Our Mom, Betty West, passed away on Monday November 16, 2015 after a battle with cancer.
She passed peacefully in her sleep, and thankfully did not have much pain in her final days.
After giving it much thought, I felt that instead of writing a lengthy post about Mom, I would just share the last letter I wrote her, which pretty much says everything I’d wanted to say.
November 8, 2015
This is a hard letter to write.
It’s human nature to think we are going to live forever, and even more so when it comes to our parents.
Parents are like superheroes to their children: they’ve faced peril and hard times and always overcome. Houses, schools, and friends all come and go, but your parents are always there, a constant force like gravity or a compass that points North.
Always there, so it’s almost impossible to think of that time when they won’t be.
Mom, you are perpetually 38 in my mind. Curly dark hair, talking over coffee in the morning, always keeping life moving forward for all of us, and always quick with a laugh, smartass comment, or the “reality slap” upside the head when we needed it.
The word “home” in my mind is distilled down to a single image… Oldsmar in ‘74, fading light of a cold Fall evening, coming home after a long day of bike rides and exploration. Sweaty and yet chilled to the bone, I run to the yellow lights of home streaming out the windows, and grab open the door. The warm air in the house falls on me like a blanket, and I smell dinner cooking.
The first words out of your mouth were to go wash up because dinner will be on the table shortly. Not “hello” or “where have you been,” but “go wash up.” It was a subtle reminder that no matter what chaos happens outside those walls, inside this house was consistency and order.
Homes changed and became Sarasota, Vance and I became the challenge of teenage boys, yet Home was always Home. You made sure it was always so.
You and Dad raised very independent kids: we grew up, sprouted our own wings and flew. I remember getting in the U-Haul that last day as we were preparing to leave for New York. You and Dad stood arm in arm in the yard watching us go, and that was the last glimpse of my childhood home I had as I watched you in the mirror as I drove away.
You were older then, but in the mind’s eye of the kid behind the wheel, you were still 38.
Until that moment, moving away had been a dream, an abstract thought. Then suddenly you were out of sight. The wheels turned onto I-75 North, and it hit me: this is when everything changes.
The years flew by, and you and Dad because Grandparents. Homes changed, marriages and divorces happened, and even though I did not visit nearly as often as I should… as soon as I walked in the door it is 1974 again, and I am Home.
You were 38 when you gave us the news this year.
Yes, your real age was much higher, but my childhood image of my parents –so finely distilled as an image from 1974– stubbornly refused to see you as 78 years old. You are 38, and far too young for this. That kid went home and cried that night, and has many times since.
These slow goodbyes are so hard.
Until today, each time I walk out the door it has been kind of like driving away in that U-Haul so many years ago. It wasn’t a goodbye because there was always going to be a next time.
That certainty of a next visit is gone, and I am left with a need to let you know that you’ve cast a very long and strong shadow that remains. Not a day goes by that one of your southern expressions doesn’t come flying out of my mouth, not a day goes by that your very practical approach to life doesn’t affect my everyday decisions, not a day that I don’t live that wisdom you taught me.
Even when I see my own adult kids, they are always quick with a laugh, a smartass comment, or a “reality slap” upside the head when it’s needed. And I know exactly where that came from.
I love you, Mom.
And in case you don’t feel it right now, you are still 38 in my mind.