For the last couple of days I have been thinking a lot about my beautiful mother. She was close to my age when my father was killed in a motorcycle accident rocking the very ground on which my family stood. I remember it as if it happened yesterday.
Up to that point, we had a great life. We were raised well by loving parents in a close knit neighborhood where we all thrived. All four of us, my three siblings and I, at the time were navigating through the world at our own paces. My oldest brother was married, working as a teacher and raising two children. My sister was married and at home raising three children, my other brother was figuring out his life and moving forward and I was married to my first husband and working in banking. I had not figured it all out yet. Life was pretty good for us all. No major problems. We were doing what everyone does. We were building a life for ourselves and had a great foundation on which to start.
It was May of 1984 and my father, an avid motorcycle rider, was out for a joy ride with a friend on a beautiful Memorial Day weekend. He had ridden through the countryside atop his favorite toy. He was on his way home to play tennis with his friend across the street. My mother was waiting for him to come home to plan dinner. He was a pretty active guy and always had something going on. He had retired two years earlier and was enjoying the life he had worked so hard to make for himself and for us. I always said, my father worked to live and not the other way around. I sometimes wondered if his stint overseas in World War II had something to do with this philosophy. He loved to “play”. He loved gadgets and photography and riding his motorcycle, which was a touring bike. He hang glided, skied, played racketball and tennis. He loved country music and dancing. He was funny, beautiful, and bigger than life. He even had an eight track player on his bike so he could listen to polka music while riding around. It made him happy. I have to add here that one time he took me for a ride on the back of his bike and we went through the city of Leominster. The eight track player was in full volume blaring that “lovely” polka music and I remember burying my face in his back, the rest of me hidden by my helmet, in case anyone I knew would see me. The music gets pretty loud when you are riding slowly through a town. At the time I was mortified. I was young then and not quite sure of myself, but if he were here now and had me on the back of his bike blaring polka music, you can be sure I’d be proud as hell and would probably be singing along with the eight track just as loudly if not louder.
So it is on this gorgeous day in May of 1984 that my father was riding his bike on his way home to play tennis that he came to a stop at a stop sign. Feet down. Bike steady. After looking both ways I am sure, for he was a cautious fellow, he launched his bike a little too slowly and was hit from the back by a speeding car. Someone who witnessed the accident reported that he was thrown off of his motorcycle across the entire street and landed head first onto the pavement. I won’t, nor can I, go into the details which followed. It is still raw and real for me all of these years later and bringing it up right now is too painful. I remember it as if it were yesterday. It will be forever etched in my mind. I will say that he died two days later from his head injuries and my life, and the lives of that of my family were never the same. It changed us. It changed me. The foundation under my feet had crumbled dramatically and left me unsteady and grasping for something to hold onto. My life had changed forever on that beautiful spring day.
But this story is really not about me. As I began to say, for the last couple of days I have been thinking a lot about my mother. My father was her world. They had been married for forty-two years. They were a set, a pair, like peas and carrots, salt and pepper, Al and San, Mom and Dad. Two beautiful souls moving through life’s dance with all of the ups and downs, and all of the love too. They were a wonderful pair.
She never saw it coming. Neither did we. No one ever does. My mother was lost for a long time.
I have been thinking about her a lot lately because it was not until I lost Paul that I realized what she had been going through. At the time I could only imagine what it might have felt like, but how could I truly know what she was experiencing in losing her lifelong partner? She was suddenly without the person she shared every day and every night with. This beautiful man whom she had met during war time and fell in love with and married. The partner she had raised four children with. He was gone. Plucked off the earth. Just like that.
I remember sleeping with her the first night she had to go home without him because I didn’t want her to feel alone. She was in shock. We all were. I remember wondering what she would do without him in her life, but I was dealing with my own grief at the time and didn’t fully understand what she was feeling. Nor could I. I was young. I didn’t even know who I was yet.
After all was said and done; the wake, the funeral, our family all around her, there was silence. She was alone. We all went back to our busy lives as we should, checking in frequently, but for the most part she was alone in the home they so lovingly built together. Alone with her grief. Alone with her thoughts. Alone with her loneliness. Alone. Had I known then what I know now, maybe I might have done things differently for her. Maybe not. I don’t really know. How could I? So, I ask myself these questions over and over. Did I give her what she needed? Did I help her enough. Did I check in often enough? Would any of that have mattered? What she really needed was for my father to come home that day. What she truly needed was my father to come up those familiar house stairs as he always did, give her a kiss and come into the house so they could live their lives out together until they grew old. I couldn’t have given her that. No one could have.
One thing I learned from my father’s death was that the words you speak to someone when they walk out of your house or leave you even for a short time are so important. You never know what is around the corner. The night before he died I had locked my keys in my car while out shopping with my mother. He came to save us and for some reason I didn’t get out of their car right away. We chatted for a bit and he made us laugh as always. As I got out of their car I turned back and said “thanks for everything”. Little did I know that I would never see him again and those words would cradle me for years.
I love my mother so much and I wish I could see her again just to tell her that I understand better now. I want her to know that she has a kindred spirit who finally and unfortunately knows what she was going through all those years ago and beyond. The difference is, and this is so overwhelmingly important, she didn’t have a chance to say “goodbye”. That to me, is most unbearable. I had that chance with Paul. Closure is a necessity. Unfortunately, grief is too.