Jeannette Hunt Hyland
July 31, 1916 -- April 25, 2008
I just haven't been able to bring myself to write. Somehow it's harder to share this information with compassionate friends like you than with strangers. I haven't had the time or energy to reach out to any of my friends, or at least not until the day before yesterday when I finally called my friend Susan and told her.
My Mom passed away Friday the 25 at Saint John's Hospital in Santa Monica. I am grateful to have been there with her, to have been cradling her head in my arms, kissing her forehead and holding her hands, but it wasn't a good death. She was in pain and things were terribly mishandled.
I know that the doctors and nurses were doing the best that they knew how, but I will save the big bad conversation about how I think there is a corporate insurance led genocide of the elderly going on in this country that we can and must not ignore. Call after call made to my Mother's friends, who are mostly in their late eighties and early nineties, produced similar horror stories from suffering family members, good people who are tearing their hair out trying to get the care that their parents need and deserve. I feel as if all of these many hospital visits succeeded in killing my Mother rather than prolonging her life, but again, I want to reserve this conversation for another time when I am certain that this is not just one of the many stages of my grief talking.
My Mother's services will be held next Thursday the 15 at Saint Martin of Tours Church in Brentwood. Mary, Jenny, Maria, Michael and Monique, if any of you are out there and reading this we would so love to have you come. There will be a celebration of her life afterwards at the club. Let me know so I can add you to the count, you're welcome to bring a companion. Dress for the club is somewhat formal, dresses or suits for women, suits or coats and ties for the men.
I'm trying to find a rocking good Southern Baptist type of choir to use in our Catholic church. As really good as they are I just can't bear to have this pretty and super gifted but somewhat over mannered soprano and her organist friend who regularly perform at mass, play for Mom's service, not when we are a family of musicians, not when Beau and Scott play guitar and all three of us can sing. I sang at my Grandmother's funeral but just couldn't do it for my Dad and everyone complained, so I will try to sing for my Mom, but I will need serious backing, a rocking good choir would help with this. Mom wouldn't want sad music anyway, something cheerful and uplifting would please her.
For the club I'm looking for a good ukulele player to play some Hawaiian tunes. Mom actually played the ukulele. She took lessons in Hawaii in the 1930's and would always play little songs for me. After she died, we stayed by her side for about three hours, and one of the things we did for her, and for us, was to sing whatever Hawaiian songs we could remember by heart. We also had a priest come and together we formed a circle over her body, said prayers and were asked to share memories about the kind of person my Mother was/is.
I believe that a person's spirit remains present and near their body and loved ones until they are laid to rest, and then can move on or return at will. This is a kind of Rosicrucian take on the whole thing. I also believe that they can come and visit us in our dreams. I asked my Mother to come and visit me in mine and she has and it was beautiful and healing. In my dream she was so much younger and just so beautiful. We were standing in the hallway of her home going through the many racks of clothes I have so lovingly collected for her and for my Grandmother. She had a hard time appreciating my doing this for her in life as she considered it wasteful in terms of money, but I know she was secretly pleased that I cared so much about her past. In the dream she was appreciative and sisterly. We were looking through the dresses together, admiring them happily and trying to choose the prettiest one for her to wear to a party she was about to go to. The most remarkable thing about the dream to me, something I didn't understand until later, was that her face seemed so different, angelic even. Later I understood that what was so different about her face was that it was totally free of the anxiety that had plagued so much of her later life. Sadly I think this was due to a benign tumor located in an area of the brain known for causing anxiety and impatience.
I have also seen several hummingbirds and a big beautiful moth. But I am looking for signs, attributing superhuman qualities to ordinary natural events, in order to comfort myself in my grief and loneliness.
When it became apparent to me that my Mother was really dying I held her and told her that she didn't need to hang on, that she could go and that I would take care of Beau and Rosa and her house. I told her that I would be okay without her. I told her how much I loved her, how grateful I was to her for everything she had done for me for all of my life. I told her what a good person she was, how beautiful she was, how loved she was, what a good Mother she had been. I asked for her forgiveness. I did everything a daughter could do. It was very similar to the way that my Father died. I kissed his feet. I kissed her feet. And in each case, as they began dying, their feet and hands turned purple. The moment I noticed that my Mother's fingers were turning purple was the moment that I truly understood that she was dying. I still cannot understand what the many doctors and nurses who she had could not tell me this, could not help prepare me, guide me, or help me understand what was happening so that I could have planned our time better, made better decisions. Again, these are things better left for another time as they hurt too much to discuss and ultimately since I do believe that everything happens as it is meant to, there wouldn't have been too much that I could have done differently anyway, as these were the experiences we were meant to have, the lessons we are meant to learn and grow from.
At the same time that I was doing this, trying to make my Mother's transition as peaceful and loving as possible, Rosa was shrieking and ranting, coming in and out of the room, finally throwing herself down on the floor by Mom's hospital bed screaming, "Don't go Missy Hyland! Don't Go! Don't Go! " It was horrible. We were such a study in contrasts, the difference between our cultures, our ways of grieving, our degrees of selfishness and selflessness so apparent to anyone who witnessed this. There is so much more I want to say but I just can't, I don't want to mar the memory of my beloved Mother by muddying this up with tales of Rosa. I want to be compassionate and kind to her, despite everything. I want to move on. I can always write more about the events of that night later.
Some beautiful things have come out of this. I was able to reunite with my Mother's ex-husband and his wife. I called to tell him about my Mom's passing, learned that he was in the hospital himself and sent him some flowers from Mom and me. She would have liked this. When he got out he invited me to come over to his home to meet him and look through old photographs. He gave me some. This kind of thing is priceless to me. Plus I was able to help heal an old wound, the wound my Mother caused when she left him.
I told him that she had always loved him, that she had passed this love on to me. How else could I possibly know so much about him, his likes and dislikes, his sun sign, etc.? I told him that I thought that they were too much alike, too fiery and passionate, and that despite this she had always wanted the best for him and was happy for him when he married his wife Freida, she liked Freida a lot, Freida who incidentally is descended from Hawaiian royalty.
It felt good to tell him this, and it felt especially good to visit his home. My Mother was a serious Lookey Loo, she loved peeking inside people's houses, it was true passion of hers, and I just know how much she would have loved to have been able to peek into the life of her ex-husband, to see how he had turned out more closely, to see how he lived. I felt as if she was there with me, peeking over my shoulder.
I've also been speaking with so many of her friends, trying to be a comfort to them, while they try to comfort me. One of my favorites is Rowena Willis, Senator John McCain's Mother's identical twin sister. She loves to talk and we have been friendly through the years. I like to sit and listen to her tell her stories about the old days. She is an amazing woman, has led a wonderful, rich and fascinating life and she doesn't have a lot of friends who she can comfortably and safely talk to. Roberta, her sister, is of course busy with the campaign and won't be able to come to Mom's funeral, but I think of her often because my Mom spoke about her so much. She has my Grandmother's best English tea service in her home in D.C. Mom didn't think she'd ever entertain on that scale again and sold it to her. I'm rambling as usual, but it helps... Here's a link to a sweet story about my friend Rowena that appeared in the New York Times.
My Mother's obituary, apparently the longest paid obituary that any of the editors can ever remember receiving, will appear in this Sunday's copy of the times. I'll post it here later and link to her legacy page when it's up. It would have cost $17,000.00 dollars to include her photograph, there's just no way on earth that we could afford that, so I went with a text only obituary.
I have so much to do, so much to take care of before her service, and this is a blessing in that this act of ritual keeps me busy and preoccupied. It's those unexpected moments that come out of nowhere that stab me in my heart and leave me wanting to cry out for my Mother. I was driving home the other day and saw a billboard that said something like, "You want to keep your family together," I don't know what that was about but it felt as if it was a message meant just for me. I wonder how many other people thought the same thing. While buying some clothes for Beau to wear to the funeral I glanced down at the counter and saw this little hand drawn sign that said, "Remember Your Mom." Obviously this was referring to Mother's Day, but in a men's store? Again, it felt like a message to me.
Then there are the other things, things people say that pinch my aching heart, things like, Susan, (The unbelievably helpful and well balanced CNA who we hired just before Rosa ran off on her supposed medically necessary trip to Guatemala that turned out to be an emergency three week house buying vacation as she obviously felt the need to have the purchase date of her home precede the death of my Mother, so she could later sue us in court saying that it had been promised to her, you watch, it'll happen), absentmindedly saying to me in that very direct and plain way she has of speaking, "Anyway your Mother is not here anymore. She is not here. She is gone." Hearing her say this at my Mom's house, while it was said in some practical way, referring innocuously to something, just tore at my heart, "My Mother is not here any more."
One of the young men at my local Mailboxes Etc. store said, "Hi Hyland," to me on the phone yesterday by mistake and it started off an unexpected flood of tears. I think I scared him. He knows my name is Jacqui but he was busy and since I had said, "Hi, it's me, Jacqui, Jacqui Hyland," he got kind of flustered and tongue tied and ended up simply using my last name to address me. It was the significance of my being called this, Hyland, a Hyland, I am the last of the Hyland's, and this kills me. As an adopted person with the usual adopted person's sort of issues, I've spent my entire life trying to fit in, to feel as if I belong, being called Hyland, particularly now felt so validating, and then so poignant in light of the fact that there isn't anyone left to carry on our name. I am essentially an adult orphan. And yes I did see the article in The Times and ordered the book from Amazon, Death Benefits.
I've been buying Victorian Mourning Jewelry on eBay to give as gifts to Mom's closest friends and employees. I saved locks of her hair especially for this. The Victorians were sentimental and following Queen Victoria's lead, who mourned the death of her beloved husband Albert for the rest of her life by wearing black, they had prescribed periods of mourning and dress. Simple black and gold jewelry, lockets with a place for a photograph, and a place for a woven bit of hair, were common. I am hoping to get them in time so I can clean them up and put photos of Mom and locks of her hair in them. I hope people won't find this offensive and become squeamish. I find it comforting.
Beau's eighteenth birthday is Sunday, which also happens to be Mother's Day. This sucks for Beau. I don't know what to do for him to make it better. My Grandfather died a day or two before an important birthday of mine and while I understood that my Mother just couldn't face doing anything for me other than to hand me a bunch of money and tell me to go shop for myself in Westwood, and I adored my Grandfather, it made the sadness I was feeling somehow worse. This reminds me of Jackie Kennedy who went ahead and had a birthday party for her son John Jr. the day of his Father's funeral. If she could do that I can muster up some birthday spirit for Beau. I just haven't been able to think of much because his interests have changed so much as he's gotten older. There really isn't anything that he wants or needs. He's too old for balloons and cake and anything else he needs he pretty much gets anyway, so I'm at a loss...
Meanwhile there is still so much to do; So many calls to make, so many people to inform, priests to contact, readings to select, a choir to choose, flowers, food, photographs to scan and copy, something to pass out at the service, musicians for the celebration at the club, little gifts to select from among her personal things to give to her closest friends, I haven't colored or cut my own hair or Beau's in so many months we are beginning to look like we dwell in caves. Which seems apropos since this is how I have been feeling lately. All I want to do is crawl into bed and bury myself under the covers but as an only child, and the only person in my Mother's life who is willing and capable of making any of these decisions or doing any of this work, it's a lot to handle. People offer to help but I describe what I'd really like, for them to look for any photographs of my Mother to copy and share with me, or for them to write down any memory, it's clear just how hard this is for them to do.
I can't believe that I am writing any of this. It feels so unreal, as if I am walking through some kind of bad and confusing dream, going through the motions, dazed and shocky, unable to function properly, slow and thick as if I am moving through honey or molasses.
Okay, well that's enough for tonight. I just wanted to break the ice and write something down here. I couldn't go on any longer without sharing this.