Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Stepfather's Death

Recently I attended a funeral for a lovely man who married my mother years ago. Then they buried him next to my mother.

We didn’t get along well for many years – by the time I met him I was already married, and living overseas, so it’s not as if knew him as a stepfather. When I had first called my mother and told her I was getting married (at the altogether unreasonable age of 19 to a man I barely knew), my mother, who was in a relationship with the man she would later marry (we can call him Jerry, because that was his name), said, “I don’t want to get married again. I’m happy with things the way they are.”

“Fabulous!” I said, or I didn’t, but I was a traditionalist, partly from having seen both of my parents do the multiple marriage thing. Several years after I married, far from family and with just two drunk witnesses, my mother announced that she and Jerry were indeed getting married.

I find this often happens after I get married. Suddenly people who were happy with the status quo just minutes ago decide to change it. Probably because I make such a fantastic looking bride.

They had the church wedding of Mom’s dreams, and I was there, running around like a crazy person, organizing and putting people in their proper places, because no one else was stepping up to do it. That’s me – show me something that’s not being handled, and I start handling it.

That was my Mom’s fourth marriage, and last. It’s nice when they find someone and settle down, isn’t it?

When they retired they moved to Montana and began an idyllic life amongst nature. Since they were from LA, this was a major change, but they loved it.

I’ve always been the difficult child. Obstreperous, imperious, demanding, wanting people to like me while simultaneously shoving them away because I knew they’d let me down in the end. So my family relationships were usually difficult – I know my Mom tried to like me, and I’m sure Jerry did too, for her sake, but I didn’t make things any easier. My siblings were better received, and that irritated me, which made it worse.

But it all works out in the end, doesn’t it? When my mother got cancer (or came down with cancer, or contracted cancer) I started making trips to visit, driving from here to there in a day, unless I blew a tire (once), or ran into a deer (once), and then I would stay overnight in Spokane or wherever the poor deer had died, and finish the trip the next day. I’d stay and help out as I could, which mostly consisted of visiting with Mom, because there wasn’t anything to do. Jerry had become Husband Of The Year in one fell swoop. He waited on her hand and foot, made sure she had whatever she needed and wanted, and treated her with the most tender loving care.

This made me most happy.

When Mom died I was there, and my sister was there. I called to her from Mom’s bedside, and she came in, and then we got Jerry from upstairs, where my sister had insisted he go to get some rest.

I’d like to not ever see that kind of grief on someone’s face again.

Jerry has four kids of his own, so between them he had 7. I made a few trips to Montana after Mom’s death, by myself, to help him to deal with Mom’s things. I spent days in her office – she kept everything she’d ever received. On another trip we dealt with her clothes, and with other artifacts. Once my husband and I visited as part of a vacation, just to spend some time with him.

For one visit on my own I had taken the train – my husband was worried about ability to have incidents on the way. But somehow I injured my knee, and after only a few hours of work in Mom’s office, I couldn’t stand on it, nor could I move it. We took me to a doctor, who confirmed it was my patella – I’m not put together particularly well, and often things don’t work as they should.

Jerry wanted to take care of me after that. He wanted to feed me (which he’d been doing anyway), and he wanted me to rest, and he would take care of everything else. This was the side of him that I’d seen when my Mom was sick. I almost considered hanging out with him for a few days just so my every need could be met while he doted over me.

When Jerry died I wasn’t there. His children were with him, at least some of them, but the last time I talked to him he was happy. He had gone to Oklahoma, where his son lived, to get treatment for the cancer that had returned, but he came down with pneumonia, and his cancer had spread. He went into assisted living from the hospital. I’d call and talk with him, and while at first he talked of going back to Montana, he soon realized that wouldn’t happen. One of the last times I talked to him he was happy, said he was playing bingo, which he’d never played before, and he had a lift to his voice.

Maybe he was happy he’d be with the love of his life again.

It was a really beautiful day for a funeral. I miss him, but I know he’s no longer missing my Mom, so that comforts me.