A Good Goodbye

Michael Metzger

On January 2nd, my 93-year-old mother passed away peacefully in her sleep. We had a good goodbye, but it required God doing some work on my heart.

I wrote a tribute to my father after he passed in 2008. The words came easily. That wasn’t the case with my mother. I struggled to convey my thoughts. I think I know why. It has to do with a comment one of my sons made to me. It’s related to something C. S. Lewis wrote years ago. Both helped me to love my Mom by recognizing her life was played out in four acts: childhood pain, adult happiness, then pain, and finally… smiles.

Mom’s childhood pain was wrapped around an incident that she shared with a few. As a young girl, her parents told her that they never wanted to have her. It took me a long time to wrap my mind around that. It’s difficult to flourish as a human being when you don’t have your parents’ blessing. Dad gave Mom what her parents didn’t. Blessed happiness.

That’s the Mom her four boys grew up with. She loved playing cards, especially Bridge. She loved parties, watching us play sports, and dancing (square dancing as Mom and Dad got older). Mom loved Elvis Presley. I remember her playing an Elvis record after Dad went to work (Dad wasn’t into Elvis). She’d sashay from the living room to the kitchen. You go girl.

My childhood was filled with camping (which is why I love the outdoors), enjoying Michigan’s crystalline clear 11,000 lakes (what’s with Minnesota bragging it’s the Land of 10,000 Lakes?). My folks bought a cottage, then a bigger cottage. They bought a boat, then a bigger boat. Mom and Dad loved theater. On occasion, they’d invite any one of us boys to join them. I jumped at the chance. I remember dining at a fancy restaurant in Detroit (where Jimmy Hoffa was last seen alive), then taking in a play at the opulent Fisher Theatre.

My parents weren’t highbrow, however. They loved Michigan football games. I asked if I could join them. They said Yes. We’d drive to Ann Arbor, picnic in a nearby park, then walk to the stadium. Back then, Michigan drew about 70,000 fans in a stadium holds close to 110,000. My folks had season tickets. They cost a bit. I’d buy an end zone ticket for a buck. Then I’d sneak my way around the stadium, often ending up with better seats than theirs.

Over time, the happy days wound down. My father was diagnosed with a rare incurable cancer and passed away in 2008. No pain. Just a heart wrenching decline. Dad was stoic. Mom was afraid. Her worst fears were realized. She lost her husband, her friend, her blessed happiness.

It’s not that Mom was completely unhappy. She just sort of became crabby at times, cantankerous. I sensed—and I share this not as a criticism—that Mom wanted her old life back, before Dad got sick. She seemed to want the 1970s and 80s frozen in amber, preserved and unchanged from a time when Mom was most happy.

I began to notice this on several occasions. Mom and Dad became snowbirds later in life. Dad would drive them south to Florida after the last Michigan football game. In the spring, he’d drive them back to Michigan. When Dad became sick, I became the driver.

Dad was never much of a talker on these trips, and when he became ill, he barely said a word. Mom, on the other hand, could be talkative if you asked her questions. On those long trips south and north, I did. I began to ask about her life. I got to know my Mom better.

There are too many stories to recount here, but Mom began to divulge more of her pain. Her only brother was estranged from the family. He was an alcoholic, divorced, and made a mess of his life. My Dad was estranged from one of his brothers. Our family tree has a great many broken branches, including Mom’s parents telling her they never wanted to have her.

One of the ways I tried to heal a bit of Mom’s pain was by hugging and kissing her. This began after I became a Christian. God is love, and God loves Mom. She felt unloved, unwanted by her parents. We all want to be loved, be wanted. I wanted Mom to know God loves her. I wanted Mom to know I loved her. So I began hugging and kissing Mom.

That sounds very noble, but this became difficult when we discovered Mom’s house was riddled with mold. She had to move. She was vehemently against this. Mom was very angry with us for two years. She became increasingly cantankerous, hard to be with. At times, I would vent my frustration with my family. Or make fun of my mother for something she said or did. One of my sons called me out on this, and he was correct to do so.

Then we had to move Mom again, from her beloved Michigan to Asheville, North Carolina, from independent to assisted living. Then, less than two months ago, we had to move her again, to Venice, Florida, so that my older brother and his wife would be nearby. She played the sourpuss, but we worked hard to fix up her room. She spent only one night at the assisted living community. Mom awoke the next morning, forgot to push her call button, and fell. She was in the ER. Mom would never return to her assisted living community.

She did end up in rehab, but doctors felt Mom was approaching the end. It is strange how your brain often can’t compute something like that. Mom’s stats were good. But her mind was going—fast. On December 28, I flew down to help my brother move her stuff out of assisted living. I also came to say goodbye. It proved to be a good goodbye.

When I walked in to my mother’s rehab room, she was very frail, in and out of consciousness. But she would smile—at me, my brother, the nurses. Mom was smiling sweetly, similar to how a young child smiles at her parents. I drew close and hugged Mom, kissing her. I whispered, Mike’s here. She smiled. It felt like a great reversal. She nursed me as a baby, smiling at me. I, over time, smiled back. Now I was more the adult, holding this 93-year-old woman who was more the child who never felt her parents’ love. It was sweet.

My last day in Venice was the last time I would see Mom. I kissed her one last time, gave her a soft hug, and whispered that I loved her. I reminded her that I was Mike. She smiled sweetly at me, asking “Do you have a girlfriend yet?” I told her I did indeed. “Her name is Kathy, and we’re married.” Mom broke into a smile hearing this. Her life had played in four acts: childhood pain, adult happiness, then pain, and finally, smiles.

I told you my son’s rebuke stirred in me a vague recollection of something C. S. Lewis wrote long ago. I couldn’t recall where I read it, but a dear friend did and sent it to me. It’s from the essay “Answers to Questions on Christianity” from Lewis’ God in the Dock. In Question 12, Lewis is asked if there any unmistakable outward signs in a person surrendered to God? For instance, would that person be cantankerous? Lewis writes:

“Take the case of a sour old maid, who is a Christian, but cantankerous. On the other hand, take some pleasant and popular fellow, but who has never been to church. Who knows how much more cantankerous the old maid might be if she were not a Christian? You can’t judge Christianity simply by comparing the product in those two people; you would need to know what kind of raw material Christ was working on in both cases.”

I don’t know whether my mother was a Christian. The Lord knows who are his. But I did come to know what kind of raw material my Mom was working with. I stopped making jokes at her expense as I learned her mother and father never wanted her. I began to see that Mom did the best she could. She died peacefully in her sleep. All the trials and tribulations and suffering of never feeling wanted died as well. She passed away smiling, and I came to see that we can’t be critical of others simply by comparing the product in two people.

That made for a good goodbye.


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  1. Mike that’s a beautiful story. Good for you that you were often wisely ready and prepared emotionally and spiritually to be a friend and good son to your good mom. Clearly your son’s wisdom is a legacy to you both. Reunion awaits.

  2. Thank you Mike. The story has extra meaning for me both with the caring for my own mother who passed away two years ago and also knowing the reality that your story in Saginaw and mine were unfolding only miles from each other many years ago

  3. Mike,

    I am so sorry for your loss. That’s a beautiful tribute to your Mom. Thanks so much for sharing in such a genuine and vulnerable manner.


  4. Mike , this is a beautiful tribute to your Mom ! Thank you for writing it. May you and all of yours find healing in time as you grieve this loss and celebrate this dear life lived .

  5. As we age, our roles reverse with our parents. Some day we will be cared for by others (hopefully family members). It is good to remember that our parents were broken as much as we are, just in different ways. Glad you were able to say goodbye to your parents.

    Thank you for sharing this.

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