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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Treasure Hunting in the Junk Drawer

Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Couey
 It was a rainy day, one to leave the motorcycle in the garage.  Feeling bored and restless, I decided to tackle my junk drawer. With a sense of adventure, I slid the drawer out and carried it over to the bed, where I had thoughtfully placed a junky towel to protect the frilly-quilty bedspread. I dumped the contents and went to work.
I dug through the flotsam, keeping some items, discarding others.  But near the bottom of the pile, I found a folded piece of notepaper. Opening it, I felt my heart skip. 
It was a letter from my mother.
Mom contracted cancer in the early '70's. But after a very extensive surgery, it seemed she would survive. Six years later, however, the cancer started again, spreading rapidly. She underwent chemo and radiation, but it was too late and on a sad September day in 1982, she passed away. 
Between the two illnesses, we were gifted with 6 more years with her. Doesn't seem like much, but during that time she saw both her children get married, and was able to cuddle her grandchildren. 
I was in the Persian Gulf when I got the news. What followed was an epic 48-hour journey back home to Missouri, arriving just in time for the funeral.  It was a hectic few days, and before I was able to fully comprehend the event, I was on my way back to my ship.  I had been back aboard about an hour when one of my shipmates brought me my accumulation of mail. In that pile of magazines, newspapers, and letters, was that note.
When you lose your mother, a light goes out inside. She was the one who loved us without question or condition. That care and devotion cannot be replaced. As author Erica Jong wrote, “Motherhood cannot finally be delegated. When a child needs a mother to talk to, nobody else but a mother will do.” When you lose her, nothing is ever the same.
In a world that was often cruel to a fat, pimply-faced kid with thick glasses, she was always my refuge, my safe harbor. She made all the ugliness go away. In my teen years, when I allowed the anger to overtake me, she never gave up, even though many of the things I did and said broke her heart.
The note was her last letter, dated about a month before she passed. Written in her neat curly cursive, she talked about the weather. She spoke of a friend of hers whose infant grandson was struggling with serious health problems. She wrote two paragraphs intended to be read to our two kids, expressing her love and hope that they would be "good kids." Dad was busy, always busy; working too hard but unwilling to let up. It wasn't until after she had written about everyone else that she spared a few words for herself. 
She was in pain, but struggled more with the incredible fatigue. Rest didn't seem to help, but she felt obligated to keep up with her obligations to others.  The letter closed with her usual, "Love, Mom."
Reading it, and knowing that it was the last thing from her, the tears came to my eyes. You see, in the bustle of getting to the funeral, getting through those difficult days, and returning to duty, I never really took the time to grieve. And whether or not I was ready, that time had come.
I thought about that time. I thought about all the thoughtless things I had done to her, and all the time I had spent away.
Mostly though, I thought about the things I never took the time to say.
My father remarried about 10 years later, only to lose her to cancer as well. After that, he just seemed to give up. On a clear March night in 2004, he moved on to that better life. 
I'm 57 years old now, and still getting used to being parentless. I miss my Dad’s wisdom. And I miss my mom. It's been a life filled with challenges and difficulties, days of joy that I desperately wanted to share, and other days when it seemed that everything had gone wrong. On those days, I needed the one thing only a mother can give. 
The safe harbor, the peace, and the love of her hugs.


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