Sunday, August 3, 2008


On Friday, July 11th, Summer School ended. On Wednesday, July 13th, mid-first-week-of-summer-vacation, I was in the car with the boys. We had just left the post office from mailing the Sailor a care package and were on the way to a friend's house so I could help her with a research paper for the summer college class she was taking. The boys were in their swimming trunks because they were going to play in the pool as I tried to parlay the intricacies of MLA format documentation. My cell rang, and pretty sure it was the friend's house we were heading to, I had the Justin dig it out of my purse. The caller ID said "Maryland," which met that it was my mother. I have a hard time attributing the loving title of "Mother" to her, so defining her by location rather than relation was an easier way to deal with the incoming calls. We played the usual game of making the boys answer the phone and then refusing to take the phone when Justin said she wanted to talk to me... still reluctant to give in when Justin said she was crying and something was wrong.

Richard, the man with whom she had lived for 18 years, died that morning while mowing the lawn. He was in his early 50's and had a slew of medical problems for which he did not have the health insurance to address. So, while it obviously wasn't expected, in retrospect, I can't exactly say it was a surprise. He moved into my mother's house after I moved out, so I had no real relationship with the man. However, my boys loved him and saw him as a grandfather figure, which in our nonexistent extended family structure is a pretty big deal.

We came home and loaded up the car with clothes and the dog and headed to Maryland, about a 3 hour drive. Richard had a living brother and sister, however, my mother was the beneficiary of his barely enough (but thankfully existent) life insurance policies, so the details for handling the funeral and burial were left to her... which is to say they were left to me. My mother is for the most part deaf. Without her hearing aid she can hear nothing, with it she can hear better, but not well, I think. She has a 6th grade education, and I think school was a struggle for her even up to that point. At 56, she has been on disability for almost 20 years for being so overweight that her spine cannot support the mass. For these reasons, many people pity my mother. I, however, know that in addition to these traits and issues and much more prominent, is the fact that she is simply MEAN. Seriously... mean. She thrives on the pain, downfalls, and embarrassment of others. Therefore, from the onset I correctly surmised that a small part of her would revel in the attention she received from Richard's death. For all intents and purposes, she was the mourning widow. I was only wrong in assuming too small of a degree to which she would enjoy the attention.

It took death for me to appreciate the man Richard was. That is so cliche, I know, and I hate that I fell into that role. Richard could not hold a job. I cannot begin to estimate the number of jobs that he had in the 18 years I knew him. It is without doubt that I guess the number of jobs he held outnumbered the years I knew him. Every time I talked to him, a new job was the topic. There were actually a couple of companies that would he would quit and get rehired by a few times, which always seemed strange to me. He was always looking for a handout. He owed everyone money- family, friend, neighbor, and more. On more than one occasion I avoided visiting them because it would cost me. The boys liked going there for a week or two in the summer, which was also a good break for me. I would send them with $100 to help pay for food while they were there, and then get a call at the end of the week that it wasn't enough, and he needed $50 more. So, these were the basis of my opinions of Richard over the past 18 years. He was a freeloader that couldn't keep a job and always had his hand out.

At the funeral, thanks to the speeches of the minister and a family friend, I was able to inherit a different legacy by which to remember Richard. For that I am thankful. Some of the things I knew and overlooked, others I learned for the first time. Even in their mid-50's, he an my mother were the "young couple" in the neighborhood that is still inhabited mostly by the first-time home owners. So a lot of old ladies needed a lot of favors. Richard was there to cut their grass or run their errands. Yes, perhaps he did this for a price, perhaps not in some cases, but they still seemed grateful. I also learned that on many occassions, he simply visited them to talk and drink coffee. Eerily, several of them said he talked in the days preceeding his death about knowing that "his time was coming soon" and he was worried about how my mother would fare without him. Also, I have had the freedom during the entire 18 years of my adult life to pick and choose when I dealt with my mother. Richard was there to care for her when she was bedridden following back surgery and, unfortunately take the brunt of her cruelty. She called his jobs to check up on him, yelled at him in private and public, and tried to better herself by embarrassing him before other people. He filled the void of victim left in her life when I moved out. I had not considered these things before. I did not recognize how much his mere presence from afar made my life easier for nearly two decades. He also loved my boys. When Mother cleaned out his wallet, there were several pictures of my boys in there, but not even his own kids (which he didn't have a relationship with). Most people we spoke with and even the speakers at the funeral talked about how important the boys were to him. I am an only child. My mother's neverending tendency to only regard people as a source of favors and pity has led to her family estranging her, and thus, me. So, I have no family outside of my home and weak relationships with in-laws. Richard was a strong member of our family even though I was never willing to acknowledge him in this role. I hope I am being hard on myself. I hope there was at least a token of appreciation for him within me while he still lived that I am finding hard to remember now.

The Navy sent Jason home for two weeks to help with affairs. I am glad he was with me for the week I was in Maryland. He created a buffer between my mother and I that allowed me to act civil towards her, for the most part. He also helped me to think through the financial situation she has put herself in and stopped me from making some guilty open-purse decisions that would have proved disastrous for us in the end. I am glad he was there for the boys, who didn't really get smacked with the reality of the situation until the coffin was before them. I'm glad he was there to help with funeral arrangements so I couldn't later be blamed for making the only decisions possible (such as closed casket) with the amount of life insurance left. I am glad he stepped in to talk to the relatives that wanted to tell me Richard owed them money and make suggestins about my mother's financial situation. And too, I am glad he was there to see my Mother as she "really" is and never believed, by me, to be. In light of the reason he was stateside, we had a good time while more or less "vacationing" in my hometown. We connected in a way that we had not in a long time. The following week, back home and to reality though, things fell into their old routine. I felt robbed. I wanted the spark we had while staying out of town in a hotel for a week. He said it was unfair to compare the two. But, I think there has to be a compromise. I dropped him off at the airport today and he should be in a plane somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean as I type this heading back to his ship for four more months. In that time, I need to figure out some ways to keep that "spark" in our everyday lives.

No comments: