JILTED SUPERSTAR: Part 17
"THE LORD IS CLOSE TO THOSE WHOSE HEART IS BREAKING" (Part 17 of 21)
When I reflect upon how much was accomplished to accommodate the final three months of her life, the timeline of events simply does not add-up. Even today I shake my head in disbelief. It really is not so much an issue of ‘where did the time go?' as much as it is a study in ‘where did the time come from to ensure all that was achieved?'
The nursing facility staff was adequate in their offering of condolences. Throughout their respective careers they had each become truly efficient death specialists; such was their job.
A grand perception,a grand misconception, is that nursing home staffers ‘comfort' the elderly. But, that is only a result, a byproduct, of their profession and not necessarily their primary function. After witnessing mom's demise, a more apropos description of such a job's duties and responsibilities is that nursing home staffers market reality to the survivors of death, both before and after a loved one passes.
Yeah, death is a big business.
And, yeah, there is always a target audience, somewhere!
I had viewed mom's body only two days prior. In a fleeting moment of clarity, I pulled myself together and was actually sober long enough to reenter mom's convalescence hospital to finalize any non-concluded affairs; collecting her things, signing documents... whatever.
I immediately noticed that the very same bed she'd occupied throughout her remaining weeks of life, and from which she expelled her final breath, had already been claimed anew by a thin, white-haired, wrinkly old man. From the reflective silence of his own gaze out the room's rain-speckled window I inferred that he too was lost in memories and now was wondering where all of his own yesterdays had gone.
Politely and efficiently, the nursing facility staffers had collected mom's possessions and placed them into a small box. What had been on her night stand at the time of death was now tidily stuffed into a carton at the nurse's station.
Some folks die abruptly, without warning. In my personal debates on the topic of death, I am still undecided as to whether such individuals are the ‘lucky' ones or not: to blink and to be gone, or to know what approaches and prepare. I just don't know; each conclusion has its own specific, if not alluring attributes.
As effectively as possible, mom prepared. For those with the luxury, or the curse, of knowing that their own fatality approaches, it is interesting what trinkets bring a person comfort before death. Mom's entire world had been condensed down to a ratty old hair brush, a ratty old tooth brush, some ‘organic' toothpaste, (the taste of which was disgusting), a well-worn Bible and a folder of generic nursing information which she'd been issued upon admission. The facility's ‘welcome package' still looked crisp as though it hadn't been opened; not even once.
That evening I remained sober, and in doing so remember being surprised at my decision.
The pamphlets and the brochures I discarded immediately, along with the toothpaste and the brushes. My interest was focused on mom's Bible, which doubled, apparently, as a sort of makeshift filing cabinet. The binding had unglued in several spots and thick rubber bands held in place various old clippings and notes and even a few forgotten snapshots. Various scripture passages had been circled, or underlined, or torn out (!) and, the assorted stains had, in the end, become nondescript. A faint, almost indecipherable odor of cat urine had long since lost its pungency, and was no longer offensive. At the time, the Bible itself was of no specific interest to me; my curiosity remained with whatever mementos it safeguarded in her days preceding death.
Several hours had evaporated away by the time I came to one crisp paper; it's sheer ‘newness' alone put it oddly out of place with the tattered scraps which it accompanied. With firm creases, it had been folded with great care; this, I concluded, was recent. Dated four days prior to her death, I read silently what were familiar words:
June 7th, 2001
The original is gone...
How are we going to go on without him? I know I took for granted he'd always be here with the advice and love I need desperately. I never gave him enough kisses or hugs; he was so dignified. I didn't tell him nearly enough times how much I love him; I just always thought I'd be able to tell him whenever I felt like it. There were so many letters and cards unwritten, and packages for holidays and celebrations that I never sent. Now I pay with the guilt of unseen tears, and frustration of unheard crying and the absolute mystery of unanswered prayers. Why did he have to go with God and leave our family here on Earth with all of these awful people? I can't cope with the thought of living the rest of my life here without my wonderful, wonderful father, Neil Martin, to guide me.
So many will miss him. I can hear one friend now saying "I can't believe ‘the pro' is dead." I can't either; God will have to cope for me. And, what about my blessed mom? How will she go on after 57-plus years of marriage; three-quarters of her life? He was such a good man. There isn't anything bad to say. No one can say anything bad. Isn't that something; to live eighty years and not have anyone able to destroy your image because it is pristine and unshakable? That's character! Real character! No one can, or will, dig any dirt up about him, ever; there isn't any! Everyone trusted him completely.
I just thought I had more time. I thought I had more time...
I love you, Dad.
It was the eulogy she had written eight years previously when grandpa died; mom memorized it, and re-scribing these words in her twilight hours brought apparent comfort.
In the face of death, she was powerless, as are we all. My understanding of just how powerless we are over the entire cycle came in these initial ‘post-death' hours and days in which I fully grasped that there truly is no greater feeling of loss in this world than that of being powerless, particularly amidst circumstances beyond our control. Yeah, such reality is absolute helplessness.
I attempted to read it through a second time; however, I was so overwhelmed by grief that I collapsed unconscious upon the floor for several hours.
Upon waking, it was very early in the morning; only the evening's stars and the distant whoosh of the local freeway, a half a mile away, reminded me that the sun would not be rising upon California for a few hours. Stepping onto my patio I lit a cigarette. The musty, muddy smell of damp pavement predicted rain, or more probably, fog.
In the morning's darkness, and up against the back fence, a non-seasonal silhouette bearing dark, bittersweet berries again reminded me of nameless memories and forgotten youth. I was immediately reminded of mom's jaded perception; "...defining a tree is easy when one seeks not solely to be filled..."
"What the hell does that mean anyway, mom?" I snorted, exhaling a cocktail of cigarette smoke and early morning frost.
Systematically, methodically, my mother's isolationism aided her in coping with the numerous, assorted losses, which, through the years befell her life. As she routinely was only inches away from a slide into full dementia, her increasingly sorrow-filled heart became frail.
In our most candid of conversations she would confide that the amassed losses she endured throughout life massaged her into a fixed broken-hearted state. Routinely, she confided that the death of her father was the single greatest sorrow she'd ever experienced; fully eclipsing a horror-show marriage to my father, fully eclipsing Gary's abandonment and subsequent betrayal, eclipsing even her own eviction and migration into homelessness.
Yeah, grandpa's death birthed mom's greatest broken heart in a long progression of broken hearts.
Later that morning the obituary editor of the local newspaper telephoned. Explaining that she'd acquired my number from the funeral home in which mom had taken her final curtain call, the woman was sincere and overly gracious with condolences. She invited me to author a memorial on my mother for inclusion in the weekend paper, to which I agreed.
The initial draft was glaringly ridiculous in its honesty; recanting the entire gamut of mom's personal eccentricities and harrowing challenges. I ripped it up; why exploit that pain? In the memory of what had been her ‘adoring public,' such an epithet would be the final validation of my mother's life. And, with as many storms as she had weathered throughout those relatively brief fifty-eight years, had she not actually earned the right to have her successes, as sporadic or random as they might have been, acknowledged?
I set ink to paper and started anew:
Donna Martin, born in Ohio, dedicated her entire life to art, poetry, nature, individuality and her personal savior, Jesus Christ. Ms. Martin governed her decisions solely upon one simple philosophy; to do the next right thing. Donna's distinctive creativity, flare for individuality and compassion for the human condition governed her life philosophy, and enriched all with whom she came into contact.
As a graduate of the esteemed Rhode Island School of Design, Ms. Martin graduated in Industrial Design. Donna's master's degree pursuits directed her into both Art History and Childhood Education. Her own artistry heavily reflected expressionist influences, namely such masters as Renoir, Rodin and Monet. However, being a forward-thinking woman, Donna's art, writings and social-consciousness remained uncompromisingly rooted in the popular themes, typical of the 1960's and 1970's.
In the mid-1970's, Ms. Martin refined the direction of her artistry to gain tremendous popularity and recognition from the various Miami art communities in which her talents flourished. Her artistic focus led Donna to California where she made the Bay Area her home from 1978 until her death in Stockton.
She was 58.
In the 1980's and 1990's, Ms. Martin became an advocate for animal rights, regularly campaigning on behalf of such positions. However, prior to her death, Ms. Martin's focus re-aligned back to her artistic roots. In this period she undertook a dedicated pen and ink study of various California-indigenous plants and flowers.
Her son, Reid, and grandson, Teagan, survive Ms. Martin.
I could finally appreciate, with equal intensity, the sorrow she harbored over grandpa's death. I began to cry uncontrollably, tears and breath each in a race to escape me as I sought to ease my sorrow through my own interpretation of Divinity.
Weeping, I again set ink to paper to author a variation upon a familiar theme:
"My mom's dead, and yeah, grandpa too.
And the Lord didn't even bother coming to either of their funerals..."
I felt nauseous. I was done.
There simply was nothing more for me to say.
Indeed, the Lord is close to those whose hearts are breaking.
/ / / / END OF PART SEVENTEEN / / / /
© 2007 - R. MARTIN BASSO
NEXT INSTALLMENT COMING SOON:
Part 18 - A Brief Interlude.