Death is not a surprise. We know it is the physical end of our time. We learn of it as little kids, usually while attending the funeral of a grandparent. We know it is there. We spend too much time trying to avoid it. Eventually, we can't.
My mother, Virginia, passed away in the early morning hours of Sept. 2. It was a wonderful death. We all say we want to die comfortably in our sleep. This is the way Mom passed on. She was at peace, with her husband of 72 years nearby, and soon there was a woman from hospice, and there was me. Those really were a special several minutes. There was no angst. Little sorrow. There was lots of appreciation for Mom and what she had been to so many people.
She was one of those women who sewed a rich quilt of a life. She weaved little threads of existence into a wonderful and large treasure. She had a great life, and she made life better for countless people around her. She was gentle, loving, caring, devoted, funny, available to help at a moment's notice. Almost any child can say that about a deceased parent. But there was something else. Above everything, Mom was wise. Her wisdom didn't come from textbooks. She didn't have a list of academic achievements as long as my arm. She was a high school graduate. But she had that wisdom that is known as common sense, and she had it in uncommon amounts. It didn't matter whether you were a friend, co-worker, someone burdened with a heavy weight life placed on their shoulders, or a son going through the fires of young adulthood, Mom was there. She dropped her ego. She listened. She shared. She imparted her wisdom, and you were better off for it. She had a gentle way about her, unless you did something that pushed her buttons, and you heard, "Watch it, buster." (I thank my brother Steve for that last little memory.) Yes, she was tough, too.
We had a small service to celebrate Mom's life. It was attended by a few family members, a few residents of the retirement home at which she lived, and three of the wonderful hospice workers who helped make her final days peaceful. But the room was full of life. How could it not be? We were there to celebrate Virginia, and her spirit filled that room to overflowing. I think we should have had a New Orleans-style day, with people dancing in the streets and singing "When the Saints Go Marching In."
I find it funny that cities erect statues to war heroes, pioneers, rich men, governmental figures, and they ignore the people who make that city great. At the center of every largest park of every city, there should be a statue to The Good Man, or The Good Woman. Every person like Mom should be hailed for what they are, the glue that holds society together, the weaver of threads that keep so many family members, friends and common folk united.
I want to carry on that Virginia spirit. I want to treat people the way she treated people. How many times did she say, "It's so good to see you," or "I love you" to those she knew? Even in those days after dementia chipped away at who she is, those statements flowed from her on countless occasions. On rare days, I can manage to match that spirit. And on those days, I should stop and say a few simple words: "Thanks, Mom, for everything you gave me. I am one of the luckiest sons in the history of the world."