My mother was born 75 years ago today. She endured more than many people do in our society, and while some of those things bent and scarred her — as life bends and scars us all — they never broke her.
Mom was one to take in strays: critters when she was young, and friends of mine or my brother’s as we grew older. For example, the Mad Dog spent a lot of nights on our downstairs sofa during our college years. (Sorry for waking you with my drum kit that one time — but it was pretty funny.) Indeed, there were periods when neither Michael nor I were living at home. . . but other young people were living there.
She hated to see people hungry or hurting. We joked that if the Wehrmacht had rolled through Union, Kentucky, Mom still would have made sure there was cake. Later, I learned that on a lot of nights, she’d have to warn Dad — privately — that we’d need smaller helpings at dinner because of unexpected visitors.
As she grew older, her illnesses (and, I believe, the drugs used as a sort of holding action against those illnesses) took their toll on her personality. From the mid-80s until she and Dad were killed, she was essentially a shut-in, dependent on others for transportation, and that took a toll as well. She became quicker to anger, more suspicious, and (understandably, I think) bitter about more things. But even though she lived the last thirty years of her 65 in greater or lesser degrees of pain, she was always worried about the pain of others.
Sometimes, this manifested in unwholesome ways; when my brother (who had moved back in with them while his third divorce was in progress — he lived there for the final year of their lives) claimed debilitating back pain (which may have been genuine, but which also may have been what folks call DSB — drug-seeking behavior), she would give him her high-octane pain meds, both fueling his addiction and denying herself the relief she needed. But if he was in pain — and I can’t say he wasn’t — she couldn’t bear seeing him suffer. This remained true even after Mike stopped asking for her meds and began to steal them.
One of the last times I spoke to my mother, perhaps a couple of weeks before the murders, she had said something that gave me pause. I don’t remember precisely what it was — likely something about Dad growing weary of seeing her going without her meds because she had “given” them to my brother. I told her that it might be necessary for them to turn Mike out. “Smitty, we can’t just put him on the streets,” she said.
And they didn’t; she took in strays, even — especially — when they were our own.
She’ll have been gone for ten years in June, and as I said, there were difficulties in the years before that. Looking at it logically, there’s a better-than-even chance that she wouldn’t have made it this far even if Michael hadn’t intervened. She was declining, physically and mentally, as the MS played hell with her nervous system, including the cognitive functions. But. . .
Several years before she died, she told me that she had a contingency plan for suicide if things became utterly intolerable. She had done her research, knew which and how many of her pills she would need, and said she would do it herself because she didn’t think Dad would have the heart to do it, nor would she want to saddle someone else with that action.
As I’ve noted, things got bad, and they were worse in the years between when she told me about this and her life’s end. But she never took that option, and that has meant — and means — a great deal to me as well.
Happy birthday, Mom. We miss you.