Note: I offer this only as a version with an open heart and understanding that words cannot do justice at a time like this. However, I can say that comfort comes with the company of those we love and those who choose to gather with us are the comfort we need in times of loss. Although this entry is titled with Moms in mind; truth is truth in all realms of life. And so, with all of my heart – I offer you this.
The room was filled with friends, family and loved ones. I knew this day would come; yet, no one is ever prepared for moments like this. It’s all so goddamned final. The end. The fact that someone you love and known all of your life is no longer there – at least, not physically.
You know this happens and sometimes, you might even know it’s on the way. But still – the news hits you in such an unbelievable way. You take the news in with an almost, “Is this real,” sort of feeling.
Everything stops, but at the same time, nothing stops and the world keeps moving and me, I was like, “Is this real?”
But it was real.
This was actually happening.
I have lost people before this time. I lost my Father when I was only 17. I lost my Grandmother when I was 12 but as I grew older, the memories of my Grandmother faded. They became mostly hazy, which was frightening because I didn’t want anything to be distant or hazy anymore.
I lost my Uncle. I lost my cousins. I lost my Aunt Sondra, who was a second Mother to me. But this time was different. This was my Mom.
I knew this was coming; however, this was hard because I was Mom’s healthcare proxy. This meant I was dealing with Mom’s health and her doctors and nurses. This meant that I was dealing with Mom’s housing as well as handling the challenges that came with Mom’s assisted living and her caregivers who were mainly good – but then again, Mom was not Mom anymore. In fact, Mom had not been Mom for a very long time.
Mom was sick with 5 different diseases in her spine. She had gone through countless surgeries. Mom was in pain and on a heavy regiment of pain management, which in other words – Mom was heavily medicated. For me, this was the hardest thing to see.
Here I was, this person in recovery. I had been clean and away from opiates for decades. I was trusted by people to help with interventions yet this happened right in front of me. Also, throughout everything I have seen in my life, beyond any shred of violence or blood and guts; the hardest thing I’ve ever had to see was Mom in post surgery. She had a real habit that was given to her by prescriptions. We tried to navigate through her meds but again, Mom had not been Mom for a long time and it was medicine that took Mom long before she passed.
Mom was sick for a long time and I was sick for a long time as well. I was young and sick before Mom which meant our window to create healthy memories was limited to a smaller window.
I had my challenges and failures to launch. I had my struggles, altercations, problems and though Mom was there for me (or tried to be) Moms have a way of talking sometimes and though they mean well, we find ourselves angry or infuriated.
Know what I mean?
Whether they mean well or not, intention and interpretation are not always the same thing. So yes, there were challenges. Yes, at the time when Mom passed there were ideas, thoughts and wishes that I handled things differently. I wished I was a better son. I wished we got along better. I wished I’d have been more patient or that she was more patient with me.
There were ideas, thoughts and memories in which I knew that intellectually, I never meant harm. I never meant to hurt Mom. But life is life. I never meant to lose my temper. I never meant to argue and, of course, there were ideas that came to me in bunches of shame and guilt. There were thoughts that came, such as I should have called her more. I could have done more. I should have done this or that or anything. I knew where my heart was. I knew I was there when it really counted, on Mom’s last day.
I am the one who had to sign the papers to take Mom off of life support. I was there to take the call, which was not what I expected.
I received calls about Mom a few times a week. Each time, I had to weave through the same questions, asking who I am, if Alice Kimmel is my Mother and then if I am the healthcare proxy.
Calls like this became commonplace. Calls of me listening to how Mom was treating the nursing staff or how the nursing staff treated Mom became more frequent than calls of any other nature.
The best time to call Mom was on Saturday. This was after I worked an overtime shift. I’d drive home and call Mom, which was perfect. There were no distractions. There was traffic and this was a perfect distraction from the frustrations I’d have on the expressways and parkways.
Sometimes the conversations would go south. One time, Mom told me that I spoke to her in a way that made her feel bad about herself. I’ve had millions of great talks with Mom and this is one that comes to mind before any other.
I suppose I lost my temper, which was justified. I suppose I grew tired of Mom getting into it with the doctors or the nurses. I suppose Mom was somewhat insubordinate. I was inpatient. Plus, the role reversal was odd and painful because somehow, I became the parent and Mom became the child with behavioral issues.
See, this was my Mother.
She was the one who used to take care of me. This was one of the first people that I met when I came into this world. This was the one person who knew me the longest; additionally, this was the last one alive who attended my birth.
This was the person who used to receive phone calls asking, “Are you Alice Kimmel?”
They’d ask, “Is Ben Kimmel your son?”
I’m sure none of these calls were easy for Mom. Then again, each time the phone rang, Mom never knew what to expect.
She had seen me through arrests, motorcycle accidents and a stream of calls from guidance counselors, school administrators, law enforcement and parents from the town.
Mom had to deal with an article about me in the newspaper, which was less than favorable to me. This was less than favorable to my name or more accurately – none of this was a proud moment for our family’s name either – to which I bottled and held a lot of shame within me.
However, through it all, no matter what came her way, Mom was always there.
I suppose she complained. I suppose she was angry. I suppose I gave Mom’s heart a few challenges.
But this is what Moms do. Right?
Moms are supposed to deal with grass stains on our jeans. Moms blow on a cut or scrapes. Moms know how to make the pain go away. They feed us our favorites. But there comes a time when Moms aren’t Moms anymore. After all, we are adults far longer than we are children. Right?
The roles change and so does our awareness of time.
Before I gave Mom’s eulogy, I made sure to bring an old friend of ours. His name is Tuffy and Tuffy has a long history with Mom and me. Tuffy has been with me since I was eight years-old. He’s a little stuffed tiger that Mom bought for me when I was hospitalized and sickly. I was tired of being sick. I was tired of the needles in my arms and the IV’s in both arms. I was tired of throwing up. I was tired of living because I felt so sick. In fact, I felt so sick that I literally hoped I would die just so I could stop feeling sick.
I stepped up to the dais and placed a brown shopping bag at my feet. I told the congregation about Tuffy. I told them about the stories in the hospital and how Tuffy was there for me. Then I pulled my little friend out of the bag and explained. “You were the tough one Mom.”
As I write this to you, I regard my special friend who sits on my desk to the right of me.
In fact, here’s a picture of my friend Tuffy, himself.
Always with me.
I explained to the congregation that I know everyone cares. I explained that I know everyone wants to say the right thing. I offered – People line up at funerals to give their condolences. People look to find the right words; as if the right words could heal a person’s broken heart. However, in all reality, no words can solve the pains of mournful loss. Perhaps, some people come up with some witty notions that could placate the ideas for a moment. People do say heartfelt things but in all fairness, there are no right words.
For example, people love to say, “They’re in a better place.”
I could argue the best place Mom could be is at my house, having dinner or making her famous mashed potatoes and chicken cutlets.
I offered the people in the congregation an “Out.”
I told them rest assured, there are no right words to say at a time like this.
All you can say is “I’m here” and “I love you.”
Come up and tell me you love me.
Tell me that you love my Mom.
(Not loved. Say that you love my Mom because she is not gone. She’s just elsewhere now.)
It’s better to be there. It’s better to show up and stand by a person’s side.
I know that death is part of life and more than anything, I know that this is a painful part as well. I know that intellectually, we understand this.
But emotionally – at the time, I was only a boy who lost my Mom.
I offered my eulogy to a roomful of people, teary-eyed and weepy. They all nodded as I mentioned what to say and what not to say. Yet – sure enough, most of the people came up and literally said everything that explained “Not” to say.
But I get it. People want to help. People want their name in the good book as if this checks a box for them. They can say they said or did a nice thing and I get that too. I also get the fact that not everyone deals with death very well.
I remember a lesson from Albert Einstein who said that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It only changes forms.
I know that life is energy. I also know that Mom taught me, no matter how imperfect we are in life, nothing is so strong as a Mother’s love.
That’s energy too.
Mom always knew how to tell me things in ways that I could understand them. I think all Moms try to explain in ways that we understand, which is not always easy or successful.
Mom knew that we had our challenges. Mom knew that we’re only human. But that which is of flesh is of flesh and that which is of spirit is of spirit. And Mom was of spirit.
I was grateful that Mom was not in pain or sick anymore yet, emotionally, I couldn’t believe Mom was gone.
Again, I say that news like this is something that hits us in an unreal way. We know this happens. I suppose we just never expect death to happen to our parents – and even when this does happen; we still can’t believe this is really happening to us.
I go back to Einstein and his theory. I go back to the ideas of energy, which can neither be created nor destroyed. Energy can only change forms. I go back to the idea of life and the energy behind this; thus, I go to the idea that Mom was filled with energy.
But Mom had changed forms. I had to learn how to evolve with this. I had to learn how to understand and communicate with this energy because no matter what age we are and no matter what the relationship is (or was) Moms are a necessity.
I can remember seeing Mom’s things, which she left in the exact same position before she was taken to the hospital. I could feel her. (Know what I mean)
I saw where she left her phone book. I saw her slippers and her things on the nightstand. I found where she kept the letters I sent and saw the things Mom would read to occupy her time. I could almost feel Mom’s emotion before she went to the hospital. I could feel her yet Mom was gone.
I have experienced this before. For example, right after my Father passed, I went home and saw where he left his shirt before The Old Man went to the hospital. He had a shirt that he wore when he was sick. This was one of the last things The Old Man touched in the house.
I remember how it was in my mind’s eye. And, I remember how Mom left her things as well.
I suppose that in my belief system, I choose to believe that Mom can see me. I choose to believe that the eyes Mom sees me through are clearer than anything I can imagine.
I choose to believe that which is of flesh is of flesh and that which is of spirit is of spirit.
Mom is off spirit. So then if this is true, I choose to believe that Mom can see me through eyes that I couldn’t possibly understand.
I choose to believe that the eyes in heaven never blink.
We blink because we need to. We blink because our eyes need moisture. We close our eyes when we need to think or picture an idea. We close our eyes to rest and we open them when we wake the next morning. We do this because we are of flesh.
The eyes in heaven never blink, not even once. They don’t need to because their view is clear. All debts are settled. They are of spirit and hold nothing like we do.
There is no pain or worry or resentment. There is only the spirit of their love, in which case, this is energy; in which the people we love will live on forever because the people we love are filled with energy. Therefore, our love and their love can never be destroyed.
I close this in support of friends who endured their own loss. I close this as an expression of love and faith as well as a relation to their loss.
I write this with a respectful regard that life happens to us all and that in the span of each are the beginning, the middle and the end. However, between birth and death is life and beyond this is the afterlife.
This means we have to live now. As for those who pass away; we love them. We honor them and we remember them, until we meet again.
Blessed are the mournful, for they shall be comforted.
I like the emotion I feel behind the scripture which states, “In my Father’s house, there are many rooms.”
I find comfort in the lyrics that sing “Almighty God, give me just a little more time to right all the wrongs that I have done; so that when I come to the end of my journey, weary of life, the battle is won.”
I guess my aim with this is both extended and internal. This is an offering yet this is personal to me. This is me sharing, with a tear in my eye, that I care. As well, this is me saying:
Dear Mom –
Please love me and please be proud
But Moms are always proud
Imperfections aside, this is what Mom’s do
There is nothing as strong as a Mother’s love
By the way, I’ve never seen too many butterflies on 42nd Street. However, my first day back after my leave for Mom’s funeral, a yellow butterfly landed on my shoulder. My hope is that we are all visited this way today.
(Inspired by my friends. Just know that for whatever this is worth, I am always on your side.)