I've never written a diary before. Not sure I'll post this, but where better to talk about what I'm feeling than in a diary here at Dailykos? I've been reading diaries here for a long time.
I'm the 6th oldest out of 14 kids in my family. I had a wonderful childhood full of books and games and lots of laughter. My father worked for Bell Labs most of his career - finished up at AT&T just after the breakup. He and my mom had the kind of retirement we'd all like to have but probably few of us will. For 20 years they've spent winters in California living in a community with other well-off retired couples; playing bridge and tennis and enjoying life - and always giving back to the community because that's how they roll. Diehard Democrats, liberals, progressives. I love them both. They'd come back to the east coast from May to September to visit their kids and grandkids. We're all spread out now but there's 5 who live around Boston so that's where they'd come back to for a few months.
Mom had a stroke 3 1/2 years ago, just after they came back to the east coast for their yearly visit. It was a bad one. She was so angry at my dad for calling 911. They had agreed - no extraordinary measures. But dad had no choice; she wouldn't have died and he couldn't just do nothing. Best laid plans, eh? She wasn't the mom we all remembered but there was still a piece of her there for awhile, sometimes a spark would come through. She only lasted this long because my dad took such good care of her. He wouldn't consider a nursing home. He took care of her at home with the help of nurse's aides and the wonderful siblings I have living in the Boston area (especially Cindy - there's always one special one no matter how big the family is). Those of us that lived further away would come periodically and take care of her for a week so dad could get away. I don't know how my dad did it for so long except I happen to have a dad who's every bit as special as my mom. Mom died at home this morning.
Let me tell you about her. She was funny, she was calm, she was organized (14 kids!), she was so good at handing out sympathy and hugs. She was beautiful too, with a great sense of style. And she was an unflappable hostess. She and my dad had many dinner parties over the years. Shortly after dad retired, they published a cookbook with all our favorite recipes, including some famous dinner party menus. They dedicated it to "all the people we loved having at our table." When they celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary (the theme was "fertility") they had 40 people staying at the house for 3 days. It was a big old 9-bedroom Victorian - but still! And then there was the time a bus broke down and she had 50 unexpected people for dinner. No sweat. My favorite dinner party memory was when some bigwigs were expected for a "work" party and mom found a mushroom growing behind the toilet in the downstairs bathroom. Instead of having a conniption she laughed and insisted on bringing people in to see it. We kids were in charge of serving and cleaning up at dinner parties. We all had our regular weekly jobs to do too and we did them. There had to be some perks to having all those kids, eh? Mom and dad wrote their autobiographies after dad retired. I always knew mom was funny but that's when I found out what an entertaining writer she was.
She could lay on the guilt trip when she wanted to (Catholic!). But she accepted our decisions as we grew up and fewer and fewer of us went to church, or bought into her beliefs. Our parents raised us to think for ourselves. She never yelled. Neither did my dad. A few of us kids have complained we weren't prepared for the real world. We didn't grow up yelling. We were expected to work things out and share. Mom was one of 8 kids herself. She didn't necessarily want to have 14 kids but she used the rhythm method like a good Catholic woman and she said she was never unpregnant long enough to know what her rhythm was. 14 pregnancies in 17 years. Yikes. Depending on where we fell in the family we'd say "you should have stopped at 5... or 6... or 7..." but I loved growing up with 13 brothers and sisters - we all did - and neither mom nor dad ever made any of us feel like we were a burden or unwanted. When we went on vacations they packed us up into 2 cars (no seatbelts back then) and away we went. Nothing fancy. They saved the money for college. Can you imagine putting 14 kids through college? Well ok, I never made it all the way, but the rest of them did. I gave them a lot of heartache, before I found my way. But they stuck with me through thick and thin and never stinted on the hugs (or the financial support either). Having 2 kids of my own now I can appreciate how heartbreaking it is to watch your kids struggle to grow up. And I wasn't the only one either!
Mom did it all with so much grace. She made it look so easy. So many, many, many people over the years told me how lucky I was to have a mom like her. I know. I always knew.
7:53 PM PT: I just wanted to thank you all for your good wishes. I won't be with my family till tomorrow and it helped get me through the day reading and responding to all the comments. I love Dailykos. I've got a lifetime subscription. I read it first thing in the morning and throughout the day. You're all a wonderful community. I was amazed at all the folks who were kind enough to take the time to express their condolences and their own memories of their parents and grandparents. Thank you.