I’ve written here before about the plight of my mother’s illness, and now, I write of her memory. Since this is a public grieving blog, I feel it is appropriate to memorialize her here, along with my husband Jon.
My mother, Michaelina Bellamy, passed away Saturday morning from complications due to Acute Myeloid Leukemia. She was 59 years old. She fought very hard for over a year, and in the end, was so worn out from all the medications, the chemo and the illness itself, that her body could not take any more. She did not want to die when she did, but I know she is in Heaven, with the Savior she believed in and all her family members before her. She is no longer in pain, and I can imagine her with a full head of her beautiful blond hair. I believe this with all of my heart.
I’ve been trying to write about my mom since she left this Earth and finally found peace. It’s been difficult. When I think of her, I try not to see her lying in the ICU, pale and barely alive, breathing on a ventilator. I hate that memory. I hate that I keep thinking I need to call her, or run by the hospital for something. Last night, when I drove by along the freeway, I realized I had no need to go back there again. As much as I hated having to see her in there, it broke my heart. I have voice mails from her, from a month ago, where she’s asking me to bring her a smoothie. I wish I had the opportunity to do that again.
And of course, as is the nature of the beast called Grief, my emotions have been all over the place. Some moments, I’m OK, and everything is Business As Usual. Then, out of no where, the idea of her missing something she would like, or the daunting task of going through all her things brings it all upfront. I’m crippled with the idea that she’s gone. And she’s gone for good.
I know what I believe. I believe I’ll see her again, and I really do look forward to that day. But after grieving for my husband for the past 4 years, I realize that I need to be here, taking care of my girls and holding down the fort until they can handle things themselves. I have learned it is my place to follow through with my life, no matter where it takes me.
However, there is a huge hole in my life now, where my mom once was. It’s hard to fathom that I won’t be able to call her phone and talk to her anymore. It’s hard to believe that I won’t ever see her sing live on stage, or play with her grandchildren. It’s hard to accept that she is simply gone, even if it’s to a much better place. It hurts, and it’s hard.
My mother wasn’t always orthodox. She didn’t spend Sunday nights baking cookies or making school lunches. She mostly worked through the weekends, and slept in past the first bell. She was prettier and younger-looking than the moms of some of my friends, and thus, she was never quite accepted by the “PTA Mothers.” When I was a kid, I resented that. I didn’t want a mom who could sing and was on tour all the time. I wanted a mom who took us to ball games and was up for breakfast before we were. I wanted a mom who asked me about my day after school and ate dinner with us at the table, instead of serving us and rushing out the door to a gig.
But that wasn’t the type of mom she was. Instead, she was ambitious, but kind. She was motivated, but sometimes distracted. She had the greatest sense of humor. And she was, more than anything: loving. Even though I spent a lot of my childhood waiting for her to come home from being on the road, I always missed her the same. When she was home, things felt better. I could be mad at her for leaving, but so happy when she was finally home. I was always old enough to know what I was missing, but I was so proud of her accomplishments.
She could do anything. She crocheted blankets, sewed costumes, cooked amazing meals, baked amazing pies, canned preserves (her plum jam was to die for!), fixed anything electronic, (Her first MOS in the military was mechanical. Believe it or not, she was going to train to fix planes), and when we were sick, she always seemed to know what to do. She almost never doubted herself, and sometimes, that got her into trouble. If she didn’t doubt herself, she didn’t doubt others either. And she learned some harsh lessons about who she could trust with her career, as well as with her children.
Our relationship was hot and cold when I was a teenager. I was resentful of her distance, and I would push her away when she would come home. Yet, I always wanted her to be my Mom. There were times when she thought being my friend was better than fighting with me all the time. I chose to resent her for that, too. She tried to get it right, and I didn’t let her. Her methods weren’t always good, but she did try.
It wasn’t until I had my own child and my first marriage failed miserably, that I finally comprehended her perspective on our own family. She tried her best to keep us afloat, while my father’s politics kept us living hand-to-mouth. I have no bitterness towards either of them for that, but now that I’ve seen how hard it is when two people have different ideas for what a home life should be like, I don’t blame her for trying to hold up the roof. That meant that she went on the road, some years for 48 weeks at a time. We weren’t starving, and my sisters and I always lived in nice houses in better neighborhoods. But I never quite understood the struggle she had just to make sure it stayed that way. I have nothing against my father for this. For what it’s worth, he did his best, too. Just in a different way.
I blamed her for a lot of things that I had no understanding of. The dynamic between us in my twenties was strained because she refused to be blamed for what she thought were the best decisions, and I was too immature to realize you can’t go on blaming your parents for a past you wish you had but didn’t. And when I finally grasped that, our relationship began to heal. I let her into my life, and she finally answered me without bitterness.
She was in my corner for every struggle I had as a single mom, and after I remarried. She took care of my oldest when my second daughter was born, and helped me regularly, whenever it was needed. She was there when my husband collapsed in our bedroom and protected my youngest from all the scary paramedics and police officers traipsing through our apartment that early morning. And in the year that followed, she saved me from losing my mind. She cooked, cleaned, babysat and even just held me. She slept in our bedroom with me during the first month after Jon died. She refused to leave me alone. She petitioned people to pray for me, and often prayed over me herself. Those were some of the hardest and most painful days of my life, and she supported me through all of them. I could never ask for more than what she gave, and she gave more than I could ever ask for. And I never had to ask.
I think that’s the hardest for me, now. The fact that someone, who is such an integral part of my identity, has passed is incredibly difficult for me to process. You’d think it would be easier after losing Jon, but it is its own sort of hard. Similar, but different. I have to figure out how to deal with it on my own, without the benefit of her experience or wisdom. Everything in my life is really up to me, even though it technically has been for years. I still feel like I’ve landed once again blind in an unfamiliar landscape. Nothing is impossible, but without her, it’s going to be difficult.
I know have a loving family, and wonderful friends. I know that I will be blessed by their support and love, along with my sisters. I am so grateful for that.
And mostly, I’m grateful for the fact that a young woman, 24 years old and single, decided to have me regardless of what anyone thought. She was on the verge of becoming a star, performing with celebrity after celebrity, dancing and singing on the Las Vegas Strip, for US Presidents and recording with the prestigious Airmen of Note. My existence put a pause on that life and she didn’t care. She wanted me anyway, and welcomed me, despite the difficulties it presented. I was wanted and loved. Always.
My last real words to her were of gratitude. I made sure that she knew how grateful I am to be her daughter. I made sure to tell her how much I appreciate her sacrifices for me over the years. I plan on living my life with Joy and Triumph, just as she did. It is the least I can do for everything that she has done for me.
I love you, Mom. Thank you for everything.
June 13, 1952 – April 7, 2012