There were three telephone numbers’ caller ID that would *always* make my cellphone ring, even if the ringer were silenced. My mom’s home telephone number, the Life-Line emergency notification telephone number and the telephone number used to notify me that “you are called to duty and being deployed–leave now”.
The ring tone for these numbers is special as well. If you’ve ever heard a US Navy power plant casualty alarm….that’s it. It’s loud, piercing and annoying. The best way to describe it is that it sounds like a European police car siren, but faster and with a higher pitch.
It was one year ago today. A town hall meeting with the company executives had started at 12:30pm and, as asked, we all set our cell phones to silent. About 20 minutes later, my phone rang with the special ring tone.
Everyone looked at me in irritation. I knew the ring tone and realized it was one of the important telephone numbers. I looked in horror at the caller ID.
I bolted from the room and took the call. Afterwards, I went back to the room’s door, pointed to my boss and motioned him to come to the door. “My mom just died…….”
It was 12:54pm.
The past few weeks have been an interesting mix of emotions and they all converge.
My mother’s house was sold a few weeks ago. So, the final chapter is being written in “mom’s book of life”. I still have a 25 square foot store room full of her stuff to sort through. I was in a hurry to get the house cleaned out so the remodeling contractor could get in there and do their work, so some stuff that I wasn’t prepared to deal with is in storage. Once I get done with that stuff my “mom’s book of life” will be complete.
I have retired effective November 1. My last day at the telephone company was yesterday. I drove my 1950 CJ3-A Willys Jeep to work on the first day I worked at the telephone company and 26 years later, I drove the same Jeep on the last day of my working at the company. It was a nice piece of symmetry.
I was hoping to retire on October 31. It would have been a sweet memory to go with the older and more somber memory of my fiancee entering hospice. But as I mentioned earlier, I had to move it because of insurance benefits.
October 31, at just after 9am, I stopped and remembered my fiancee. “I’m afraid I have only bad news……”, was how the doctor started his conversation about hospice and end of life care. Someone walked by my cubical at that very moment and asked if I was having second thoughts about retiring. I said no, but they didn’t believe me.
I opened up with them a bit and told them of cancer stealing my fiancee, how my wife’s stage 3B breast cancer is still gone, but could come back and how we have saved an amount of money equal to 25 years of my salary. I ended my little tirade by asking them, “Why should I let work take me from my wife?”
I think they understood.
My wife will retire in May and then we will be free to spend our life together. At that time she will be 58 and I will be 57. Hopefully we will have a long time together.
On my first day of retirement, I ran 4 miles, I swept the floors of the house and washed the clothes. Now it’s time to decide what I want to cook for dinner.
The contractor has finished the renovation of my mom’s house. Next is putting it up for sale. The bathroom cabinets, sinks and faucets were replaced, the shower door glass was replaced, the carpet was replaced, the inside and outside of the house was painted and the landscaping was converted to what people mistakenly call desert landscaping (hint…it’s gravel).
I have used the book metaphor for a life before. “The End” was written in dad’s book nearly 13 years earlier and the same was written in mom’s book back in November. After the house sells, their books will receive a short addendum and then will join the books of my grandparents and my fiancee.
Except for a vacation and a few short deployments (a total of 8 weekends) I have been going to my parents’ house at least one weekend day each week since October 2003. Even after my mother died, I continued to do this as I cleaned out the house so the workers could get in there to paint and install new carpet.
Today, for the first time in almost 14 years, I did not go over there and I’m not sure if I feel relief, sad or glad; relief at having more time, sad that I can no longer visit with mom or glad that mom is no longer “imprisoned” in a failing body.
I felt similar conflicting thoughts when my fiancee died, so I guess this is normal. No matter what, this is not something I want to go through again..but we have no choice.
I did not make it over to the cemetery to place mom’s wedding bouquet on their grave markers. It was so breezy this morning that they would have blown away before I could have taken a picture. So, maybe next weekend.
I did make use of the extra time by making sourdough bread. This is the first time in many months I have done this. The bread just came out of the oven and the house smells wonderful. My wife just sliced a piece and pronounced it “wonderful”…music to my ears.
The 2nd use of my time was cleaning out my dresser of no longer worn (or never worn) clothes. In my job, manufacturers and engineering services firms drop by lots of shirts with their company logos embroidered on them. I rarely wear them, and I just stick them in the dresser until I begin to have to really squeeze the stuff into the drawers.
Now that the dresser “load” has been reduced I will be able to get my clothes into the “new” dresser. New and old are backwards this time. The new dresser dates to 1959 and was used by my parents. The old dresser was put together in 2015. The 1959 dresser is made from solid maple and is beautiful. The 2015 dresser is pressed board covered with wood looking “paper”. It looks OK, but not as nice as the maple.
My mom’s house is now completely cleaned out. The house is as bare as it was the day my parents moved in. This time, however, the excitement of the possibilities of an empty house was not there.
During the final check to make sure I didn’t forget anything that will be in the way of the plasterers, painters and carpet layers, I found, in the back corner of a cabinet in my parent’s bedroom, a plastic bag containing a note and some dried flowers. “2/18/46 Wedding bouquet”, is what the note said. The flowers are in pretty bad condition, but they obviously were of great importance to my mom because she brought them along on probably two dozen (dad was in the Marine Corps) moves.
Even though they were in very bad shape, I decided to save the flowers. As I mentioned I was going to save them, my wife gave me “the look”. When I told her what I was going to do, “the look” stopped and said she would like to go with me. Next Saturday, early in the morning when the breezes are calm, I’m going to the veteran’s cemetery and place those flowers on mom’s and dad’s grave markers.
This past weekend, I was going to finish up getting the stuff out of my mom’s house, but I could not. The painters had taped and masked off the doors and I did not want to mess up their work.
So, today I stopped by and got a bunch of china packed up. According to the notes with the china, one set was used at the head table of my grandparent’s wedding (married in 1915) and the other set was used at my parent’s wedding (married in 1946). 102 and 71 years respectively. It’s hard to believe, yet I have both marriage certificates.
I have the china, a dish hutch to hold the china, a bed, a beautiful glass front bookcase and some pictures to get out of the house sometime before April 25.
That’s it. Nothing more.
The house is now painted, the roof was inspected and the few needed minor repairs were made and most of the outdoor landscaping is done. Starting next week, the carpet will be replaced and the interior will be painted….then it will be time to sell the house.
When the house is sold, Mom’s and Dad’s life will have been “cataloged and put up on the shelf”.
This past Friday was my mom’s burial service. She was a US Navy Lieutenant during World War 2 and the navy rendered honors–the rifle volleys, folding and presentation of the flag and the playing of taps.
Her ashes were interred next to my dad, a US Marine.
The empty spot in the veterans’ cemetery is now filled.
Fair winds and following seas, mom.
Semper Fi, dad.