Today is my mom’s birthday. She would have been 87. One year ago today she was facing a quick end to her life and suffering from cancer. In my archives are the stories of her struggle and the part I played in being her caretaker.
I wasn’t a very good son sometimes. I didn’t visit enough though I tried to make sure she never needed anything. We were pretty close. I called her every day. It’s those phone calls I miss the most. At times off and on during the day when I had a thought I’d call her up. If I built something or came up with a new idea I’d go show her or go bring her here. She was always complimentary and kind.
My kids loved her dearly. She loved them, too.
Mom had a long life though I wish it had been longer. I hope I last as long as she did. I’m convinced she would have lasted longer had it not been for her local water supply that was terrible and full of toxins that cause the kind of cancer she had. Woodlawn water killed her, of this I have no doubt whatsoever. (Our water isn’t any better. We now have filters.)
When my dad died I crawled into a hole and didn’t come out for over a year. I took it hard. Mom, like dad, was a good friend. Friends are few and far between with me. It is selfish of me to think “I lost….” as if they lived for me. But in reality for most of their lives and mine that’s the way I viewed the world–though I would not admit it. We humans tend to see things as they relate to us. “Our” wife/husband, “our” kids, “our” parents, like they are there FOR us. How selfish.
I am sorry, mom and dad, for thinking you were there for me. I was wrong.
Though it is part of the Christian belief, this idea of serving others, it is not quite so practiced or even understood by Christians. It wasn’t until I no longer believed in that religion and became a Buddhist that I finally understood what Jesus taught, better said by Buddha, regarding our selfish nature. (Of course it might have been better said by Jesus but two thousand years of manipulation and “interpretation” changed things.) I learned my lesson too late to be the son I should have been.
I can say that I learned early enough to be there when mom needed me at last. I am happy to have had the time I did with her, difficult as it was, during her last days. It was those times between trying to keep her in bed and watch nurses and doctors and so forth that I found time to read and contemplate about where I came from and where I need to go. It was in letting her go that I learned how to let Christianity go too. Both passed away from me entirely at the same time.
The suffering we have is often self-inflicted. I caused myself suffering and inadvertently caused mom to suffer because I was possessive of her: “My” mom. I should have been her son instead. I was her son at last, though. After she died I could have let guilt and sorrow drag me into a pit as I did when dad died. But that is suffering too. Instead I understood that as Buddha teaches everything is temporary. There are comings and goings of all things. Learning to accept this is an end to suffering.
Finally, I could be guilty for not being mom’s son rather than believing she is “my” mom. I have forgiven myself as I know she forgave me. That is the nature of love: forgiveness. This, too, the Buddha teaches, that others are important but we, ourselves, are important too. If we neglect ourselves we not only cause our own suffering but we cause others to suffer. Thus I choose to forgive myself.
My mom loved me always and forever. When I was a child she was not always kind. Sometimes she was abusive. I forgave her of that many years ago and loved her in spite of it. Then she had to learn to forgive me and love me for seeing her as “my” mom and for my not being her son.
Our life on this earth is short and temporary. It would be much longer and the value of our lives would all be extended, however, if we would all learn a few lessons from Buddha’s wisdom. The most important lesson we can learn is how not to see other humans as possessions, “my” family, “my” friends, etc., and instead see them as valuable beings to whom we should give ourselves. When we change this single attitude we change the whole world. Suddenly all those things friends and family do that hurt us no longer sting because we realize the stings are caused by them not bending to our will. But why should they? It is our will that should bend to theirs. Then they are happy and, after all, is that not what we hope for if they are friends and family?
In turning loose of mom that day last November I learned to turn loose of self. I watched Christianity fail her and my family. Buddha’s words did not fail me. It was the ultimate test. The greatest gift mom gave me besides her love was the opportunity to see truth revealed and and in becoming her son I at last found my foundation in Buddha.
Thanks mom. I know you would not be very happy about my Buddhism but then you always hoped for my happiness more than your own. I finally understand why.
I miss you and I love you always.
It’s been almost a week since mom died. I just don’t know how I feel. Numb, I guess… as expected.
My world is filled with little reminders, very close reminders, of mom’s life with us. There’s food on our shelves and in our freezer and refrigerator, some she bought and some that came from her house. The catfish she loves so much that I bought to fix for her is still waiting for the fryer. There’s little nic-nac’s all over. There’s even a box of medications we’ve not disposed of yet (some of which I really want to know why she was given!). And, of course, there’s that house three miles away from where I sit brimming with Mom Stuff.
I have her rocker/recliner here now. We brought a few other little things from her house, practical items and quaint reminders of her. Other family members took a few things she’d promised to them or that will remind them of her. She didn’t leave much of a will, just a letter that said to sell the house and divide the money. We looked around her house with lumps in our throat reaching for things that we shared with her. It’s just stuff with memories attached. That’s all.
Life is so fleeting, so short, so impermanent. What is eighty six years in the span of the universe? Less than a blink. When it’s over all that is left are memories and stuff. A hundred years from now even the stuff and the memories will be gone. Nobody will remember my mom. Nobody living will have known her. She’ll be an old picture on a wall or maybe just a name on a stone in an old cemetery. Maybe not even that.
What’s it all about? Why are we here? Will we ever know? Are Christians right in believing there’s a “heaven” somewhere with Jesus and open arms waiting for the sacred few? Are Buddhists right, are we cycled through life after life, cranking out Karma, hoping for the enlightenment that will end our cycle and blend us in with the great all knowing? I hope that’s not right either. I’m stuck with not knowing. What lies beyond we don’t know. It doesn’t really matter all that much. Those who remain have only memories and stuff in place of that life we held so precious but never really did right by. What ever kind of place it is, mom is there. We’re not.
There is one part of her “stuff” I didn’t know existed. She wrote a journal. The last notebook she wrote in begins thus:
I was born 8-22 to Rebeca & Emory Self 8 miles from Murfreesboro…
She writes a few pages of her life history and then segues into an account of the days that were passing. I don’t know when she started this volume. We found another notebook, a little older, with more writing, dates and times and simple events. In it mom noted each day, how she felt, and entered the temperature for the day. She kept up. Her days were important. She writes almost exclusively of her kids, we who failed to recognize how important every single day was while she was still here. We spent too much time in our world and not enough in hers.
That final notebook does sound like mom. Here’s her last entry:
August the 12, Tues, the nurse called the doctor. The amb. came after me. I was there 9 days. Bob and Donna came. Vickie and Rusty all came. Bob brought me home the 19. They stayed until the 21. I have cancer. I start the treatment the 4th of Sept. They went home yesterday. I am all alone.
Shortly after she wrote that she was in and out of the hospital, mostly in, until the last time when she was transferred to hospice. We got her home for a day and then she was back at hospice for her remaining few hours.
Even as I know she preferred being alone in her house to being with us in ours I feel a deep sadness as I recognize the depth of loneliness she sometimes felt. I know, too, that even if we’d moved in with her she would have felt that loneliness, that longing for family who left this world long ago, for Dad who was her companion for more than 50 years, for old friends who had passed or were unable to visit any longer because of their health. I know dad felt that loneliness deep within his heart once his only brother died and all his family was gone. Even though his brother was 300 miles away and he rarely got to visit it’s still not the same as him being gone.
The sum of our lives is the people we know and love. Everything else is just “stuff.” As our days pass by and those we’ve cared for disappear into the past we all begin to feel the loneliness so poignantly expressed in mom’s last words: “I am all alone.”
There are those who claim to “feel the presence” of loved ones. They say they can walk through a house, grasp a belonging, sit quietly in the woods, and “sense” someone who has died. Maybe they can. I never could. When dad died I worried about that for the longest. Why can’t I “feel” him here on this land where I live which he loved to wander about on? Why wasn’t his presence felt in the boards and timbers of that cabin I lived in back then, the one he helped build? Why did I never feel him when I visited mom? I never have felt dad nearby.
I can’t sense mom, either. Not walking through that old house she held so dear to her heart and not sitting in the chair she spent so much time in can I “feel” mom with me. Maybe it would help. Or maybe it would just make me more sad. Either way, I really wish I could sense her nearby. I wish.
None of us really know or comprehend where she has gone. We all believe she is not alone and will never be alone. We believe the part that was her, the mom we knew, has become something different, a spirit free from a body riddled with pain. I believe that too even though my concept of the “Undiscovered Country” is not that of my Christian siblings. Though I cannot and most likely never will sense her near me I believe with all my being that she lives and she is not alone. Her final entry, were it penned from over there, would be, “I am with those who have gone before. I am no longer alone.” I’m quite sure it would be that.
We, however, are still here. We’re stuck with memories and stuff. For the rest of our days we’ll live without her blessed smile, her love, all those wonderful looks she always gave us. Each of us will forever grasp at memories and hold her stuff and think, “where did you go, mom?” We’ll look into the void of the unknown with tremendous longing and we’ll say, “we love you mom. We miss you! We are so alone!”
The doc pretty much confirmed what I had surmised already. Mom’s digestive system is not going to function. In all likelihood the cancer that took her kidney has enveloped part of her intestine. Point of view and treatment options switched today from trying for improvement to getting her comfortable and planning for extended care for as long as she lives.
When my dad died I can’t say how mad I got at God. In these situations some of the strongest Christians sometimes start a sentence in their mind, “what kind of God would…..”
No, I am not from Bohemia. The generic definition of a bohemian applies to me:
A person, as an artist or writer, who lives and acts free of regard for conventional rules and practices.
Convention and I have never gotten along. We disagree with each other. I refuse to conform, to be a part of the crowd. I am not a sheep. People rarely understand me or who I am. I rarely understand people. Such is life.
There are people who write, as in make a living putting together words or just run off at the keyboard, and then there are writers. Writers are people driven to write, who even when they’re not writing they are writing. This means that their head is buzzing and they’re creating prose in their thoughts. Most true writers are bohemians and eccentrics. All the best were and are totally off the wall. They make no apologies and neither do I. I see no reason to do so.
On this space I simply do as most bloggers do and run off at the keyboard. (In person I often run off at the mouth. Aren’t you lucky to be reading!) This blog has been around quite a while now, too, so there are older ramblings I might not even agree with any more. There are certainly things I have mellowed out on and do not send me over the hedge as they once did. I may not even stop by here very often. I’m not so good at juggling blogs.
May 17, 2011 – I am here today. I remain the seeker. If you’re also a seeker, let’s seek each others’ company! firstname.lastname@example.org. Friends are the stars that populate our personal universe… your friendship will brighten up my sky!
Hi! I’m the Texas Bohemian!
… writer on occasion, thinker of thoughts, father and husband. This Trailerpark Scholar (aka me!) couldn’t draw a happy face without a compass. His gift is with words, not pictures, though the power of words can draw pictures of worlds no pen could ever draw. His talent extends considerably past the proverbial pen, however. He’s a Jack of All Trades, Master of None… well, only a few. He’s pretty damn good at a lot of things!
If you are unable to resist the temptation to judge before considering all the facts and truth you will certainly jump to conclusions regarding whether or not I am good or bad, worthy or unworthy, friend or foe. Such is the danger one such as I face daily in a world where people make an art of snap judgments. Judge as you are prone to judge. It would be wise, however, to jump to no conclusions regarding my character over anything you read.
The person Ted Gresham is thus:
The person I perceive my self to be is an aging man exploring the meaning of life, discovering Truth, considering the words of great individuals including and especially The Buddha. This person is rough-edged, kind-hearted, pacifist, respectful and loving. This person lacks discipline. This person is outspoken and opinionated, struggles with judgmentalism though quick and eager to forgive. This person seeks only Truth. Nothing more, nothing less. This person appreciates beauty in a child’s hug, a kind smile, a sunrise, a soft-spoken voice, the teachings of Gautama The Buddha.
I am an eccentric so defined: ‘deviating from the recognized or customary character, practice, etc.; irregular; erratic; peculiar; odd’ (dictionary.com). Not only in attitude, point of view or lifestyle do I fit this definition but in history as well.
Of course a bohemian is by definition also an eccentric but not all bohemians are the definition of eccentric from their youth nor are very many quite as eccentric as I am.
Without bragging I can say I have been a few places and done a few things. The partial list:
- Cashier / Clerk / gas station attendant
- Air Conditioning Mechanic
- Radio Announcer / Program Director
- Truck Driver
- Welfare Caseworker
- Data Entry Clerk
- Limmo Driver
- Rental Car Agent
- Condo Desk Clerk
- Construction worker
- …I forget what else
I’ve traveled through nearly a dozen states for fun, more than forty for work. I’ve lived in every part of Texas and spent time in Oklahoma, Arkansas and New Mexico. I’ve crossed the southern border on foot and traveled to Vancouver by air. And I’ve dreamed of and studied about places all around the globe.
In more than ten years of college on and off I’ve studied air conditioning / refrigeration, journalism, writing, history, political science, government, law, and counseling. I’ve attended two universities, two more junior colleges and two technical schools.
I’ve had countless letters printed in newspapers, written for online publications and used my writing skills in many jobs. I’ve made a few hundred bucks writing and written whole books that have paid nothing.
There’s not a whole lot of things I cannot do but some things I am quite good at. I can build houses from the ground up, fix all kinds of things, do plumbing, electrical, maintenance, painting, framing. I have driven vans, trucks, busses, tractor-trailers and all kinds of cars. I can do and have done virtually anything done in an office short of being a doctor or lawyer, from data entry to clerical to interviewing and all that fun stuff.
I’ve been a crusader, a street preacher, a religious teacher, a music director, singer, religious broadcaster and religious writer. I’ve studied all major religions, a few minor ones, and Christianity from many different perspectives over many years. I’ve been a Baptist, Methodist and Pentecostal/Assembly of God. I have considered and reject a host of religious ideas and beliefs. I am at present an agnostic Buddhist and study Buddhism.
In all these years of working, learning and traveling the one thing I have learned is that I know almost nothing. I’ve forgotten more
than I learned. The answers I seek are answers nobody has. The Truth I follow is one few recognize and fewer care to apply to their life. In knowing all I know I know nothing. In seeing all I’ve seen, I’ve seen nothing. In understanding all I understand, I understand nothing.
Such is the path of true discovery.
Such is the story of my life.
What I’m Talkin’
- Tiny Story
- Little Woman, Big Impact
- So… what the fuck, right?
- DAMN! I can be morbid, huh?
- All Those Yesterdays…
- All the bullshit… and a song: Hate Me!
- The Story of Me
- My haven!
- The days of my life…
- Growing stuff!
- The Me that I Am.
- Poor Man’s Hydroponics
- Friday! And I am tard again!
- Working Man!
- Independence Day
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