Plans… people make them.
We’re seemingly prisoners to plans. As close as I can lock down, I became aware of that around age 20. My father had by then crept back into our lives somewhere during my high school years, as I recall. Illness made it so when nothing else had. I think he realized wandering the streets, something he was quite comfortable with almost as much as chasing women, wasn’t going to help him. Not after being diagnosed with poor health. Especially, when he turned 60.
He needed help. Or at least a place to stay with someone who might have his interest (best or otherwise) at heart. My old man was smart enough to recognize he’d have the best opportunity with family. The ladies he pursed being only pro tem measures that didn’t exactly meet the criteria. Or this particular need. I had heard he tried to return to the fold with his half-sisters and his widowed mother. They’d have none of it. Or him.
Dad was simply outstanding at burning bridges.
Only one distant relation would. The same woman who divorced him years before — make that the second woman who did such a thing. Let’s get the math right. Of course, in both instances, it only occurred after dear ol’ dad deserted each. Like David Niven once said applies here, “You can count on Errol Flynn, he’ll always let you down.” In fact, he left the second in the wake of her health taking a dip. Oh, the irony. Did I mention he ditched both his soon-to-be-ex-wives and their sets of young children? The latter being the cumbersome backwash of it all.
Sometimes, good-looking men aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.
Still, mom didn’t let the father of her children back in to her house for that but because he needed a place to stay. Says more about my mother than it ever did about dada. I already knew that. Anyway, the re-introduction went about as smoothly as could have been expected. Awkward at best, downright damning at worst. As far as rebellious, father-starved teen psyches’ allowed. We got through the ordeal, though. Can show you the scars to prove it.
Family once more… kinda.
Reunification aside, when 1975 rolled around, mom and the re-consecrated ‘pop’ gathered their children for a ‘meeting’ one day. In the only place real decisions were made… my mother’s bedroom. There, plans were discussed. You know the ones… the burial variety. Pin-drop moment for us siblings. And who was on top of that list, you ask? You guessed it. Dad. He who lived in the back room of the house mom rented. The ‘sometimes’ parent.
Mr. diabetes and heart disease himself.
A World War II vet, dad brought out his old military and insurance papers that day. More somber silence on our end. He proclaimed a VA cemetery was to be his final resting place, as he was entitled to. And I, the oldest by default, was given the chore. The old, “I’m looking for a volunteer… you!”, scenario. Lucky me. I think I caught kid brother looking at me on my periphery. His, “Whew, glad it’s not me.“, thinking more than palpable. But that other shoe was about to hit the floor.
Mom piped up.
Since I had been given the job of burying my father, she charitably put it on her youngest to perform the same task for her. Sure. Why not, while we were on the subject? No need to load everything on one of you, she said. My sibling and I hadn’t thought of such things. Ever. Primarily, because it was mom. Someone who’d always been there. Second, she was the younger, more healthy of the two. Yeah, she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for years now, but no one died of that, we silently figured. And finally, loop back that first reason. Mom never left us. Losing her was unimaginable.
Diabetic dad was likely to lose toes or maybe a foot along the way. No fun. But heart disease? We knew that was a killer. The writing was on the wall, we believed. Once all was said and done, my brother and I left mom’s room as fast as those Texas tornadoes of yesteryear mom once described to each of us growing up. Had to put some distance between us and what was announced, I reckon. Yet, marching orders had been set. It’s like the quote from that great western, The Professionals, speaking of what Mexican families like us were expected to uphold:
“Here, a wish is a command.”
Una obligación. Still, this was something we quickly put on the back burner. Too much to contemplate and way too soon, we thought. Don’t think of it. The standard coping mechanism of young males still learning to be men. And with the supreme anti-example of such living close by. So we did. For nearly three years from the day those plans were carefully laid down. My kid brother and I never spoke or alluded to it from that point forward. We thought we were safe.
Till that day.
March, 1978. It had been a particularly rotten winter — nothing weather-wise, though. And not for us. Her. Mom had begun to experience a truly bad case of indigestion that cold bitter season. A couple of hospitalizations at the end of the year marked it. I still remember telling she-who-bore-me as she lay on a ICU bed in some community hospital, in-between the Christmas and New Years of ’77, that “Next year had to be better for you than this one, mom.”
The old pill medications and pain-killers of the day sure could tear a hole in the gut of RA sufferers, I learned. As they’d done here. She now officially diagnosed with an ulcer. An acidic consequence on top of the painful and chronic, inflammatory rot plaguing her. She was hospitalized for the last time in the third month of the year, and surgery scheduled to repair her peptic ulcer. Never made it to the operating table, however. Malnutrition, dehydration, and whatever in the mix that upsets blood chemistry upended all the plans and intent anyone had ever thought up.
… and God laughs.
Dad never was in the cross-hairs. Not then. An alternative no one ever considered arrived with the Ides of March. Want a picture of the stupidly heartbroken? Try the face of those trying to comprehend how changed values on a piece of paper meant your loved one had quietly slipped into another dimension. Into the word I grew to hate. Coma. There, but somehow not. Then, on this day, thirty-five years ago to the hour, the unimaginable took place. Something more irrevocable. The woman that was our mother left.
‘Died’, like ‘coma’, being a four-letter word, if there ever was one.
She didn’t abandon us, though. Mom, unlike you-know-who, never did that. Her plan for her youngest, who only turned 22 the week before, and his task went with her, for all that. My sibling, who unlike me lived with the woman just about all his years to that point, couldn’t handle it alone. No way. To this day, that was the most pained I ever saw him. So, we two, along with mom’s family, buried her together.
Dad, naturally, was of little help.
So, the daughter-in-law I think she’d have approved of, along with the grandchildren she never got to see, and I will head to Rose Hills later today. Her final resting place, the place pictured above. To visit her and the headstone there along a hillside.
And I’ll remember, with certitude, that she indeed never left us.