Tuesday, May 11, 2010

525,600 Minutes....

My 36th Birthday. Usually on my birthday, I tend to mournfully recount the myriad accomplishments I HAVEN'T made to date: finishing my degree, obtaining a steady teaching job, becoming a well-known and well-paid drill designer, having a well-maintained and reasonably spacious house, etc. This depressing tradition is particularly observed on milestone birthdays - 5's and 10's, mostly - where I have particular goals set forth in the naivete of my youth. This year, however, given all that has happened, I tend to be focusing on the aspects that actually matter. I have a job (3+, actually, depending on how you count), two increasingly brilliant, talented, and impressive kids, a house I'm make more and more my own every day, a WORKING car (knock wood), scores of absolutely wonderful friends whom I cherish, and an amazing girlfriend who understands and adores me every bit as much as I do her.

As happy as I am, on the whole, and as well as things are going for me now (which I'll recount later), something's missing today. The one thing missing to make this happiest of birthdays is the traditional (if exceedingly corny and often ill-timed) early morning call from my mother, singing "Happy Birthday" to me in a sappy, kid-like voice, followed by the long-winded recounting of the day of my birth.

My mother, Nancy Orton Keiser, passed away this Easter Sunday morning, April 4th, at the age of 65 . She died of congestive heart failure, which she suffered from several years back and recovered (mostly) from. It was likely a combination of factors - diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, arthritis, and being a good 300 lbs overweight, among other factors - that led to this latest episode being fatal. She died in my grandfather's house, with him at her side. It was quick, sudden, and she didn't suffer.

My mother was the most loving person I ever knew. She would always try and help in whatever way she could - for anyone. No, she was not always encouraging. She didn't always tell you what you wanted to hear, and would often make snap-judgments based on little information. As a child, whenever I saw a TV commercial for something I wanted, she'd say, "Well, save your pennies!", resulting in a disappointed pout and "hrumph!" from me. To this day, proudly painted on the change jug on my dresser is the phrase, "Mom always said, 'Save your pennies!'"

Still, her motivation behind whatever she said was ALWAYS to help. She had a unique way of distilling situations into quotable catch phrases and cliches, which one of my mothers friends referred to at her funeral as "Nancyisms". Some wholly inapplicable to the situation, but many times, offering a clarity of perspective that would allow for a fresh approach to a situation.

It was this willingness to listen to people and help them deal with their own problems (not so much the snap-judgment part), that has formed a great deal of how I relate to my friends and those I love. It's that inexhaustible, unflappable, unconditional love and willingness to help others, despite your own problems, that I have tried to emulate and has made me who I am. This is likely the biggest part of my mother that I will miss. Not always her help or advice, but the spirit and pure love behind it.

I credit her most of all for my involvement in music. Not just my LOVE of music, which I get equally from both of my parents, but my motivation to LEARN about music and create it, rather than just appreciate it. This was one area of my life where her support was absolutely unquestionable. I remember being maybe 5 years old and her trying to teach me to play our old electric organ in the living room. I didn't have the patience to endure much instruction at that age, but she taught me where 'C' was on a keyboard and where the notes went from there...and that started everything. My first music theory lesson.

This is my first birthday without her. Even as I type this, I'm tearing up, which is rather odd for me. In the month or so since she passed, I haven't allowed much time for myself to feel her absence or cry over it. You all know (or can read in my previous posts) how insanely busy I am. That, combined with the pride I take in being people's emotional 'rock', have forced me to push my feelings about my mother's passing aside for the time, and do what needs to be done, which is to be there for my family, continue to work my insane schedule to pay the bills, and fulfill the obligations I have to myself and others, like the quartet, chorus, and friends.

I don't resent this. This is not a feeling I want to deal with. I feel it's selfish, coming from myself. I'm MORE than understanding helping OTHERS deal with their feelings and being there to support THEM, but I'm not great at expressing my negative emotions to others. It's not their problem to deal with, and I don't want to burden anyone else with my problems. Sure, I'll whine and bitch about work, cars, computers, and other insignificant situations that others can easily relate to, and yet feel no real responsibility to fix, but emotional crises are different. Most of my friends are VERY supportive and sympathetic and want to help. I don't want to put them in a situation where their help may be ineffective, inadvertently dismissed, or in a moment of weakness, irrationally resented. Believe me, I know how much that stings.

In the past year I have had my car die (several times), lived in a gutted, filthy house with no heat or hot water, had my manhood, character, and parenting called into question MULTIPLE times, doubled my workload, had my income cut by more than half, nearly lost my house, had to swallow my pride and accept charity on more occasions than I am comfortable with, even walked 4 miles in the freezing rain on Christmas Day before going to work at a barely-above-minimum-wage job. All of these are insignificant. I didn't even consider these things over the past several months. This year, I lost my mother. I lost her ill-timed, sleep-interrupting calls at the crack of dawn 'just to talk'. I lost her oversimplification of complex issues to reach a conclusion that had no real world application - or often even vague similarity - to the situation. I lost her meddling into my business and relationships to try and get everyone to see things her way. I lost her obnoxious, cheesy references to embarrassing incidents from my childhood and their "supposed" relevance to my problems today.

Most of all, I lost the absolute love behind every single one of those maddening habits. As much as she drove me absolutely bananas, I NEVER felt unloved by these acts. She always had love behind it - and I knew it.

I'll get to the HAPPY birthday stuff later. Right now, I'm penciling some time into my schedule to grieve for a bit.

1 comment:

Valerie said...

My birthday was less than two weeks after Mom died. I woke up early that day, suddenly and involuntarily, and I immediately burst into tears when I realized it wasn't Mom's sweet, corny "Happy Birthday!" phone call that woke me up this year. My wonderful friends surrounded me and kept me busy all day, but whenever I was by myself for even a minute, I would lose it again. It was a very hard day for me.

Thanks for this post. I needed it. I know she knew how much we loved her.