My mother raised four hard-working, responsible, well-educated, successful children.
Okay, nobody’s perfect. But regardless of my failures in life, I do have some good attributes. I have a good heart, a good sense of humor, I’m artistic, passionate, logical, empathetic … and I am all of these things because of her.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been a hard worker. I’ve just always been a bit of a dreamer. I like to think about things. My mom always used to tell me that I think too much. That was her way of telling me I make life more complicated than it needs to be, I suppose. It’s sort of a hobby of mine to ponder life’s imponderables. It’s just how I’m wired. Sometimes I obsess about things unnecessarily. She would always tell me that I think too much as I wondered aloud about why things are the way they are.
“Why do you suppose clocks run clockwise?” I’d ask.
“You think too much,” she’d respond.
"Why do they call them apartments if they're all stuck together?"
“You think too much.”
“Why did the Howells pack so many clothes for a three-hour boat ride?”
“You think too much.”
And when I asked her if she wanted more morphine or if she wanted the nurse to wait and give her a dose in a couple hours while she was sleeping so she wouldn’t wake up in pain, she looked me in the eye and said very clearly, “You think too much.”
I suppose it’s fitting that those were the last words she ever said to me. Probably better than the last thing she said to my father, which was, “What the hell are you doing?” She was half asleep and he was trying to adjust her pillow. Come to think of it, she used to say that a lot to him, too. But in both occasions, we were trying to make her more comfortable, something she had done for both of us on countless occasions.
Death isn’t like they show it in the movies. If they portrayed death in movies the way it is in real life, nobody would ever go to another movie. It’s long, it’s hard, and the last thoughtful moments you share with your loved one typically occur days or even weeks before they are gone. But when they are finally finished taking their last breath, no movie director on earth can possibly convey what it’s like to look at the lifeless body of the person you’ve called “Mom” for forty-seven years.
Maybe I haven’t been as successful in life as my older brothers and sisters. Maybe it’s because my mom wasn’t as tough on me as she could have been. I was her baby, after all. Perhaps she took special care of me because I was more sensitive than the others. Maybe I seemed a little more vulnerable, more susceptible to life’s challenges. Or maybe I just am the way I am and that’s it. These are things I’ll never know for sure … but I’ll continue to ponder them as I ponder so many other things.
I know, Mom. I know. I think too much.
But then, the other day, we were all over at my dad’s place; we were reading through Mom’s “Book Of Death,” as we called it. It wasn’t really as morbid as all that, it was just a collection of things that would be relevant in the event that one or both of them were to die. It would happen some day, after all, and far be it for my mom to be unprepared.
There was everything from notes about who should get what when they’re gone to poems she had written over the years. I came across something she had written some fifteen years ago. She had gotten into her sixties and had begun thinking about her mortality. She had written some general thoughts about her life, about raising us kids, and what she hoped to leave behind for all of us emotionally and spiritually. And there it was, as plain as day, the very first line she wrote: “I think too much.”
“Aha!” I exclaimed. “I knew it.” All those years of telling me I think too much, as though she had all of life’s unimaginable puzzles all figured out; or at the very least was centered enough to not worry about all the little things she couldn’t readily explain. I guess we were more alike than I thought.
It’s funny how you don’t realize how alike you really are. But my mother and I were very much alike. I was her baby. Her last child. Whether she raised me to be like her or if it was just in my DNA, it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that I loved her very much, and one little bit of happiness that I can muster in the midst of all this sadness is that she and I were very much alike.