In memory of my Mom, Theresa Belanger, 8/6/22 ~ 3/18/15
My Mom was a great big Worry-Wart! She could – and did – always imagine the worst! If one of us kids was 5 minutes late, then we must be dead in a ditch somewhere. She worried about my friends, where I was, what I was doing, my driving, my boyfriend (she eventually came around on that one, after we married!). She always feared for the very worst. It strained our relationship when I was in my teens, but once I became a mother myself I began to understand that she was just walking that sword’s edge between love and fear that every mother must learn to navigate. Whatever fears she had for us kids, underneath there was love.
Mom was also a storyteller. She had a million of them. During these last years she would take great pleasure in telling stories about her childhood in Quebec. How she messed around in her sister’s school book bag one day, and ended up spilling black ink all over everything inside of it (including her hands). How she tried to ride on a horse bareback in a wet swimming suit one day, and ended up sliding right off. How one of her brothers tried to put their dog to sleep and the next day the dog came walking back into the house as if nothing had happened. How her siblings called her “Marie Brailleuse” (Mary crybaby) because as one of the youngest of twelve kids she knew how to use tears to her advantage!
But my favorite is the one about moving here to Arizona with my Dad in 1955. While they were already living in the States by then, they were up in Germantown, Ohio – so much closer than Arizona would be to Quebec, which she never stopped calling home. She had three little babies and the thought of moving so far away from home and family scared her. Also, she knew that Phoenix was in the desert. In her mind she pictured Sahara-like sand dunes. Whenever she told that story, I would tell her she was so brave to come here. That, in her shoes, if that’s what I’d pictured Arizona to be like, I would have told Dad, “see ya later!” Of course Dad called all the shots and “see ya later” wasn’t even a possibility in her mind. So she came. It was the longest journey she’d ever made – until now. And when she got here she exclaimed, “They call this a desert? Look at all the green trees!”
Mom was also extremely stubborn and, I think, more than a little frightened of dying. That’s how and why she managed to keep on going to dialysis three days a week, every week, for more than twelve years – since she was 80 years old. Much as she hated it, in her mind it beat the alternative. She got twelve more birthdays, twelve more Christmases, and five more great-grandkids out of the bargain. She also had to endure the loss of many loved ones, diminishing independence and physical decline.
This last year has been especially hard for her. Her eyesight was failing, she was no longer able to do the few things that used to bring her pleasure – knitting, reading, jigsaw puzzles. Dialysis was keeping her alive, but her body was getting weaker and weaker and her mind was slipping, too. Toward the end, she was simply unable to get out of bed. That little Energizer Bunny inside of her just finally ran out of juice.
Recently, she’d been dreaming of Dad a lot (he passed in 2008). And one day not long ago, driving her home from dialysis, she told me Cameron (my son who passed in 2004) was following the car, right outside her window, and he had angel wings. And then, just a few weeks ago, Mom excitedly told me that her sister Carmen (who passed away three years ago) had just been to visit her. Carmen, Mom’s older sister, was a nurse and she was Mom’s safety net – the one she wanted around when she had a baby or a surgery or whenever she felt scared. Whenever Carmen was around, Mom felt safe. So I knew with Carmen nearby, she’d feel safe crossing over.
The day after seeing Carmen, she was simply too weak to go to dialysis, and she never made it back. She hung on for three weeks as her body slowly shut down and her consciousness withdrew. But it was gentle. It was peaceful. She wasn’t in pain. On the 18th of March, as a hospice music therapist played guitar and sang “Always” at her bedside, Mom gently let go and embarked on her next journey.
And I know that right about now, she’s over there with Dad, Carmen, Ray, Cameron, and all the other friends and family who made this last long journey before her. They’re hugging each other. They’re swapping stories. For once, she’s not feeling afraid. She’s feeling a peace she never knew during this life. And she’s exclaiming, “They call this Death? Just look at all this Light!”
Godspeed, Mom. Hold a space for us. We’ll all see you again, soon enough.