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GROUND HOG DAY 1987
. . . (3 paragraphs)
It was a particularly good time to feel this closeness to the generations that follow me, because looking at the rung above me, there is a sudden emptiness. On January 4th of this year my mother died in her sleep after a very brief illness. It is, of course, a shock to find that I have become the oldest living member of my family, but I can only feel grateful that her passing was as easy as it was. She had been rapidly losing touch with reality the last two years. When I last saw her on Thanksgiving Day she knew I was someone nice, but didn’t remember just who. And now, after 93 years of a happy and productive life, she remembers nothing.
Now is a time to think, not of the sweet confused old lady of the last few years, but of the wonderful Mother who meant so much to me for the six decades before then. There are countless memories I’d like to share to show you the kind of person she was – - let me pick just two.
One of the most difficult periods in my mother’s life was the early part of World War II. I was away at Antioch college and was seriously considering registering for the draft as a Conscientious Objector, even if it meant going to jail. My father saw the significance of Nazi Germany more than most people in this country and was trying to figure how he could best play a meaningful part in the war he considered inevitable. He and I found it difficult or impossible to talk about our differences, but somehow my mother managed to keep the family together. She could listen to and understand my reasoning while, at the same time, agreeing with my father’s assessment of the situation. I’m sure that my being able to discuss my viewpoint with her, rather than feel I had to defend it, had an influence on my final decision to join the Merchant Marine where I was part of the war effort but didn’t have to carry a gun.
I have always felt close to my Mother. As I became an adult, responsible for making my own decisions, I wanted to share my successes with her. I wish I had saved her responses to my first published paper, my first promotion, my first book. Somehow she managed to find exactly the right words to tell me how pleased and proud she was without falling into the trap on either side: the one where you read between the lines, “There were so many things wrong with you as a child that I‘m really surprised you did so well,” and the other which you interpret as, “Since you’re my child, you’re obviously wonderful and this honor is only to be expected.”
As I relive my many memories, I realize that I was wrong to say, “Now is a time to think, not of the sweet confused old lady of the last few years . . .” For during the 10 years since my father died, I have had an opportunity to repay in some small way the love with which she cherished me. From being a shoulder to lean on, to giving advice, to making decisions for her, my sister and I made the gradual transition to having to take complete legal charge. We, her children, had become the parents; she, the parent, had become the child. The experience was painful at times, but it has knit us closer together. Thus, even in her final years my mother was giving something to her family. AMEN.
. . . (lots more paragraphs)
(For more news from 1986, which may have been included in my GHD letter, see this article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune.)