Bigger Than Life

Feature

For the last month and a half I’ve been away from social media and frankly, it’s refreshing to be free of my electronic tether. To be selfless instead of always looking for validation in the black mirror. And there’s a good chance that I won’t come back to my online life. At least not as much as I once did, because for those of you wondering what has been happening in my life, where I have been: my Mother died.

The hardest part was watching her writhe in pain and terror in the hospital. Her animal instincts on overdrive pushing her to escape the hospital bed. But she didn’t have the strength anymore. She didn’t even have to strength to sit upright anymore. Her spirit was there, but her body gave out from under her.
That was hard to watch. For one month all I could do was stand in the background as my Mother was stabbed by needles, bruised and bleeding. I witnessed her panic and fight only to be doped into submission on high octane pain killers or sedation. Because of her claustrophobia she couldn’t tolerate the breathing masks the hospital staff attempted to put on her face, so the only option was sedation in order to shove tubes down her throat.

The waiting was agonizing. Waiting to see what happens next. To hope for some miracle – the staff was good that way I suppose, providing hope in dire circumstances – but I knew early on that things didn’t look good. When she rebounded mid way, I thought she might stand a chance. Cruelly, she collapsed again and never found her way back. And it created a lot of frustration. “Why drag this out?” “Why make this harder on her than it already is?”

This very undignified end for such a powerful force… the hospital is a brutal place. Not a place of comfort or care. Which is perhaps why she chose to hang on as long as she could. I don’t think she wanted to die in the hospital.

My Mother was incredible. Of course, that’s what anyone would say about their Mom, but my Mother wasn’t typical in a Motherly way. And we didn’t get along for many years because we never really developed a familial connection. While I loved her and card for her well being, we were different personalities. Her personality was much bigger than mine. As I said in her Eulogy, she was bigger than life itself.

Early on, her father’s commission with the Army Air Corp, before there was even an Air Force, allowed an upper middle class lifestyle. She rode horses in competition as well as for fun, but as a military family does, a move to the other side of the country forced them to give up her youthful delights. She rebelled, planning to run away and convinced a neighbor to join her in a midnight ride to a meager, hand-built-by-children stable in the woods where they had stashed supplies. Unfortunately their carpentry skills lacked and the makeshift corral they built for their horses failed to hold their horses which ran off home leaving Mom and her accomplice alone in the woods. That flight to freedom ended with a long, cold walk back home where an angry father discovered the plan when the horses returned to the stables without their riders.

That tenacity and fearlessness continued throughout her life. Rules never applied to her and she became very good at asking for forgiveness instead of permission. Later, after her father died, she would use that strength to begin a quest to learn more about her father’s life in World War II. He didn’t talk about it much and when all his possessions fell into her lap, she learned that he was a hero decorated with a Silver Star among other awards. Survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Raider on the Japanese in the South Pacific. Piloting supplies in the rebuilding of Europe and the Berlin Airlift. Veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars. But it was her interest in her father’s WWII years that drove to search for lost planes in the distant and wild island county of Papua New Guinea.

She learned about a crew that flew under the command of her father that was on it’s way to the far off island county of Papua New Guinea (PNG). They had gotten lost. Crashed somewhere in the wilderness or maybe the endless ocean. So her that runaway spirit took hold and led her on many adventures dedicated to finding lost WWII aircraft. In the early-1990s she went to PNG with a handful of clues pointing to lost aircraft. And when she found one crash site, overgrown by the jungles deep in the mountains, only accessible by jumping out of a helicopter on to a pile of logs cut to create a makeshift landing pad, she discovered the long lost bones of full B-17 bomber crew – ten men – led by LT Howard Eberly, who was easily identified by a golden bracelet that had his name on it that had survived fifty years in the jungle. She was able to return the remains of those lost airmen home and, as fortune would have it, the bracelet had a match held by Eberly’s surviving widow. My Mother gave that bracelet back in person.

Mom at one time lived on the Navajo reservation in Arizona witnessing dances that “no white-man has ever seen”. She got to see Canyon de Chelly in it’s prime and cliff dwellings now closed off to most people. She spoke to Navajo vets who spent time in Vietnam and it left a deep impression on her soul.

She broke glass ceilings in a time when women weren’t necessarily promoted to executive positions in business, climbing to a corner office in the (then) Sears Tower.

In her youth she moved to Mexico City and lived there for a time. Then met some Canadian hitch hikers on the road north in California and decided to move to Vancouver where she lived and worked for a while. We still have close friends there.

While I cannot possibly do justice to her memory, in it’s entirety, because she was such a huge personality, it would be a shame to not say something about her loss. And while our relationship was rocky in the end, which I may regret as I learn more about her – oddly enough I’m learning more about her in death than I did in life – I can see the love and affection she had for me in the old photos from my early years. I’m glad I at least had the chance to tell her that I love her very much in her final moments.

Compared to those days in the hospital there is some relief in knowing that she is no longer in pain. That her endless searching and pushing for the next thing has finally been put to rest.

I will miss her laughter. Loud, and clear, and carefree. I will miss her grammar corrections and will be forever trying to improve my writing because of her. I will miss her inspiring energy and drive. I will miss arguing about politics and the long conversations about the stars and physics. I have missed the opportunity to ask her about the old days and the parts of her life that I wasn’t a part of. I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to introduce her Reggie Watts, because I really think she would have really liked his style. But I’m glad that she was my Mom. I consider myself lucky to have known such an extraordinary woman in a time when such greatness is rare.
So now, looking back over the last two months a lot has changed. The end of this bigger-than-life person has made me reconsider my place in the world and how I approach living. Perhaps that’s my Mom’s parting gift: to help me refocus and build the wherewithal to pursue things that are more meaningful. To shine light on the preciousness that life can hold. This isn’t goodbye to the online world necessarily, but definitely a step back to think about what value these mediums offer.

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