Gratitude for a Certain Puffy Shirt

I was a new bride and I didn’t know how to sew.  For as long as I remember living, I remember my mother sewing, and she was good.  She made most of my pants, many of my shirts, and some of the dresses I wore growing up.  She sewed curtains and my father’s suit coats, but not from the same material.  She created stunning wedding dresses for young brides and quilts for her children and grandchildren.  Once wedded, in August of 1984, I decided I wanted to learn how to sew, however my mother lived in Iowa and I in Michigan.

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Fortunately Paul’s mother, Gen, lived near us and volunteered to teach me.  I had discovered the shirt pattern I wanted to make for Paul in a material store one day, which prompted my desire to learn to sew, and with young bravado, I decided it couldn’t possibly be that difficult.  My mother had made it look easy; nothing took her that long and everything she produced was flawless.

I chose a BURDA pattern, which for those uninitiated, uses European measurements, requires unique measuring tools and, well, poses a challenge for even seasoned seamstresses.  Paul’s mother, also an accomplished seamstress, won the award for patience and kindness as we muddled through the pattern and eventually produced the white linen button-less pirate shirt with long puff sleeves and a cinched stiff collar.  My mother-in-law and I giggled once we finished the shirt, partly because it had been such a challenging endeavor, but also because later, as we both agreed, my choice in patterns had not been very practical.  Nonetheless, Paul wore the shirt and I had learned how to sew.

I am fondly reminded of how this project bonded Gen and I, as I now sit reminiscing of my time with her.

A few weeks ago, Paul and I ended up flying on a “red eye” flight from Seattle to Grand Rapids, arriving at 10:30am.  We knew Mom had been struggling, her condition worsening after recently being diagnosed with ALS. Reports about her condition from Dad and my sisters-in-law were coming more frequently, and things were sounding dire.  Mom had asked Paul during a recent conversation if we were still coming. Paul assured her we were.

We arrived at her room at Raybrook Manor in Michigan that morning anticipating our conversation, looking forward to seeing her, and finally being able to sit with her, face to face, and listen to all she had endured.  We walked in to find my mother-in-law laying on her side, one nurse pulling Mom toward her as the other placed a new pad underneath Mom, and then they turned her the other way, using a pillow to bolster Mom so she’d remain on her side.  Paul and I, though shocked at her condition, went to her bedside and put our faces close to hers. Her eyes were closed and her mouth-breathing was labored. We told her we were there.  “Here we are Mom.  It’s so good to be here with you.  We love you Mom.”  She opened one of her eyes.  I think she knew we were there.

During the next 45 hours we sat and talked to her and reminisced about shared stories, brushed her hair and remembered the times she came back from the salon with curled and back-combed hair, and held her soft hand, which was a unique experience for both Paul and me.  We stayed in her room that night.  Dad was able to sleep at home that night and get some much needed rest.  An hour before Mom died, on that Sunday morning, we sat with her. We watched her body heave to capture breath, and we called Dad.  As my palm rested on her forehead and Paul held her hand in both of his, she breathed her last.  And then we wept.

How is it then to be here?  Mom is not.  I’ve heard many who grieve say they want one more hour with their loved one.  Me too.

And yet I find myself here.  Back in Washington.  Back at work.  I wait for the grief to begin.  I feel nothing.  I sit and try to conjure up the grief I know will come.  I wait for it like I’ve just been exposed to the stomach flu and wonder, “is it coming now?”  Should I even be comparing grief to the stomach flu?  I feel the guilt of that and of not grieving, and I wonder what’s wrong with me. Then a kind friend invites me to reminisce about my mother-in-law.

And I weep because I miss her, and I won’t see her for Thanksgiving, and I won’t see her…

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Maureen Gebben is enjoying life in the Pacific Northwest after moving there a year ago with her husband, who is presently enrolled in The Seattle School. Mother of 2 fabulous children, she has been married for 29 years. She dreams of gardening on her farm with afternoons spent fly fishing in the property’s stream. Maureen loves hiking, a well-hit back hand, and laughter.