I’d Walk A Thousand Miles

Twelve years ago today, February 15, my mother, variously called Doc or Mini-Mommy, died. I still miss her every damned day.

Mom was a tiny dynamo, hence the Mini-Mommy moniker. She was fiercely protective of her only chick, me. As a single mother she took me to movies and rodeos and plays. She was a voracious reader, so mysteries, thrillers, suspense stories and romances found their way onto her bookshelf.

I grew up to be a reader, too, because she and my grandmother taught me to read by the time I was three. No, I wasn’t memorizing oft-heard stories my grandmother read to me. I once corrected her when she missed a word. She thought I was kidding until I pointed to the word. From then on, I had daily reading lessons.

Mom died with about fifty linear feet of books in her bedroom. I saved some of her favorites, books that have moved with me from the home she shared in her last years with my husband and me. I donated boxes to the nursing home/rehab center/hospice where she spent her last days. Others I’ve given to Goodwill for strangers to enjoy, but only after I revisited them in the past dozen year.

Mom’s last three weeks were painful. Once she was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer, doctors could do nothing but keep her calm and out of pain. I visited her every day, read to her, listened to her stories, held her hand. Two days before cancer won, she stopped talking. Communications were through squeezes, her hand in mine. I finished reading our last book in the dark middle-or-the-night hours before she died. I was with her when she was finally out of pain. I kept a promise that she wouldn’t be alone. She wasn’t.

I know yesterday was Valentine’s Day. I hope you told your parents, children, siblings you love them. Whatever you did to celebrate, I hope you didn’t overlook the woman who gave you life. Without her, you wouldn’t be here.

Now, a decade plus later, I’d walk a thousand miles to see her smile again, to feel that hand squeeze, to have one more healthy day with her. I miss you, Doc.

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5 thoughts on “I’d Walk A Thousand Miles

  1. Good morning, Betsy Ashton, and thank you as usual for just the right topic at just the right moment. My mother died in the blistering heat of a July day in Alabama. She had been in pain for nearly a year, but for the last six months of her life we had the amazing people from Hospice and that meant some relief. I lived in Michigan at the time and flew down at least once a month to sit for a few days, or a week, in her small bedroom, in the apartment where she had lived since my father died in 1962. We had over a year to be together in a way we really never had before. Having a mother is a funny thing. I can’t tell the beautiful story you have shared about a rich and lovely relationship with my own mother. She was an alcoholic; I was a child who threw temper tantrums (all obvious now, with a lot of therapy behind me), and our relationship for many years consisted of screaming and yelling and slamming doors. But somehow, through all that, I had an unfailing sense of her passionate love surrounding me-her only child. She was fierce in my defense when I needed it and, although at the time she often embarrassed me, I look back now and am brought to my knees with gratitude for that love and that fierceness. I have, as it turns out, grown up to be fierce–and an alcoholic. Early next month I will celebrate thirty years of sobriety. My mother never found that but, when I told her I was in a recovery program–and I didn;t tell her for nearly five years because I was afraid she would get angry with me–she just said, “Oh, honey, I’m so glad you won’t have to go through what I’ve gone through.” The week she died, she told me, for the millionth time, that she was sorry she had been such a bad mother. I thought about it for just a second and replied, “You were exactly the mother I needed.” There were a lot of things she wasn’t able to teach me, but she taught me how to live with hard things. She and her sisters were born in a sharecroppers shack and grew up in an orphanage in central Alabama. And, by God, they got out and they made it!! And I loved every single awful wonderful one of them. My cousins and I called them “The Queens.” On a November day, All Saints, my son an I took my mothers’ ashes to Cedartown, Georgia, mixed them with black soil from the woods where they built their beautiful log house, and dug them with our hands into the dirt on Daddy’s grave. My other set of cousins, with voices like angels, started singing hymns. When Mother died I was holding her hand. I breathed that last breath with her and saw her eyes go dark. I waited there for two hours until the team from the University of Alabama research hospital came for her. She and her sisters had all gotten together one night, gotten sloshed, and filled out the paperwork to donate their bodies for medical research. I had promised her I’d stay with her till the last trumpet. I will always always be grateful for the gift of being there to do that. I miss her every day of my life. When there are big events–a book, a grandson–I still head for the phone to call her. When she died that room was so full of love it could have healed the whole world. I remember saying to her during the last week of her life, in a kind of amazement, “Who would have though a couple of drunks could have gotten it this right?” I sure did love her! Thank you, Betsy.

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    • My mother wasn’t a saint. We have spectacular battles. I hated her sometimes. Over the years with plenty of therapy and turning to secular Buddhism for solace, I came to understand that she did the best she could with the limited tools she had. I realized that she couldn’t protect me from my stepfather. She tried, but to do more than she did was to admit the colossal mistake she’d made.

      We made peace. She lived with my husband and me for four years before being diagnosed with lung cancer. Three weeks later, she was gone. But, she visits me often. She came this morning during my pre-dawn meditation. I smelled her perfume and knew she was watching over me. I’m glad you and your mother had a similar chance to step beyond the hurt.

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