My mother, Preta A. Phillips, died one week ago at age 77 on September 27, 2012. I am the oldest of her three daughters; I've not heard from my sisters in many years. They don't know that one of my daughters, their niece, died two years ago. I don't know about my niece or great niece. My father died 27 years ago. Preta reached out to me in 2008 when she had no one else.
Bringing her to live near me was a difficult move; she'd made my life painful for so long, and I didn't want to bring that pain into my new life with my own family. When I began to have children and voiced my concern about making the mistakes she'd made, my aunts--my father's sisters--told me to just be the mother I always wanted to have. I had freedom to be like the parents on "Leave it to Beaver" and "My Three Sons" and "The Waltons." I had permission to love my girls with all my breath and heart. I could love them as much as I wanted to. I would never tell them I didn't want their love. I am free not to feel afraid anymore.
However, I learned to care for her with a bit of distance. Two years ago when my daughter Annie died, my oldest daughter took over taking calls from the care facility Preta lived in. She'd pass me the information when I could better "hear" it. My other three daughters took turns going with me to see her; I couldn't do it alone.
Recently my mother had begun receiving hospice services after returning from the hospital a couple of weeks ago. My last visits with her were probably the best we'd ever had. I'd made a quilt for her in August for her birthday; she appeared to like it. It will be buried with her, covering her forever.
On the last day I saw her, she was in much pain and said she was so sick. Her aides and I tried to make her comfortable; I told Preta the Hospice Austin team were starting up to care for her and that they were sending pain medicine over immediately, her new bed had already arrived. When she'd calmed a bit, I put the TV on for her, something we used to do together--watch movies. When a facility nurse asked Preta how she was doing, she ignored her. She looked at me then slowly raised her arms and held them out toward me, wordlessly. I bent toward her, she hugged me and gave me a kiss. I told her I'd be back the next day. She put the sheet and blanket over her head, as if ready to sleep. I found out later that afternoon, she refused jello and asked for a piece of cake--a rare treat on the diabetic diet she was on. She ate it just fine. When the phone rang at 1:ooam, I knew she was gone.
Perhaps she did me justice by making me strong enough to be an advocate for my girls whenever they needed me. If I didn't make an A or even didn't have a turn to read in elementary school, she'd head straight for the teacher's home (we lived on an Army base) and ask why. Perhaps that's where my love of school really began, where the seed was planted that Preta believed was my key to the future--an excellent education.
Her last real hug may be my first step toward forgiveness...and being forgiven. Goodbye, Preta. We both did the best we could.