Friday, May 29, 2015

Seeking order again

A family death has a way of throwing your life into chaos, while also freezing things into a sort of suspended animation. Your life becomes filled with what amount to tedious tasks, while your normal life, your home, and everything else is put on hold; left as it is, so you can deal with the things that come alongside a death.

My mom's passing was, by most standards, an easy one.  She did linger a bit, but not too long. We had a memorial for her last Sunday at her Assisted Living facility; and there were hordes of people there. She had her stroke on Sunday, she was actually present for Sunday night and Monday. She had to be medicated for pain as the brain bleed increased pressure in her skull, and so she was pretty much non-present from Tuesday, when my sister arrived, to Thursday, when she passed away.

Hello Auntie. This is kid. Where is you at?

My sister has regrets, not being able to speak to her while she was still responsive. I had lots of things to say to my mom, some things that would have been hurtful and painful, but the fact of the matter is, she was dying, and it isn't about me. And I would not have felt good sending her off to her eternal rest with negativity weighing her down.

I'm not sure how I feel, honestly. I spent the week going in and out of emotional spikes and lows. I found that sorting through her stuff was particularly difficult, because one can see how the sum of a person can be represented so well by what they leave behind. The culmination of her hopes and her in some cases, her delusions.

We found many RMLS real estate listings scattered in with her papers. We found a pile of fabric 18 inches tall, bought for all the projects she never got to. There was one piece of fabric she'd cut into some kind of mumu.

Cycling down at Aunt Rosa's house on Monday.
My sister and I spent more time laughing about things. We'd fall into brief spates of tears, but they never lasted very long.  My last cry was on Sunday at the memorial. With all those people there, it was hard not to become overwhelmed. Seeing Irene cry because my mom was her best friend. Hearing people speak with amusement at her volatile spirit. And hearing how she touched so many people in a positive way. Hell, even the lady she abused most horribly stood up and spoke so beautifully about how my mother challenged and stretched her, and how no matter how harsh she was with her, that she could not help but respect her.

My aunt, with whom I have not spoken in years, came as well. And it was an opportunity to heal that rift that was purposefully widened by my mother's manipulative games of speaking negatively about one while visiting the other.  We had dinner with them on Monday and had a cleansing discussion about mom. And my aunt made an observation that sort of stuck with me.

"I thought a great deal about how your mother was such an innovator. How much she gave back; how much she loved. Her lifetime was dedicated to doing for others and being creative and social.  And then I thought about why she was the way she was when it came to family and her children, and it made me think that my sister may have had a touch of madness."

Aunt Rosa, encouraging the little ones
in maximum brattiness.
If you look at the description of a person with Borderline Personality Disorder, my mom is textbook. We had some family friends in Brussels who both practiced Psychology/Psychiatry and I remember her telling my father once that my mom showed he classic symptoms of this way back in 1988 or so. I was reading a thing about Mommy Dearest when I stumbled across the term again. I sent it to my sisters. My sister Anna is also convinced this is the case.

My mom was always an ass. A sociable, lovable ass. When she became full on bitter and intolerable is when she first had her mini-strokes back in 2004 or so.  She was almost impossible to deal with from that moment on if you were family, or one of her chosen targets. For some at the memorial, they knew only good things about her and for many, they knew both her dark and miserable side and her creative and brilliant side.

A part of me will miss my mom. Like I said in my note to her in the last post, I will miss the good moments, few and far between as they were. I'll miss her creativity. And the moments when she was relaxed and laughing.  But I do not miss being treated badly, I do not miss being spoken to with cruelty while I was going out of my way for someone who clearly did not deserve my attention.

Alex, all dressed up for the memorial.
The one thing that stood out at the memorial is how my sister's, my aunt's and my little talks sort of melded together beautifully in spite of being written separately.  I will post them down here so you can understand better who my mom was in life, before her strokes; and why so many people love and respected her. She was a community builder, an entrepreneur. She loved the beginnings of things. I mostly dealt with the trail of unfinished and abandoned things she left behind. But let's not focus on that. Let's focus on who she was.  We'll start with my sister's speech:

June first would have been my mom’s 77th birthday. Some say too young to die, but she lived a hugely full life. Myrta, Marty, Mom, Mama; she was known by a couple of names, but by so many roles in her lifetime. My mom touched so many people.
You may just know her as the cantankerous grey-haired lady at Avamere, but she was so much more.She worked at the US Embassy in Belgium; hobnobbed with diplomats and was constantly recognized for her community building.

She founded and ran a very successful minority employment agency in one of Massachusetts’ toughest towns and was recognized by Ted Kennedy and John Kerry for her outstanding work. She was a 120 pound maverick that fought hard and fierce for the underdog.
She wasn’t always the most nurturing mother, but she taught us to be smart, how to laugh infectiously, to take on new challenges without fear and most of all, how to be empathetic and compassionate to animals and humans alike.
As her eldest child, we butted heads, laughed until we cried but always had a strong connection. I wish her peace, and know she will always be with me. I love you Mom.

Then there's my letter to mom. It's an expansion of my original one.

When I was in the sixth grade, during a presentation during school, a student passed me a note. I replied with a note that said: Stop writing notes.  As I slid it back towards her, I felt five fingers dig into my arm. I was yanked out of my chair, and the vice principal proceeded to scold me, and tell me some pretty nasty things. 
Every day, I waited for mom to pick me up. She was a bit late that day. I was so upset by the event with the vice principal; I was huddled by the guard-shack, away from the school, where nobody would see me. Mom pulled up in her huge oldsmobile. It was a land yacht.  She pulled up and I climbed into the car. I was cowed and sullen. She started driving down the road. Then she noticed how quiet I was, and how I was holding my hand on my upper arm. 
“What’s wrong?” she asked me. I did not reply. Her hand snaked up in a flash and she pulled my hand away and her eyes popped wide and turned hot white with fire when she saw the five clear bruises on my arm. The Oldsmobile came to a screeching stop, and she asked me between clenched teeth what had happened. 
I told her in a tremulous voice, unable to look at her burning eyes.  
I’m not sure what the turning radius is on an early 80s Oldsmobile sedan, but I think my mom might have broken some laws of physics that day.  That car wheeled around and the motor roared, and it it was lurching to a stop in front of the school in what seemed to be no time flat. 
Without a word, leaving the car running, she stormed out of the car.  I followed to the lobby.
I wasn’t allowed in the administrative office, but I could hear the screaming from outside. I could also make out some pretty explicit language. 
The next day, the Vice Principal of the school personally apologized to me, and from that day forward, never made eye contact with me again. 
My mom could be a pain in the ass, but my mom could also be glorious. 
No matter what our relationships were over the years, my mom was always ready to lock horns on our behalf at any time. No matter where we are in our lives, when we needed help, she was there. That was my mom. 
She wasn’t just strong willed. She got what she wanted. She fought like a gladiator for what she believed in. She faced off with people twice her size and just as fierce and came out on top more times than I can count. That tiny little woman was a warrior. She was endlessly creative, endlessly filled with ideas and energy. She was an unstoppable force. 
Living here [at the assisted living facility] was a double-edged sword for mom. She both loved her friends, but hated giving up so much of her freedom. She never did too well with limitations. But she had a time here filled with friends and love. She established relationships, and captured the heart of people in spite of her fiery nature. If you could earn her respect, her friendship was a privilege. And she would fight for you to the ends of the earth. She lost some friends and it broke her heart. 
I would like to imagine that mom is somewhere where she is without restrictions. She’s having beer and tomato juice with Lynn, and having a good laugh with Betty. She’s with her annoying dog Jack. I like to imagine that wherever mom is, that she is happy and at peace.  I hope she is fighting less and loving more. And I hope she knows how beloved she was. 
And finally, the words my aunt Rosa wrote:

On occasion of a celebration of life for my dear sister Myrta: Good Afternoon; thank yo for sharing our last conversation with Myrta. 

Thomas Aquinas said: "The things we love tell us what we are." Because Myrta loved so many things and so many people, I'll try to define her. 

Mostly above and all, she loved her family. She adored her children. She adored Alex. 

She loved horses.
She loved dogs.
She loved nature: the mountains, the rivers, the trees and the flowers. Oh how proud she was of her beautiful, traffic stopping garden that she put up every year. 

She loved to cook. No occasion was complete without famous arroz con pollo, or her roasts. Family friends, neighbours, co-workers and students, they all looked forward to savouring her food and her bakery. 

She loved sewing; from her beautiful dresses for her girls to their Halloween costumes, and don't forget her beautiful curtains, bed covers and anything to match them. She loved creating. Her artistry with flower arranging was coveted. Table centerpieces and details for parties and weddings were inspired. How much sh enjoyed working on those project! she could write elegantly, from complex and successful grant proposals to gracious thank you notes.  

She loved the underdog. She would put herself all the way out for the downtrodden. She actively and relentlessly would advocate for her Latino community in court, in jails, with local, state and federal governments. She would not quit until their rights were allowed and respected. She believed in empowerment. For all that, then president George H. W. Bush awarded her one of the 'Thousand Points of Light' awards.   

I could co on and on talking about what Myrta loved: 

She loved good times.She loved good friends.She loved good whiskeyShe loved good conversation.She loved a good argument.She loved to win.She loved to tell you what to do and how to do it. She loved to do things her own way.She loved to buck the system and convention. 

So I was able to write a list of what my sister Myrta loved, but I am loving this chance to love her back again and recognize her for all that she loved. We have learned to love all that life offers and to love  her for all she was. 

Thank you for being yourself.
Rosa Elena Maldonado.
That wasn't the sum of what was said about Mom. But it describes her pretty well. I'm still trying to figure out what I feel right now.  I'm focusing on taking care of Alex and trying to get my house back in order.  Over a week of coming and going without any housekeeping has made it almost too much of a mess to tackle. I'm doing it. Bit by bit. Attacking the job in pieces, just like I'm facing what my feelings are over the whole thing.

As we goodwill and sell her belongings, it's becoming clear how easily we come and go in this world. All of a sudden you're gone, and you leave behind a shuffle for people to manage. It boils down to that. A shuffle of material things and a shuffle of memories we have to put in order so we can move on.

Time to finish cleaning this house.  I feel like I'll never finish. LOL.

See you on the other side mom.

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