alive. Things came to a head when the assisted living center did a periodic evaluation and recommended that Mom move to a higher care level. Mom exploded over that recommendation.
We were still trying to figure out what to pray for. We finally decided to pray that Mom would accept the help that was available to her and would give her the most comfortable, purposeful life that she could have given her condition.
Mom had another conference with the assisted living staff. They agreed to drop some of their recommendations for upgraded care which made Mom feel better. We made it through the most challenging period.
I am thankful that the later months of Mom’s life had a lot more good memories even though physically she continued to decline. We had a wonderful visit on Christmas Day 2009. When I left for what I thought would be the last time I felt a sense of peace.
I did not expect to see Mom again. I treasured our weekly phone calls. As much as I preferred living in North Carolina, I wanted to be in Utah.
Spring 2013 Post Script
I thought a lot about this difficult period the past few months as I struggled with back and leg pain that essentially left me disabled. My son, family, and friends have experienced a few frustrations with me that my siblings and I experienced with mom as her health declined.
For example, my son and I went to a restaurant the other evening. I told him about the menu and some of the things I liked. He reminded me we had eaten at the same place the day before my surgery and I had given him the same little description of the menu and food.
What goes around comes around. I am glad I was mostly patient when mom had her hardest challenges.
A House of Books . . . and More
I grew up in a house of books. Dad mostly read church books, and had a large collection of work related books that predated my birth. Mom loved novels, history, and poetry. When they moved to the new home in 1967 one item on their list was lots of space for books.
The upper left photo housed part of Dad’s collection of church books. This was the living room. I estimate this is about half of his collection of church reading. The lower cabinets had Dad’s stereo system. There is another set of cabinets to the right side that had his tape recorders. The game room in the basement had speakers that were wired into this system. My parents liked listening to music. I think most of the children inherited that trait.
The upper right photos had the Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedias and year books, Dad’s work books, and some of Mom’s novels. This was the downstairs family room. They had another bookcase in the upstairs study with more of Mom’s books and the current books Dad was reading.
When Dad retired he averaged four books a week during the winter months. As my parents accumulated travel videos family room bookshelves became the video bookshelves. I think Dad tossed out his collection of work books, and Mom’s books found their way to other smaller bookcases spread around the house.
The shelves on the lower left housed the model car collection in 1967. This was the game room. It had a full size ping-pong table, a full size pool table, and the double desk Dad made for my brother and me when my brother was nine and I was six. We used the desk through high school and into college. Once we moved away and model cars were no longer of interest these shelves turned into Mom’s travel and genealogy bookcase.
The room in the lower right corner was a bedroom. My brother & I shared this room for a couple of weeks until one sister married and the other decided to go summer semester at BYU. I got the room my sisters vacated. This became my brother’s room till he went on his mission. I got the room until he returned. I reclaimed it from him when he married a few months after I returned from my mission.
My parents turned this bedroom into another study after I married. Every home needs an upstairs study and a downstairs study.
The two studies did not include the “offices” they set up in the game room once the pool and ping-pong tables were removed. Mom’s desk, files, and bookshelves in her corner had her most recent genealogy research. Dad’s desk, files, and bookshelves in his corner had PC stuff. He use to replace his PC every six months so it would be “current.” He supplied most of the family with spare six month old PCs for years.
A new piece of PC hardware arrived a couple of weeks after Dad died. He ordered it the last evening he was downstairs on his PC. He became bedridden and died the following week. I asked Mom how she felt when she received a package addressed to Dad after he died. She said it felt good because it showed that he kept his interests till the end.
We had a TV as long as I remember, though Dad did not think much of television and Mom seldom watched. I was surprised on my first visit after moving to NC to find they had five TVs – three downstairs and two upstairs. Lots of times the TVs were on but they weren’t watching. I think they may have wanted more noise since it was a large home for two people.
The rooms in this home underwent a lot of changes from the time we moved in during 1967, when I married and left home in 1978, and the following years through Dad’s death a few years ago and Mom’s move into assisted living at the end of last year.
With Mom’s decision to sell she wants it emptied and the contents distributed. Given the cost of shipping I chose mostly books. Mom added some of Dad’s awards to my list.
Seven boxes arrived early last week. I didn’t unpack them till Saturday because it still seems premature to me, but I think Mom wants to enjoy distributing some of their personal items while she is still alive.
It seems strange that this is no longer “home.” When I left it for what will probably be the last time I did not have time to be sentimental. Mom had a couple of errands she wanted me to run for her, and I wanted to get back to Ogden to spend my birthday evening with her.
I have a lot of memories of this place. At all times it was my parents’ home – reflecting their interests at the time and their lifelong love of reading. This whole experience seems a little surreal.
I wrote the comment below in 2012 to add some perspective to the above post.
The post was written shortly after my second trip to Utah in 2008 to visit Mom at her assisted living apartment. The first visit was enjoyable but had some high stress moments. She had been in assisted living for five months. I did not know it, but she was second guessing her decision and wanted to return to her home in Bountiful.
Mom and Dad were happy when the Bountiful Temple was built. They attended regularly until their health deteriorated. I went by the temple one morning during the second visit and took photos so Mom could see how it looked with the summer landscaping.
I also caught the sunrise over the Wasatch Mountains from Antelope Island State Park the morning of my birthday. Antelope Island is the largest island in the Great Salt Lake.
The second 2008 visit occurred because Mom was thinking about putting her home on the market. She wanted me to come out so she could start distributing items in the home. I scheduled that trip to be in Utah on my birthday for the first time in nineteen years. My son also flew out on that visit, his first trip to Utah in six years.
My son, a heavily pierced and tattooed tattoo artist, was afraid about what Mom would say about his tattoos and piercings. That was one reason he had not visited since 2002. She, meanwhile, was afraid at how he would react to her physical condition. Each asked me several times to warn the other person of their concerns. I finally told them to stop worrying how much each had changed since 2002.
They were very happy to see each other. Their visits were enjoyable. The most interesting conversation of the trip was a two-hour chat between Mom and my son about tattoos. She watched several episodes of “Inked” on MTV before our visit so she would know more about the art of tattooing. Some of her friends in assisted living thought it was a bit scandalous for a Mormon in her mid eighties to watch “Inked.” She said that she never wanted a tattoo but she thought it required amazing skill to inject the right amount of ink under the skin to create a living work of art.
That conversation wrapped up when she asked my son if his tattoos and piercings made him happy. He said, “Yes.” She replied, “Then I am happy.”
Mom knew my son was gay. Another family member outed him a few years before this visit. Mom told that person that it did not change how she felt about him. She loved him because he was her grandson and he had always shown love to her and Dad.
(This is a combination post - something current plus something I wrote when my mom moved into assisted living.)
It has been six days since my surgery. I am doing a mix of resting and walking. I use the alarm on my phone so I will remember to rest when needed and get up before I have stayed down too long. I cannot reach below my knee while my back is healing or bend much, either at the waist or knees. I am glad to have this almost-week of recuperation behind me. There are five more to go.
I walked out to my mailbox this afternoon. I received a card from one of my former coworkers. I am very thankful for the people I worked with. Many have kept in touch via Facebook. The Human Resources department sent a get well card. I also received one from the branch where I do my banking. That is so nice. I really appreciate all their thoughts and concern.
I did not sleep last night. I don’t know why. I was not stressed out or anxious. Maybe it is still the meds plus the strange lack-of-schedule I have been on the past month. I had a flurry of Facebook activity from 10:30 to midnight my time, which reflects the two-hour time-zone between me and my friends out west. I rested in bed from midnight, but did not go to sleep.
I got up a little before 6:00 a.m and walked around upstairs. I texted with my guy around 6:30. I went down with the dogs at 6:45. My son is doing some out-of-town guest tattoo spots so my friend who critter sits the cats came by to feed the dogs. She took care of the dogs and cats last night, plus did some vacuuming and other picking up that I really appreciated. She took care of the pets again this afternoon.
The following is another entry in the series about my mom. I wrote it in 2007.
This Home Place
This place in Bountiful, Utah has been home for my parents the longest of any of the places they lived. It is filled with over 40 years of memories
These photos taken in 1968 & 1971 represent some of my fondest memories. They also reflect my parents personalities:
- Their love of a yard with flowers, trees, and a well manicured lawn.
- Looking from their balcony at the sunsets over the Great Salt Lake.
- Watching “MASH” on Sunday evenings in the Family Room.
- Visiting with friends & family in the Living Room.
- Growing up with our Siamese cat.
- Mom’s handicraft, whether it was the needlepoint chair seats in the Living Room or the bedspread that she made for my parents’ room.
As my parents aged both said their final wish would be to die in this home. Dad died in the living room five years ago today.
Due to her health, Mom will be moving next week into an assisted living home. She is moving from the city where she was born and has lived for over 80 years to be closer to my sister and brother and their families.
It is a decision she has made after a lot of thought and prayer. She knows it is the right decision. She is looking forward to making a new life for herself in her new home.
I have lived in over twenty places and have not had the attachment to any of them that my parents had for this home. As I have thought about the fact that I will no longer be going “home” when I visit Mom, it has brought back a lot of memories and a few tears.
As much as I will miss this place, and as much as I feel a sense of loss, I am thankful that Mom has all of her intellectual faculties, had the choice of a number of options, and has chosen the option that is best for her.
Mom – I love you. Dad – I miss you. I am, and will forever be, thankful that you are my parents.
I am sitting at my PC with my grey tabby between the keyboard and me. I feel like my life is getting back to normal. I am still very tired from the meds, but I finally had some deep, restful, pain-free sleep. That is so nice. I forgot what it was like to not have pain.
Here is one of my earlier blog entries that most of you probably have not read. Thanks for your visits, comments, and shares.
The Fried Chicken Birthday
The funny thing when writing about recollections is wondering if the episodes described really happened. Many times there are photos, letters, e-mails, or calendar entries that fill in the details. Some things, though, are documented only in our minds.
My mom was an excellent cook. That does not mean that we as children always liked what she prepared for our meals. In an informal family poll about least favorite quotes, dad’s phrase that, “You don’t have to like it. You just have to eat it,” ranked at the top.
Mom made delicious fried chicken. I’ve never seen here recipe elsewhere – fried with seasonings instead of breading. The only problem was that it was a bit too advanced for my childhood taste buds.
The party for my ninth birthday had been planned. All the invitations were delivered a week before the big day. The following weekend we had mom’s fried chicken for Sunday dinner. I would not eat it.
Dad said I had a choice. I could either eat the friend chicken, or I could go to all of my friends’ homes and tell them that my birthday party was cancelled because I would not eat my Sunday dinner. I chose to do the walk. A few years later, I fell in love with mom’s friend chicken.
Years later mom, dad, and I were talking about old stories. I mentioned the fried chicken birthday. Neither parent remembered the incident. Later, I asked my siblings if they remembered when my birthday party was cancelled because I would not each mom’s fried chicken for Sunday dinner. They said it sounded like something that could have happened in our family, but they did not remember the fried chicken birthday.
That made me wonder – did this incident really occur, or was it just part of my imagination? I am positive it happened, but I am not sure since no one else remembers the incident. There are some things I am sure of, though. I miss my mom. I miss my dad. And I miss my mom’s fried chicken.
Let’s see if I can write some semi-coherent thoughts in my still heavily medicated state of mind. I am really happy with how the surgery went. My body is coming back from the anesthesia. I handled walking well at the hospital and at home.
It is really great having my son here with me. He is a wonderful cook. I use to cook a long time ago, but I have not cooked much for ten years. It is nice visiting with him. I am concerned that he will get bored since I live out in the country. He said this is a good time for him to have some slower time to himself.
He has been on the go constantly since arriving late Tuesday. He has not slept well, either. It is nice to have the surgery behind me. I hope he can sleep better. He is concerned about my eating and (like my doctor) wants me to lose some weight.
The pain before surgery has been constant for four months and especially bad the past two months. The surgeon removed three disc fragments that were sitting on the nerve. The nerve was pressed into a cavity of the disc and the doctor said it was difficult getting the nerve unstuck from the disc. He felt very good once that was accomplished.
The hospital staff was nice. I did not have any problems from the staff about having my guy with me. I am so thankful that we are in each other’s lives. I appreciate my former wife coming over and that she and my guy met each other. We had a good conversation among the four of us, with me fading in and out some due to the meds.
Almost every nurse said something about my height. I am tall and that presents some challenges. I am not supposed to be bending, twisting, turning, stooping, or lifting anything heavier than ten pounds. I am trying to be a good patient. I do not want to repeat this surgery.
I received an outpouring of love that really surprised me. I am accustomed to being on my own. It is very hard for me to ask for or accept help. I am so appreciative of the care and concern from so many people.
I am wearing out so I will stop typing. Thanks again for your thoughts, well wishes, prayers, and concerns. I do feel blessed.