This Thanksgiving Day, my first without my mother, I’m taking a moment to address all those who made our life bearable as we witnessed her memories drift away as she gracefully accepted her fate due to Stage IV brain cancer. Read on…
According to my Titi (auntie), my mother didn’t hesitate to ordered people around during her convalescence with the full authority of the rank of Colonel, as if it still applied. It didn’t matter that she had been retired for three years, had brain cancer, and was effectively dying at a faster pace than the rest of us. She had gotten use to the pomp and circumstance of being the highest ranking officer in command, and at home, the eldest daughter. By no means was she going to relinquish her throne. Not for glioblastoma. Not even if the President asked her to resign. Death wasn’t going to stop her iron fist rule. We were all her subordinates until her last dying breath.
I found it interesting that as my parent, she didn’t exert as much force and exigency in our interactions. Or perhaps as the heir apparent I relished the idea that at some point her power and influential role would transferred to me. Maybe the 3,000 miles in between us during the last 14 years (or all of my engineering career) had made me immune to her superior airs. I’d always been independent and resolute, a force of nature that she would bow down to on occasion. It took me a while to realize that she respected me as much as others respected her. My sister got her looks, I got her demanding personality.
Saying please and thank you wasn’t her strong suit, but she did express her love and gratitude in other ways. For example, she did not murder me when I scribbled on walls or when I spent a little too much eating at Chili’s with my friends. 😁 “Yo te traje a éste mundo y yo te puedo sacar de él.” – her favorite phrase when addressing many of my wiseass cracks and monumental high stakes adventures. I was a curious, multifaceted child that was into everything and everyone, a trait that drove her crazy since nothing could still my curious mind. I was always moving away from her, and she dreaded having to let me go because she feared I would never return.
Mom always had the best intentions in mind even if her words and execution of tasks made you feel unworthy of her support or presence. The passive aggressive was strong with this one. Seeing her depend on the very same people she had complained about over and over again during my lifetime, as these same men and women excelled her expectations was humbling. Every one of us rose up to the challenge with flying colors. No matter how much she whined and cajoled, as she lost her memories and motor skills, her sister was there, at her beck and call, loving her like only a younger rebellious sister can, unconditionally, with lots of clapbacks and uplifting humor because she couldn’t bring herself to say “Por favor y Gracias”. I don’t even know if mom ever took a step back to offer her gratitude. Only love can put up with that uncertainty!
The best side effect of her “bossy” nature was driving me to be more appreciative of my privileged position as a beloved and revered leader’s daughter, even if at first it didn’t show as such because of my resentment towards the loneliness of being a single career woman’s daughter. We spent so much time away from each other for the sake of the greater good that I had to be grateful of each precious moment we shared. Because of this, I always make a point of telling people how much it means to me that they took time out of their busy and interesting lives to help me in any way the could. For their love, friendship and loyalty. I learned to accept, especially after her death, that her please and thank yous were bestowed upon me to spread on her behalf. She was a very loving, introverted old eagle, and I’m relieved that everyone loved her back, just as much as I did, despite her demanding demeanor.
The love and devotion given to us, her most trusted subjects, was her way of saying please and thank you.
My heart breaks with each passing day that I struggle to come to terms with living without her. Through her own fight with cancer she was humbled by the attention she was getting from everyone who visited the Colonel in her last months to give their heartfelt thanks. I saw her realize that her lack of manners had been met with open hearts that knew her orders were just and deliberate; that understood there was no room for error or delays when performing the civic and military duties that came with the rank. Even my estranged father made an appearance, grateful for the opportunity to love her.
To those who forged the strong resilient leader she became, including peers, family and friends, many belated please and thank yous for you on her behalf. Honestly, she was grateful to be in great company and wanted me to tell you she was honored to be a driving force in your lives. Thanks to you she lives on, and her legacy can spread through the world as she truly believed that you will pay it forward.
To my titi, thank you for reminding ourselves to contemplate “Why not you?”
To my sister, thank you for making her proud to be the mother of the most ballsy, kind and sweet valkyrie on this Earth. There’s no one more capable than you to get the job done.
To everyone else, thanks for helping me get through the process on my own terms, at my own pace and with without the expectation that I got everything under control.
To my husband W, thanks for being the rock in the middle of the path, the immovable object that meets my unstoppable force. I wouldn’t be able to slow down without you in my way; to stop and consider every possible angle.
Mom, in this house, there’s only love…