In memory of Leonora K. Thurman 6/28/1920 – 10/13/1999
Today is the anniversary of my Mom’s death day. It is a day I set aside every year to do things she would have enjoyed. She last visited me in August 1999 to see me on my birthday. We went to the Art Museum and saw several Monet paintings as well as paintings from other impressionists. The stairs were difficult for her and being new to the museum and fairly new to Seattle, I didn’t know about the elevator there. Even though her walking was shaky, she insisted we walk all over downtown Seattle in order for me to find something I’d like for my birthday. Shopping was always something she loved, walking up and down each aisle. Where I’m a get in, find what I want and get out kind of shopper.
While here on her trip, she had wanted to go to the tour at Boehm’s, a chocolate store built in Issaquah in 1956. I’m not sure if she had been there before or just heard of it. Julius Boehm built an Edelweiss Chalet, an Alpine Chapel, the store and factory based on his love of art, classical music, sports, mountain climbing and life in his homeland of Austria. He escaped Hitler by skiing over the Swiss Alps. I was so new to Seattle and due to work constraints and feeling unsure of driving in the area, we didn’t go then. So, today I finally took the tour of the factory as well as going to the observation deck to see the view of Snoqualmie Falls, a very famous site in this area. Of course if I would have known that was the last time I’d see her somewhat healthy, and only a few months before her death, I would have taken all the time I needed to show her all the sights she wanted to see.
On June 06, 2008, in Entertainment Weekly, my entertainment “bible”, Owen Gleiberman wrote a review of the movie “When did you last see your father”. I recently watched it and referenced it in another blog post. I like to watch movies and in lieu of having someone to watch and discuss it with, I will instead look up the reviews in Entertainment weekly and see if they saw the movie the same way I did, or not. In the review he states that it “ taps into the conflicting feelings so many of us can have about parents who haunt us because they’re difficult, which is part of what makes them irreplaceable.” I loved the movie, and of course I loved my Mom. And this statement truly reflects the relationship I had with her. Growing up we had quite an argumentative relationship. Both she and my father had painful childhoods, and they were quite inward, quiet and restrained, as well as being conservative Republicans. I know my Mom loved me and at the same time, she was quite critical of me; and looking back, I see she held quite a bit of fear for my health, my choices, and my path.
I’m sure I was quite the handful though. Not only was I a severe asthmatic, in and out of emergency rooms, hospitals and often home from school, but I was also remembering other lifetimes and speaking of them, from early childhood, seeing Spirits and other dimensions and talking to Christ and “the gang” (as I called them) in the back yard. At age eight, I told my parents that their Presbyterian church didn’t work for me anymore, and amazingly they let me go and begin my journey through all the world religions, and many spiritual paths. To my father’s horror, I came home from a semester in college, where I was learning all the truth about the REAL US history, all the things they never told you in conservative schools and sharing information from my new socialist friend. I was always fearless, outgoing, noisy and moving…dancing, singing, emoting…quite the extreme opposite of my folks. So I’m not surprised by her fear for me, or her criticism. It is a trap that we often fall into, as parents, and I know I have been guilty of it as well. But this pattern led me to feel at times that I would not miss her when she died.
I have many fond memories of my time with her, from the delightful birthday parties she threw for me and how much she honored our birthdays, to the clothes she designed and had made for me, the freshly baked cookies waiting for me when I got home from school, all the volunteering she did to help at the hospital and to any friend or neighbor in need. These are three of my favorite memories. The first one I love because it was a time of no resistance or defense, just pure unguarded enjoyment of each other. We shared an afternoon spent on her L-shaped living room couches, her in one, me in the other, with our feet meeting at the corner table, our heads at the other ends so we could see each other as we ate candy and chatted like school girls. The second one I love because it was a time where I truly showed up to help my Mom, be there for her and give back to her the support she had given me most of my life. I didn’t always do this when the need arose, so I”m thankful that this time I did. This situation came after she had paid a neighbor teenager to trim her once bountiful fruit trees in the backyard, and he had ended up decimating them. She had called me in tears and so I had driven 60 miles to come down and find her in the backyard, devastated, as she viewed this horror scene of trees destroyed, never to bear fruit again. We both sat in silence and grieved this loss of life together. The third memory was of a dark night in northern CA., in McKinleyville, when she had come to visit me. I had trained myself to walk the forest at the end of the block, in the pitch-black night, without any light at all. I led her along the trail, with her hand in mine and she stated, “You have always been so much more courageous in the world than I have been”. I treasure this memory, as it was a rare occasion of affection and honest heartfelt acknowledgment of my character as well as a window into her interior sense of self.
Of course I have many other memories that were not so great, and these seemed to at times overwhelm all the rest. So, I was totally unprepared for what it felt like to be with her the last few days of her life, two while she was conscious and two while she lay there unconscious, as I chanted over her body and waited for my son to arrive so we could pull the plug and say goodbye. I was even less prepared to make that long journey through clearing out her house in order to sell it. Each cupboard, each box, each shelf, each drawer told a story. I learned of her protective nature as friends told me that no matter what different name I was going by, what new spiritual path I was walking, what new relationship I was exploring, though my Mom might have voiced her criticisms and concerns for me to me, she only spoke to them of me with pride and joy. I learned of her immense love for me in her concern for my well being even on her deathbed and by the drawers of all the letters and cards she had kept that my son and I had given to her. I learned of her true love that got away from the letters he had sent from the war, and how much verbal abusive she had suffered from my father, even in the beginning of their relationship, in letters he had sent from the war. I learned more details of her painful childhood in conversations with a childhood friend of hers. And I learned even more of her love of cooking in the stacks and stacks AND STACKS of recipes that I had to just pick up as a pile and recycle when I was just too tired to go through one last item. But when I got to the last shelf, the last drawer, and knew that there were no more clues to gather about this complicated and largely unknown woman who had tended to my needs and been a fierce friend and foe, as well as a loving Mom, I felt a hollowness that has grown more and more each year, as I celebrate and honor her on these anniversary days. I had watched my Jewish Grandmother light candles on the anniversary of other’s deaths. I am now left wondering what it must have been like for my mother to face her parents’ deaths, as well as her son’s death. But life goes on, and I attempt to practice detachment, and feel the grief and loss with compassion for myself and for her, and to also feel the joy for all I have learned and continue to learn through this process of growth and the unfolding of generations as well as incarnations…..drawer by drawer, body by body, light by light…all infused with love.
Katelon T. Jeffereys
Katelon T. Jeffereys