There is no roadmap or plan you can follow when you deal with the death of a parent. Everyone is different. I am learning as I go. Mostly, I’m learning about my mother, things I never knew, things I did know but didn’t comprehend, and confirmation of the things I did know. That last I have had to fight for. Many opinions float around among loved ones, but few facts, and I am a person who gets a fact straight and hangs on to it for dear life, no matter what. That’s my old journalism training — get the facts right. I dig for the reasons and the “whys” and the justifications. Most stuff, Mom was pretty transparent about. Some things, I don’t think even she knew the layers upon layers of self-deception she wrapped around herself and Dad as they grew older.
In my last visit to Mom and Dad before Dad died, it was clear that they were aging, and that the house and farm was desperate for some needed fixes, just basics like a roof, bathroom repairs, general de-clutter and cleanup, replacement of worn things about the house, and an outdoor cleanup. To say they were entrenched in the way they did things and in their absolute resistance to any changes would be putting it mildly. I blame this on us as children. We should have been quietly helping all along, fixing things, putting things right, helping get stuff fixed up, cleaned up, picked up. Had we been involved from the start of their aging process, I think it would have been easier for them to say, “yes” when one of us asked to repair or replace something. Part of the problem was the happiness they had with each other. They were truly devoted to one another and kept each other company as well as consulted with one another on everything. I found Mom was having difficulty making decisions after Dad died. It was clear that decision-making process involved bouncing ideas off him, digesting his response, and then getting the decision right. Without sounding board of Dad, Mom struggled with even everyday decisions. Over time she did get better but she began to rely on family members, a foreign concept, and some family members did not realize how influential and important their responses were. I for one did give her bad advice and later we discussed it and knew it wasn’t the right move. But I am wondering if that happened with other family members, too, and now after her death, going through paperwork, I am realizing that there were many errors made in trying to get her life back together after it was ripped apart by Dad’s death. And I feel that in trying to “settle” things, we are tearing down the things that my parents spent their entire lives building up. I hate this feeling because I am fighting alone against many others to keep her legacy alive — it’s as though no one else felt she was valuable but me. I know that is not true but it is hard to not feel that way, especially with the cattle problem, where I have been getting one bad thing happening after another. It is astonishing that the one part of her life where she gave the most to others is turning out to be the part that is an absolute stone wall in terms of help. This is a person who gave DECADES to the Angus breeders and owners and juniors not only in Washington state, but throughout the west. And so far I have had wonderful assistance from exactly two people from that group, and while I’ve had valuable phone time with others, it is a mystery to me that there has been no offered help with the herd.
More things learned: one thing really surprised me. Mom really did not care about some things we all thought were pretty important to her. They were a means to an end. The really important thing was the end result, not the means. She didn’t care much about some stuff after Dad died, and probably long before he died, but she couldn’t explain it to us without us “not listening” to her. I regret deeply not having a heart to heart discussion about a couple of issues in her life I should have been much more sympathetic about. I know, now, that there were reasons she did what she did, and that those reasons weren’t what I thought. They were a different set of facts behind some decisions. That actually makes it easy for me to do what I have to do, but on some issues I am still left to try and decipher what she would have wanted me to do. I know that she was a bit forgetful, and a bit out of touch with reality but who among us is not, at times? I really feel it was more about realizing she had little time left and wanted to pack a lot in before it was time. I think she was robbed a tiny bit of her time, but she was fading in the fall, it was a gradual decline, even before the family wedding in August, and as we faced holidays and colder weather, I knew in my heart that she was trying to set things straight and organize the important things for us. I really feel, now, a few months after her death, that she DID provide for the important things. And the rest, things without any directions or instructions or lists left for us, were not important. And that I have to set aside as fact, and go on.