I've not blogged for a while. That's because my mother, Marguerite Peoples Jacobs, died earlier this month. She was the kind of 84-year-old I'd like to grow to be if I'm so lucky. She was unflaggingly vibrant, intellectually engaged, politically and morally committed, and impossibly active. She was unstoppable. Two weeks before she died she was still doing her regular volunteer gig at the Red Cross Blood Drive -- not to mention her board meetings, service organizations, book club, travel group, and a lot more that I couldn't keep up with. One day a few months ago I telephoned her and she said, sweetly, that she couldn't talk because she had four meetings that day.
I couldn't possibly even begin to describe my Mom in this space. Suffice it to say that she raised four children single-handedly after a divorce, earned her bachelor's degree at night after working as a Registered Nurse, built a career running a program at the County Health Department, spearheaded social causes (she co-ran a black voter registration drive, and co-founded local chapters of two national organizations) and was unofficial psychiatrist, mentor and confidant to a stream of colleagues and friends and relatives, including me. She was my first and greatest heroine. The things my siblings and I believe and do are a direct tribute to her.
I am telling you this not just because of my love for my mother. I am telling you this because, after she died and I found myself alone in a hospital room with her body, I was able to weep not just with grief but with gratitude for her being my Mom -- because I had no regrets. We had loved each other fully over these years as we both grew older, had said everything that needed to be said, had acted on every tender and aching impulse that needed action between mother and child. We left nothing on the cutting-room floor. At least nothing that I know of. And so I'm lucky enough to now hurt purely for her death, purely for the physical loss of her, without the added suffering of "what I should have said" or "what I wish I had done." I was fortunate to have this, too, with my father in the years before he recently died.
So let me keep this short and tell you what I'm really trying to tell you: Losing somebody you love is hard enough. Don't add to the loss by squandering the opportunities you have, right now, to be with them. Whatever "be with them" may mean to you: saying what you most need to say, doing what you need to do, making things right, clarifying what's wrong, fighting for something, letting go of something. Being true. Not "true" in the sense of forced loyalty -- who needs that? -- but in the sense of being faithful to what you'll be able to live with after they have died. What you don't want is to get the fateful phone call and to feel, thereafter, an abyss of regret for what you wish you had done.
My Aunt Claire, a reverend who formally eulogized my mother, said it at the service: Do you need to say, do or feel something with someone you love? Do it now. Do it right now. It's a cliche because it's true.
I'm relatively new to this business of having my parents die. But even I know that my Aunt Claire's counsel is good advice. If I were you, I'd take it.