Ever since I was little I felt like the Cinderella in the family. Whenever mom needed something to be done more often than not it was little Peacemaker’s job. When I was five, I was the one walking three blocks to the post office to buy stamps. Even though I had six older brothers and sisters and three younger ones, I was always picked to take out the garbage at a moment’s notice. And many times, all the while I’m doing what I’m told I’m being told that I’m going too slow, not working hard enough, not walking fast enough, or not paying any attention to what I’m doing. I’ll be told that I’m going too fast and I need to slow down, I’m moving too fast and getting sloppy, or I’m pushing too hard and I’m going to break it.
If it was Thanksgiving Day I would be the one that would have to go to the store to pick up a carton of eggs or a gallon of eggnog. When I was ten years old and the family was making plans to travel out of town to attend a family wedding, I was the one that had to travel back home a few days early to watch and maintain the homestead. If it was the Fourth of July I would be the one that would have to leave during the fireworks to pick up somebody arriving late at the airport. If it was Christmas and somebody forgot the batteries, it was my job to get them before all the gifts were opened.
I’m really not complaining. I’ve already been there and I’ve already done that. I’ve complained enough already. I complained as I walked to the post office and I complained as I drove the car to the airport. When I was told that I was too slow or I was too fast, I would complain that maybe they should get somebody else to do the job. And then I would complain about the slap upside my head. Complaining about the Cinderella treatment only got you the Rodney King treatment. I felt like I was Rodney King before I ever knew there even was a Rodney King. So I did my best to keep manifestations of my disapproval to a minimum.
But I will admit that going through all that in the past, all I could think was that I was unfairly given a heavier burden than my siblings. Why do I need to do everything and work so much harder than the next guy? I wasn’t better at taking out the trash or unloading all the groceries needed to provide for a family of ten kids for two weeks. I wasn’t more adept at walking to the only grocery store open on a Thanksgiving Day morning and standing in a checkout line that extended all the way out to the loading docks. When I was little I never heard anybody step up and say something like, nobody stands in line on Thanksgiving Day like little Peacemaker over there.
Whatever the reason I became johnny on the spot, ready to step up and help whenever help was needed. If somebody in the family needed someone to help them move an apartment or somebody needed to drive across country, rarely did I turn anybody down. I have learned to feel guilty if I wasn’t out there helping one of my brothers or sisters. My family learned to depend on me and I learned to help them. And sometimes I really hated the fact that I could never say no even though the rush to do a favor wasn’t always reciprocated.
Two weeks ago my mom went to the hospital in an ambulance complaining of severe pain from the waist down. Her three year battle with ovarian cancer had entered its final inevitable stage. As soon as I got the news I was there at the hospital. I met my brother in the emergency room and the two of us waited with our mother. Five hours after she arrived she was admitted. Although she walked to the ambulance, it was the last time she would ever walk without assistance again. After ten days in the hospital she went to a nursing home under hospice conditions. Three days after that, my mom passed away early on a Saturday afternoon. She was finally free from the pain that sent her to the hospital just two weeks earlier.
While we sat in the emergency room waiting for the results of all the tests that were being performed, my brother and I talked to our mother. We all knew what was happening. We spent the time asking about mom’s final wishes. She gave us instructions and we asked more questions. We asked about her last will and testament. She told us to contact her attorney. My brother didn’t know who the attorney was. I told him I knew. I had to take her there more times than I could count. We asked who the executor of her estate was. She said it was me. We asked who she trusted with her power of attorney. She named me. And so every time there was a discussion with her doctors, nursing staff, and hospital representative, I was there. When we had to make arrangements to find hospice care for our mother, it was my responsibility to make sure we found the right place for her. I signed every piece of paper determined to prove myself worthy of the trust that my mother placed in me.
When my mother finally passed away yesterday I was sitting in the room with her. I was determined to be there with her when that last moment comes. Another brother had driven in from out of town and was sitting in the room with us. Finally, unresponsive from all the medical treatments to keep the intense pain away my mother took a final breath and then her body went totally limp. I kissed her hand and told her that I loved her. The staff that rushed into the room ushered us into the hallway and we started calling the rest of the family.
When we were allowed to return to the room the atmosphere was thick with sadness. I did my best to help lighten the mood in the room. My brother was not very well prepared for our mom’s departure and his sorrow was overwhelming him. Family wanted to focus on the loss. That was natural. But we had to remember the positives of sharing our lives with a mother so wonderful. We started sharing stories about our mother that were sure to bring smiles to people’s faces. We talked about how she was now in the welcoming arms of family that passed before her and her dog that she loved so much that was put down not too long ago suffering from illnesses related to his own old age. Some of us felt better. Some of us couldn’t shake the grief and needed more time to come to terms.
When she went to the hospital she wanted to make sure she kept her address book handy. We pulled it out of the night stand by her bed and started making a list of people we needed to contact to share the news. We each took turns thumbing through the book. When I got my turn at the book, I couldn’t help but notice that on the first page that listed personal information regarding the book’s owner, my mom listed me as her emergency contact. It was only then did I realize the honor of being selected to serve my mother and my family.
The next few days will be hard. Funeral arrangements have to be made. Family will be coming in from out of town and we have to bring them up to speed on everything that has happened and everything that has yet to happen. Even though my mother picked me to carry out her final wishes I will have to discuss and plan with all my brothers and sisters. We will come to a majority agreement that honors our mother’s final wishes. The next few days will be awfully busy and challenging. But like everything in life, this too will fall into the past. We will collect ourselves, move on and pay homage to our mother’s memory by remembering all the lessons in life she has taught us. I will remember one lesson in particular, that it was and will always be an honor and a privilege to be my mother’s keeper.