Friday of Memorial Day weekend, you’re a harsh teacher.
Although Monday of Memorial Day Weekend gets all the glory, it’s Friday that historically has jumped up and given me a crescent kick in the teeth. Memorial Day itself is fairly predictable: At some point, I’ll be staring down at my father’s grave, adorned with a little American flag fluttering in the breeze, and wondering if all the dysfunction and misery that resulted from his stint in Normandy was really worth it. It’s not a German flag, so I guess it was.
The Monday bookend of Memorial Day weekend is a bruise. But the other bookend — Friday — that’s the one that draws blood.
The first time Memorial Day Friday laid me out was in 1986, when my mother suddenly died. Suddenly. Ha. She’d been in the hospital for more than a month with a bulging aneurysm, waiting for brain surgery that never came. Whether they didn’t actually know how to repair an aneurysm in 1986 or didn’t want to operate on someone who didn’t have medical insurance, who knows.
What I do know is that after coming home from work late that night, I’d barely collapsed into bed when I got a phone call from the unit nurse: “You need to come right over. And notify your relatives.” I’m to this day seized with terror if the phone rings in the wee hours.
The remainder of that weekend was a nightmare, and the smell of floral arrangements nauseated me for months. But I really want to focus on Friday’s lesson. That day, I spent my visit with my mom calling beauty shops in search of someone to come give her a pedicure. She’d revealed to me that day that she’d always wanted a pedicure, but never had one. Translation: she didn’t deserve one.
Well, that was the stupidest thing ever. Enough is enough. I decided she was getting that dang pedicure. It’s not like she couldn’t afford one. She was a doctor. (I know … no medical insurance. How ironic, right?) But in her head, she was still that little girl living in a car with her family in Detroit during the Depression. Regardless what her bank statement said, in her head, she was still impoverished, and therefore wore her clothes down to rags and saved strawberry baskets and rubber bands because “you never know when you might need one.” Or 50. And, she certainly couldn’t go wasting money on something as frivolous as a pedicure.
So, I called every beauty shop in the area, but no one could come to the hospital. We’ll try again tomorrow, I told her.
Tomorrow never came for my mother. The aneurysm burst that night.
So, besides learning that waiting to magically have a close relationship with your mother someday is folly, what did we learn here. For starters, that we are the creators of our own cages. Every self-imposed limit, every erroneous belief, is another bar on the cage, which we finally padlock with low self-esteem. Some of us learn we’re holding the key in our own hands. Some, like my mother, don’t.
I also learned that if you really, really want something, what are you waiting for? Do you think a pedicure at the morgue’s going to be as much fun? Whatever it is, from pink toenails to a trip to Hawaii, do it today, set it in motion today. Not tomorrow. Tomorrow is an illusion. Today is cash in hand. Spend it now.
Lastly, I learned that self-denial has no reward. There’s no cause and effect. You can spend your life suffering or soaring, and all ends the same: dust in the wind. We might as well enjoy every moment. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow … well, we’ve already discussed tomorrow.
Then there was Memorial Day Friday, 2004, my grandmother, who did more mothering to me than the woman who birthed me, also passed away suddenly. Again, ha. She was 103. But, she was lively and healthy nearly to the very end, and didn’t look a day over 65. She attributed her good health to lots of napping and copious amounts of olive oil and garlic. Another strategy: She avoided old people.
“All they want to do is complain about their health. I want to be with the young people,” she told me once, while dancing with her granddaughters in the living room at her 90th birthday party.
When the fact that Grandma really wouldn’t live forever hit me, I was seized with regret. I should’ve gone to see her more often. I should’ve fought harder to have her live with me in her last days, rather than allow my cousins to take her in a convalescent hospital. That still pinches. So, besides reemphasizing the “Don’t bank on tomorrow” lesson, Memorial Day Friday 2004 added an embellishment — “Regret sucks.” (I liked Grandma’s lesson better: “Just have fun.”)
But Memorial Day Friday wasn’t done with me yet. In 2007, my evil homicidal bunny died. Sure, a seemingly frivolous post-script, but there it is. Bunny (that was her name, sort of like God … the name said it all) had developed an abscess under her belly that I never noticed because picking her up was like sticking your hand into a blender. There would be blood
God I miss her.
Flies had laid eggs in the abscess, and they’d hatched. That Friday evening, Bunny weakly hopped over to me in the back yard and seemed to want me to pick her up. Something was seriously wrong. I picked her up. She smelled horrible. I turned her over. A bloody, meaty wound was boiling with maggots. Tomorrow didn’t come for Bunny either.
As Memorial Day Friday smacked me with the “tomorrow” lesson yet again, it added one more: Don’t bite the hand that pets you. If people want to love on you, let them. And love on them back. It sure beats a bellyful of maggots.
— Email Debra DeAngelo at [email protected]; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.edebra.com