My mother died four weeks ago, on Saturday, July 4, 2009, her Independence Day, after battling and suffering cancer for three years. She was 76.
She died in Burleson, Texas, due south of Fort Worth (where she grew up), and 60 miles north of Whitney (where she moved with my father in 2004, after 50 years in California).
Day and night for two weeks, first at a hospital then a local hospice, my father, my brother and I had watched over her as she slowly withdrew from us and this world, a heartbreaking vigil relieved only by food and sleep.
Just after noon on that Saturday, she left us. A strong, hot wind was blowing outside, "carrying her soul to Heaven", I wrote.
No more doctors, no more hospitals, no more medicine, no more injections, no more treatment, no more options.
No more pain.
I loved her so much. I love her now.
I grieve every day.
Friends, work mates and family say the ache will subside, leaving only happy memories; it hasn't. Every day when I leave work I want to call Mama, tell her where I am on my drive home through San Francisco, my hometown. I can't.
I would trade one day of my own life for one more call.
Two months ago, on my birthday, May 9, I called Mama from a backstage corridor at the Amersham Rock 'n' Roll Club, between Rapiers sets at the North London venue. She must have been in pain but didn't let me know; she was cheerful and wished me happy birthday. By chance, or Providence, Colin Pryce-Jones happened to walk by. I thrust my mobile into his hand.
"Here, say hello to my mom," I said. They had never spoken. On occasion, away from musical topics, I told my mom how important Christian faith had become to Colin. In her later years, it was important to her, too.
"Hello, Greg's Mum," Colin said. "Are you a good Christian woman?"
I don't know what she replied. I was content they connected for that brief time, thousands of miles and continents apart, after so many years.
Music connected my mom and me.
She let me use her classical guitar when I first learned to play the instrument. She faithfully read my Rapiers email updates, even if Vox amps, Flamingo Pink and string gauges meant nothing to her.
Before I could legally drive a car, Mama kindly ferried me and my younger brother to record stores new and used around the Bay Area: San Jose, Redwood City, San Francisco. I loved those Saturday mornings, as a teenage record collecting passion took root, 45 by 45, LP by LP. Uncomplaining, she patiently sat in the car while we shopped for treasured vinyl. Although her own musical era was the '40s and '50s (Tommy Dorsey to Patti Page), she liked early '60s folk music (Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez), Dion, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris and many records I brought home, especially by John Fogerty singing with Creedence Clearwater Revival: Proud Mary, Lookin' Out My Back Door, Bad Moon Rising. "They have a good rhythm," she said.
Two weeks before she died, while in a Fort Worth hospital, on a night when she and I talked of many things—her life, marriage, love, money, family, inspiration—she brought up rock 'n' roll and, specifically, how so many songs she remembered hearing referenced religion, "especially Bad Moon Rising... that's so much about Apocalyptic times", she said, in a hushed voice, almost a whisper.
"I think John Fogerty has always said it was about a werewolf," I said.
"No, it isn't," my mom insisted.
At the moment, blankly, I could recall only a few lines like "I see earthquakes and lighting, don't go 'round tonight", etc., even though I'd played that 45 over and over in my room. Online with my laptop I looked up lyrics I should have known by heart, shuddering that I'd forgotten the song's final verse: "Hope you got your things together, hope you are quite prepared to die..."
That night I couldn't bear to recite those words back to my mom; now, in retrospect, I feel she knew them anyway, because she had told me, my brother and my father that she knew she was going to die.
She was quite prepared. But I asked anyway, "Mama, are you afraid?"
"Of course I am."
On July 4, just after midnight, I awoke, I don't know why. I looked over to Mama, sleeping, breathing. "She made it to July 4, God, thank you," I thought. I fell back asleep on the sofa bed across from her hospital bed. Twelve hours later, perhaps waiting until her brother and nieces arrived to join my father, my brother, my wife and me did Barbara Sue ("Miss Barbara" to one of the hospice nurses) finally let go, and leave us.
I walked outside into the wind and cried.
My mom's final words a day or two earlier had been: "What on Earth?"
"Her life has just reshaped itself, it'll be all around you now," a friend later told me. Maybe with time I can understand.
About the Artist
Barbara Sue Ogarrio taught art; she painted all her life. The image above, The Promise, is part of her "crowning achievement", a series of abstracts inspired by the Book of Revelation titled 21st Century Apocalpytic Visions, hanging in the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. A quick glimpse is here.
Here are links to my mom's obituary in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and a feature article on her life from the Half Moon Bay Review, based in the Northern California town where our family spent many years.
I leave you with two beautiful performances from guitarist Marcelo Panzoni, who revisits two tracks from Colin's Guitar Heaven CD, Peaceful (with a backing track assist from Robby Januarsa) and Amazing Grace.