My mother hasn’t met either of her grandchildren. She also hasn’t met my wife, or seen the house we built after getting married. She didn’t come to my graduation from college, and didn’t call me to congratulate me on my rapid climb through corporate America. She hasn’t done any of these things because she died at age 42 while I was a junior in college.
Losing my mom so young definitely changed the way I think about life, and it certainly made a big impact on me… A very special bond existed between my mother and I. We were kindred spirits in many ways… from the books we read to the way we dealt with conflict. Her death probably damaged my psyche in a way that led me to some pretty self-destructive decisions in college (that I ultimately recovered from)… More on that later.
It could have been so much worse.
A bit of backstory. I grew up fairly poor. My dad fell apart from over-work and eventually harder and harder drugs, which meant that life got stretched pretty thin. My mom did the best she could with the money he chose to give us. She was a stay-at-home mom, and I’m grateful for that, but there were plenty of weeks when my sister and I were walking a couple miles down the road to the grocery store because cans of tunafish and macaroni were a better purchase than gas.
That said, right around middle school, I stopped being able to get all the things my friends could. I couldn’t go on field trips that carried a parent out-of-pocket expense. I couldn’t get the cassettes (woah, dated) or later CD’s that they did. I didn’t have cool toys or the latest games on the Super Nintendo. It left me a little bitter.
College was a breakout for me. My mother was fairly disappointed because she had wanted me to live at home and commute the way my sister did… But that wasn’t going to be my life. I wanted to get away and learn who I was… not continue in the crap I had been going through. Scholarships and student loans let me escape poverty and pretend I was just another student. I lived on campus and it was great. The beginning of each school year flushed me with a bunch of money for books and living expenses that I would inevitably blow within the first month of the semester starting. The only hiccup was a process that happened every year called “Verification.”
Normally, this wasn’t a big deal. We (my sister and I) were somehow ALWAYS “randomly” selected to submit additional documentation to verify our income was in fact as low as we reported. No biggie. Mom didn’t work, so not a whole lot of paperwork to turn in.
For some reason, my junior year, it didn’t go smooth. I had to go meet with the some people in the financial aid department to discuss my situation. I waited in a really long line the weekend before classes started and finally got to talk to my representative, some gray-haired old man that wasn’t really interested in going off-script for anything. I arrive, and he tells me:
“I’m sorry, but we just don’t understand how a family of 5 could survive on this little income.”
I try to explain my situation to him. He’s not hearing it. I’m more flabbergasted because the federal government has already agreed to give me the money. The documents I sent to them were enough. This was just some secondary thing my university was doing.
Unfortunately, despite my best efforts to explain, he waves me off and tells me he doesn’t have time to go into it with me. Then he offers me the golden ticket: The university will grant me what they call an “Emergency Loan” that will cover tuition and get me through the first month while I sort out my issues. It’s a no interest loan due exactly one month after issue… If not paid in full at that time, the interest defaults up to some astronomical number (25% or something like that) compounded as often as they legally can.
Shouldn’t be an issue, gray-hair tells me… Once my student loan money clears up, that pays off the loan and we don’t skip a beat. They can even pump it up a bit to cover books.
This sounds like exactly the thing I need.
My golden ticket has a catch though. It needs a co-signer.
At this point, my world screeches to a halt. I did what any self-respecting college student does in situations like these… I called family for help.
And was denied. By my grandmother. By my aunt. By my uncles.
By my mother.
Ouch. I can look back now and realize that my mom co-signing probably wouldn’t have been enough to approve the loan and it’s possible she tried to tell me that, but all I heard at the time was “I’m not going to help you.” We argued a bit about it, and she basically said that if I had to drop out, I could move back home. I was fairly irritated since it felt like this was some nefarious plan she had concocted the day I had left home. The last words spoken on the call were mine:
“Fine, that’s okay. I’m used to not getting any help from you on anything.”
She hung up on me.
The school thing sorted itself out. I worked for the department of housing, and had made a really good impact there. They were able to expedite several things for me (perhaps more than even I knew). Maybe I’ll throw some memories on that later. Regardless, my schooling was paid for and I launched in with no issues, except one. The landmine that had been dropped between me and my mom.
Months went by, I refused to call her and she refused to call me. I didn’t go home on weekends. I had effectively cut myself off from my family, with my sister being my only real connection. My sister called me multiple times and told me that Mom constantly cried over the fact that I avoided her. My sister pleaded that I just call mom and talk to her. I wouldn’t do it.
“She hung up on me. If she wants to talk, she can call me back.”
Pride. Stubborn, terrible pride. The tragedy was, I missed talking to her too, but I wasn’t going to be the one to yield.
Until one day I finally decided to swallow that terrible pride and call. We didn’t really touch on the whole emergency loan thing, but we caught up on everything else. I talked about how school was going. She did the same (she was in classes to try and build a career for herself). We talked about my little brothers, TV shows we both watched, books we had recently read. That call ended with “I love you.”
She died a week after that call. Sudden heart-attack.
I remember my aunt picking me up at college to drive me to the hospital, ominous and speechless in the car. She hadn’t told me that my mother had died, just that she fallen and gone to the hospital. I think I worked it out on the way there, my sister’s pale face and lack of words on the drive may have been the clue. Regardless, she was gone… So young, and so many conversations between us that would never be had.
I am sad she didn’t get to meet my family or see the man I’ve grown to be. I regret the anger I held for her for months before her death. But I would have regretted them a lot more if I hadn’t swallowed pride and picked up the phone to talk. I’ve learned in the long run, fault doesn’t really matter. It could be her fault, my fault, nobody’s fault… But holding onto that just leaves regrets. And just may cost you a chance to connect with somebody important to you. How much is that worth? Should we cut off noses to spite our faces? I’m glad I didn’t, because it’s a very thin line (but an extremely painful one!) between a life-time of regret, and a life-time of almost regret.