Goodbye, Mom

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
– John Donne

Therese Marie “Tess” Bernat Scheck 1926-2010

The one undisputed fact about me is that I was such a momma’s boy. I was the youngest of nine children, and for me the pinnacle of my childhood was when, prior to my entering kindergarten and while all my older brothers and sisters were off to school, I got Mom all to myself. Glorious times indeed! Most of the time we hung out with our neighbor and Mom’s BFF, Helen “Queenie” Clegg, who was a sweet, delightful, and perpetually entertaining character. Queenie would drive her gigantic station wagon with one hand while she chain smoked with the other, all the while oblivious to the mayhem she caused in traffic because she was talking to Mom a mile a minute and not paying much attention to the road. Lord knows how much collateral damage Queenie caused. Mom was usually mortified by all this reckless driving, and was also, as she screamed in horror every time Queenie nearly wrecked, constantly catching Queenie’s cigarette ashes and still-burning embers, which Queenie flicked nonchalantly without much regard for where they fell; if not for Mom’s gallant effort, I am sure Queenie would have set the entire car afire. And yet Mom adored these daily excursions with Queenie, as did I.

My Mom had me when she was almost 37 years old, and of course, typical of me, I put her through her worst labor of her nine children. I was born three weeks prematurely because Mom started hemorrhaging horribly, which forced her labor to be induced artificially. Not only that, but our family doctor was on vacation, so a strange doctor delivered me, which greatly enhanced Mom’s anxiety. Luckily I came out fine and Mom survived the ordeal. However, my parents had originally wanted to have at least 10-12 children, but after my difficult birth they were done—poor Mom was literally worn out after me! And it would not be the last time I put her through hell.

Mom’s true journey through hell began in 1972 when my father fell ill with a severe brain tumor called a gliobastoma. For the next year Mom endured the worst nightmare imaginable, the loss her beloved, and it was especially painful because Dad suffered horribly before he died on October 15, 1973. Yet somehow Mom picked up the pieces of her shattered life and spent her remaining years working incredibly hard to shelter her children from this terrible tragedy that nearly destroyed our family. All she had was her faith and a tremendous amount of pride, intelligence, self-discipline, and courage to pull her through those dark years. And love, of course. We weren’t wealthy in the material sense, but we were immensely rich with love thanks to Mom.

Sadly, despite having such a large brood that loved her deeply and needed her dearly, Mom’s journey to her end was incredibly lonely without her beloved Big Mike by her side. Part of her died with him and we never saw that part again for her remaining thirty-seven years. All her experiences after his death were never quite as joyful because he wasn’t there to share them with her. Despite this she did everything in her power to make our lives meaningful, happy, and positive. She was always there for us and gave us everything she had.

All my life after Dad died I dreaded losing my mother. The mere thought of this wracked me with anxiety nearly on a daily basis well into my thirties. What oddly comforted me was that I felt I would probably die young like my father and Mom would outlive me. I’ve lived my life with the same reckless abandon as Queenie’s driving because I always felt I was cursed and deserved to die young, and two years ago I nearly fulfilled my delusional prophesy of my demise, yet I survived, and now here I sit experiencing that dreadful moment I’ve feared my entire life: Mom is gone.

Alzheimer’s, that insidious, cruel, and utterly heartless disease, robbed my family of our beloved Mom well before she passed today. It has been many years since we’ve been able to pick up a phone and seek Mom’s sage advice or just chatter endlessly with her. It’s been years since we’ve heard her laugh or spent a weekend at her house playing silly board games, chasing the grandchildren around the house, or feasting at her dining room table. It’s been years since we’ve heard her tell us she loves us, which was about the best damn thing to hear in this world. She was always more than just our Mom, she was also our best friend and closest confidante, our harshest critic and biggest cheerleader, and all the while she asked for little in return. So when this awful disease took away her mind, we suddenly had a huge void in our lives that was impossible to fill.

Death has freed Mom from the living hell in which Alzheimer’s banished her. She’s at peace. Hopefully she’s somewhere out there greedily smooching with our Dad and the universe is in balance again. She deserves that much.

As for me, I will miss my dear Mom for the rest of my life. I take comfort I was given life, raised, befriended, and loved by this brilliant, noble, kind, generous, selfless, humble, and loving woman. I have always been, and will always be, a devout momma’s boy. And why not—I had the best Mom in the world.