My mother died yesterday. She was 85 years old. A ruptured 6+ centimeter aortic aneurysm took her life subsequent to breaking a hip during a fall at her assisted living facility two days ago. I might also add that my mother suffered a stroke two and a half years ago, and was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease several years prior. Given her medical history and our knowledge of two aortic aneurysms, her passing still took us by surprise.
My mother was an extraordinary woman. She was a highly intelligent accounting professional who was always socially active and appreciated. Well, at least until the onset of Parkinson's, as her social anxiety spiked and her social confidence plummeted. She was born in Macon, Georgia in 1923, and moved to Columbia, South Carolina with my grandparents, uncles, and aunts when she was in high school. She married my father shortly after the end of World War II and they remained husband and wife for a remarkable 62 years.
Maybe you've experienced this phenomenon. When I received the call from my brother yesterday morning announcing our mother's death, I wasn't overcome by emotion. Nor was I moved to tears. Since then I've spent a great deal of time ruminating over why the loss of my mother didn't rock my world; but, frankly, I suspected all along my reaction would be as it was. Actually, I've asked myself numerous times since my mother's Parkinson's diagnosis why her declining health hasn't caused me significant distress. I mean, this is my mother we're talking about. Damn, I've known so many people over the years that were so very close to their mothers, driven to tremendous emotional upset upon news of a serious health issue or her death. So, what's up with me?
Well, I believe a number of things come into play here. My parents built a home in suburban Columbia, South Carolina just before retiring and took residence some 20 years ago. They'd lived in a suburb of Detroit. I've lived in suburban Chicago for the past 23 years; and, of course, it's very difficult to maintain a personal and thriving relationship over 850 miles. And though we enjoyed many visits together, they just weren't sufficient to overcome the distance.
But, I believe my relationship with my mother was limited by more than just 20 years of logistic inconvenience. As great a mother as she was, she and I just never got close. Make no mistake about it, she was there for me every step of the way; however, whether it was something within me or her -- both -- that bond I so often envied in other mother/child relationships simply wasn't there.
My mother was a mystery to me. Indeed, if someone were to ask me who my mother really was, I'd only be able to detail that which I, and others, observed of her on the surface. In terms of the foundation of my mother's personality -- what excited, hurt, and worried her -- I really wouldn't know. Isn't that something? Still, I believe my mother was emotionally tormented throughout our years together.
Now, if you've followed my articles and blogs you know I've recovered from decades of panic disorder and alcoholism. I know for a fact that anxiety and mood disorders are prevalent in my mother's family. I also know both of her brothers were substance dependent; indeed, substances led to both of their deaths. So, it seems as though, like me, my mother may have come by her demons honestly. Yet, to my knowledge my mother was never diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder and has no history of abusing substances.
Of course, one's behavior isn't always indicative of what's going on deep within. And let's forget my mother grew up prior to, and during, World War II. So you can be sure if a psychiatric situation existed, it sure wasn't going to be openly discussed. Regardless, as I indicated earlier, I've known for years my mother suffered from a diagnosable anxiety disorder and situational depression. But, of no great surprise, when I'd try to discuss her emotional pathology with her, even within the context of my own woes, there was very little of substance to be learned.
Well, then. My mother was a great woman in all ways. Her intelligence, compassion, and grace were truly remarkable. Yes, she was very much the "genteel and refined" woman her southern parents raised her to be.
I don't know that I'll ever be moved to tears with her loss, or feel any sort of deep aching within because she's no longer here. But, that doesn't really matter, does it? Her's was a great life and her legacy will live on for generations.