Out of nowhere, my Mom declared, “You will have to take me out of this house feet first!” My husband and I were stunned. Neither of us had even suggested that Mom be taken out of the house head first, feet first or sideways. What she was doing was asserting her independence. Her independence was not at risk, but it was a difficult time. It had only been a few weeks since my father had died. I guess she thought that we were going to try to convince her to move closer to us or to give up her house or something along those lines. We had no such intentions.
“I guess you call me every day to make sure I am still alive.” After Dad died I called Mom daily. This was a new routine for us. Eventually, we both settled into this routine and it became a cherished time for both of us. We were able to develop a true friendship. We shared our challenges, our triumphs, we shed some tears and we had some good laughs. On the day she died, she told me that I was her best friend.
My mother knew what she wanted. She was always very clear in expressing what she wanted. Although I used to joke that if Mom was not happy nobody was happy, her clarity and determination were admirable. She taught me that if you do not let people know what you want then there is nobody but yourself to blame if you are disappointed.
Her life was not always how she wanted it to be. I am certain that it was not her goal to be raised in poverty and to move around the country from location to location because her father had ‘the thirst’ and had trouble finding and keeping a job. She watched her mother take care of foster babies and do mending to help ends meet. She ate amazing home cooked meals. Not realizing until much later in life that many of the special treats her mother prepared came from the creative necessity of stretching a limited food supply until the next paycheck came in or until she was able to barter mending or cleaning in exchange for groceries.
Most likely these early lessons helped her to become clear about the kind of life she wanted and helped her to take control of her own destiny. Many of her friends married young. Mom had strong feelings about finding ‘Mr. Right’. She was not going to sit around with her life on hold until he materialized. She went to work, she went to school and she had a successful singing career.
She entered the workforce long before women’s liberation, but that did not stop her from becoming the first female office manager for a large insurance company. She had no problem advising the corporate office that it made absolutely no sense to pay her a lower salary for that office manager position simply because she was a woman. When they hesitated, she asked them what it was that she did not have to do because she was a female? If she would earn less it must be because the job of office manager had different responsibilities for a woman than for a man. She knew that the raise they gave her still did not equal the pay rate of her male counterparts, but at least she had made her point.
When Mr. Right did come along my mom knew it right away. Of course they had peaks and valleys in their relationship, but she always knew what she wanted for their time together. When they were not able to conceive children, she willingly turned to adoption. When times were tough, she willingly worked in my father’s office to help ends meet. When they were raising their children, she always made sure they had date nights and time away together. When she was able to stay at home, she made cooking and cleaning and gardening into forms of art. My friends all marveled at the fact we used cloth napkins and had gourmet meals.
I did not choose the exact same life as my mother. If this ever bothered her (and it rarely did), she had to know that she taught me to be independent, to make my own choices and to be true to myself.
“You will have to take me out of this house feet first!”
Mom got her wish. She did in fact leave her house feet first. She died quickly and peacefully in her own home, her prayer book on her lap. She died exactly as she wanted to. Just like her life her death was on her own terms. Her life was her own success story.