“What a long strange trip its been,” so the song goes by the Grateful Dead, my favorite, live rock ‘n’ roll band. They were good when they were good, but, oh my, they were really bad when they were bad. That didn’t happen often, but when it did, “Katie, bar the door!”
I’ve been thinking of this phrase a lot lately with Mother’s Day coming and going; remembering my mom. The fractured relationship we shared based on my own driving selfishness. My mom was a hero in so many ways. Her life was a huge challenge. She was married to my celebrated dad for more than two decades before he decided to leave and marry another. Pop was to remarry my mom again before divorcing her yet again. Pop was to marry four times over the course of his life. Mom was to never marry again. She was a one-man woman, as they say.
When my mom passed more than a decade ago, we did not have a good relationship. She tried, but I rebuffed her time and time again. At her death-bed, though, I was able to offer some form of comfort, perhaps, to aid her release from this material world. She turned to me with those lovely brown eyes, as she lay in that hospital in Reno, Nevada, and I quietly told her it was OK to go; that she was loved and surrounded by her three sons. She adored my two brothers, as she should have, because they were not as selfish as I, and, indeed, they had that special bond that exists between a mother and a son.
I whispered that she was the greatest mom the world had ever witnessed. She smiled and, I swear, she nodded and then quietly passed.
It must be noted that my brothers and I did not see eye-to-eye during this turbulent time of loss. They did tolerate my oftentimes bouts of immaturity but, obviously, did not entirely trust my intentions or behaviors.
Then, 10 years passed and my dad got lung cancer. Now, he was going to leave us. I knew instantly that I had a chance to do better; to love as is and not want for anything. He was my dad and I loved him just like mom. I prayed to my God to help me be of service to my dad, his wife and my brothers and their family. I prayed to be a support for my wife and two kids, who adored my dad; their grandfather. I prayed and prayed and prayed. It worked.
I behaved like a gentleman. I was better. One day in pop’s hospital room, we were sitting side-by-side in those awful hospital chairs they wheel in for family. Just me and pop, alone, quiet. He gently sighed and put his hand in mine, not to hold, but just on top, palm down, cupped, almost like a child.
“I love you,” he said. “You, too,” I replied back. “I’m going to beat this thing,” he continued, his voice getting stronger. “And we are going to be back on that course playing golf.”
He died a few days later.
This time, my brothers, family and friends were united. This time, I had acted like a man and it was all because of my mother, Nancy Mygatt Whitmore; a woman of character and sensitivity. In fact, the best mother this world has ever witnessed. Godspeed, Mom, I couldn’t have done this without you.