THE “SHE” CHRONICLES
Does your life really flash before your eyes when you’re on the brink of death?
As she lay dying, the old woman’s hazy thoughts drifted back to a time and place long ago…
War-torn Germany, 1944: They had been through five years of hell, thanks to a government they wanted no part of. Nightly blackouts, screaming bombs, near misses, demolished buildings, arrests in the night…She had seen it all and was grateful to be alive, working as an apprentice chemist in a large laboratory. Then came the letter: “Your services are required. Report to Berlin immediately”. To work for a regime she despised was unthinkable, so she fled by train to Switzerland. As the border loomed ahead, she spotted a cloud of black uniforms. The Gestapo! Forced off the train at gunpoint, she and the other passengers were herded onto a bus. Next stop: a former mental hospital, now a prison, somewhere in southern Germany. She was locked away until the war ended, marking her 21st birthday in a jail cell. She hadn’t been brutalized, but it coloured her outlook on life.
As she lay dying, the old woman’s hazy thoughts drifted to a pivotal event…
Germany, 1955: She had just given birth to a daughter, through excruciating pain. The baby surprised everyone by showing up a full month early. There had been no time to drive to the preferred hospital. Instead, the child was born at the ancient local facility and the mother injured in the process. She should have had a caesarian but that didn’t happen. Subconsciously, she blamed her daughter and for decades, told anyone who would listen how giving birth had ripped her up inside and how she almost died. Finally, her daughter had had enough. “I don’t want to hear that story again. Stop blaming me for all your problems!” The old woman was shocked by this. After all, wasn’t she the one who had suffered in agony? Little did she realize that her daughter’s emotional scars were equal to her own physical ones.
As she lay dying, the old woman’s hazy thoughts turned to a foreign country…
London, Canada, 1963: She had been here four years now, having joined her military husband in his homeland. It had been a difficult adjustment, but all she ever wanted was a picture-perfect family living a beautiful life. She was obsessed with taking photos, as evidence of this utopian existence. Everything had to be staged “just so”, with not a hair out of place. She laboured intensely to perpetuate this image, cooking lavish meals in a finely decorated home, dressing her young daughter like a princess (fodder for the school bullies), even teaching her how to curtsy. She herself always appeared impeccably groomed and smiling, regardless what was actually happening behind the scenes. Nobody knew about the horrible fights, the nightmares, the tears. Her daughter was left to fend for herself during this strife. She should have given more thought to her child but was too wrapped up in her own drama.
As she lay dying the old woman’s hazy thoughts turned to a more pleasant time…
Germany, 1967: She was happy to be home again! It had been two years and life was more genteel. Spending weekends and holidays with relatives put everyone on their best behaviour. There was less turmoil. She was able to indulge her wanderlust, with daughter in tow. These trips were good for them; she became less driven, more relaxed. Mother and daughter drew closer, but it was short-lived. Over time, the daughter rebelled, chafing at her mother’s rigid standards and expectations. Vexed by her child’s insubordination, she sloughed her off for a year, to a boarding school in Switzerland. Eventually, they returned to Canada, along with the drama.
As she lay dying, the old woman’s hazy thoughts turned to another major life change…
The move to California came in 1974, after her legs had lost all circulation and she needed major surgery. Severe Raynaud’s disease and Canadian winters did not go well together! Her brother, who lived in Los Angeles, had suggested San Diego as a nice place to live. Things were set in motion and when her husband retired from the army, they headed south . She tried to convince her daughter to come along, but the girl had married young (over her strenuous objections) and wouldn’t consider it. They enjoyed the warmth and sunshine, but darkness prevailed behind closed doors. It was not until years later when her husband stopped drinking, that life became truly enjoyable, at least as much as she would let it be. Her perfectionist mindset never gave her peace.
She and her daughter kept up a regular telephone correspondence, but she only came back once, while (temporarily) separated from her husband and needing a place to live. That visit lasted six months. The daughter made several trips to California over the years. The first few days were always good, but eventually, the old animosities rose up and bitter words exchanged.
When her husband died, she was already showing signs of Alzheimer’s and couldn’t handle anything. Her daughter wanted to bring her back to Canada, but she refused, citing the cold winters. “Why can’t you move down here?” The daughter had her own life, husband and business, but put them all on hold to find the best possible care for her mother. At first, the old woman was miserable, calling every day to complain (without merit), but eventually, she learned to appreciate her caregivers and surroundings. When her daughter came for one last visit, the old woman acknowledged her efforts for the first time and even said those rare, magic words: “I love you”.
The old woman drew her last breath on Oct. 3, 2016, at 10:17 p.m. PDT
She was 92.
In case you haven’t guessed already, this is about my mother. It’s not the typical warm and fuzzy portrayal, but it is honest, as I see it. Some people just aren’t cut out to be parents, and my mother was one of them. She had enough problems of her own. That said, she did contribute positives as well. She taught me manners, grace and poise and expanded my world view through travel. My musical ear comes from her, as does my interest in arts and culture. This was a woman of many talents. Superb scratch cook and baker, decorator, seamstress, event planner, hostess. organizer, housekeeper, gardener. She even became a fitness instructor for seniors when she was in her 60s and designed a line of workout wear. It hasn’t really sunk in yet that she’s gone. I’ll be heading to California soon to settle her affairs and am bracing for that onslaught of emotion.
Have you experienced the loss of a parent?
How did you handle it?
Looking forward to your comments!