August has been a challenging month for my family the last few years. Two years ago, while my children, Maggie and Robert, and I were visiting my sister, Kathy, and her husband, Paul, in Key Biscayne, Florida, our mother ended up in the hospital in critical condition. While she recovered temporarily, she ultimately suffered a stroke right when school started in the fall of 2012.
She spent the next year in a nursing home close to our home in Atlanta. Our whole family visited frequently — Kathy, Paul, my husband, Jimmy, Maggie, Robert and even our two dogs, Midnight and Bunny. Our cat, Sarah, was relegated to home.
The first months after her stroke were hard; good days involved pushing her bed into the courtyard so she could feel the sun on her face. But she became stronger, started therapy, and was able to come to Thanksgiving and Christmas family celebrations outside the nursing home.
She travelled out to watch the middle school play, and traveled to Georgia Tech to watch Maggie dance in her spring recital. Our last visit out of the home was to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens in Late June when Robert and Maggie took turns pushing her up the paths to see the spectacular plant statues. She loved them all, but was particularly fond of the hydrangeas.
Last August, while the four of us were once again visiting Kathy and Paul, our mother went into septic shock and was rushed to the hospital. My sister and I flew to her side the next day. A week and a half later, she went to heaven.
The last time I saw her before our trip, Maggie, Robert and I stopped by to say goodbye to her as we left for Florida. She was sad to see us go, but glad that we were spending the time with Kathy and Paul.
“I’ll miss you,” she said as we said goodbye.
This past year was a year of firsts without Mom. Every first made me stop and pause: my birthday, Christmas, New Year’s, her birthday, Jimmy’s birthday, Paul’s Birthday, Kathy’s birthday, children’s birthdays and Mother’s Day.
At special events, I both missed and felt her presence, knowing that she would have been there — Maggie’s dance recital, my children performing “Bye-Bye Birdie” in the school play and Robert playing string bass at Carnegie Hall. Every holiday or day of importance reminded me that the year before, my mother was with us. But she no longer was.
The last time I talked to her is etched in my mind. Kathy, Maggie, Robert and I were driving back from dinner. Mom was happy to hear we were together. She laughed and told us to look out for one another. We assured her we would. She laughed again and told us she loved us. We said we loved her, too.
We drove home, oblivious to the fact that this was the last opportunity we would have to talk to her.
The next day she was rushed to the hospital with septic shock. A week and a half later, she went to heaven. She was in intensive care during her stay, with a tube down her throat and wasn’t able to speak, but I could tell that she knew we were with her.
When I wonder how she is and want reassurance, I think of the last voicemail I received from her. It was before our last conversation, but it reminds me that she is OK, that she wants me to know that she loves me and she hopes we are having fun.
“Hey, babe, it’s Mom. I was in the dining room, I think I might have missed your call, but I’m not sure. Call me if you want, but you don’t have to — I know you’re having fun — and I’m fine. I love you.”
I love you too, Mom.
To find out more about Jackie Gingrich Cushman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.