Rebecca Charlton (1959-2018)
I'm sitting on my aunt's back patio on a perfect (if a little warm) Fall day. Around twelve hours ago my mother died. I guess writing all of this out is the best way for me to cope. Writing has always been that for me. No one ever wants to lose a parent and yet, if we've done things the right way, we all eventually will. This is how life works. But to lose one so young is hard to face. She was 59 years old.
I have a lot of thoughts and emotions coursing through me so forgive me if this is all a bit jumbled. My mom's side of the family is small. I was the only child and only grandchild and nephew for several years. After my parent's divorce when I was eight, we moved from the mountains of West Virginia to the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio. Single mom life wasn't easy on either of us. At times she was over protective and other times she just wanted me out of her hair, but she would always go out of her way for me and she knew how to make me laugh. I think I'll miss that most of all.
We didn't always get along but I know she wanted the best for me and encouraged me in my writing and music when the band was going. She walked a boundary of friendship and parenthood and I'm not so sure she always knew where that line was. Things were toughest in high-school. I was old enough to take care of myself while she was out re-discovering herself in her thirties by hiking or white water rafting. I know that I disappointed her fairly often by throwing parties when she left and making generally bad decisions. I was just as rebellious as she had been at my age and I imagine she saw that in me and it scared the hell out of her.
We mended a lot of fences in the 90's through our love of grunge music, Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino. She called me one day a couple of years ago and said "I was just watching Inglorious Basterds and it made me think of you." (Thanks, mom.) She equated the movie Dazed and Confused to a portal allowing her to look back into the past of her high school years.
After I graduated high school and her mom (my grandma) passed away, she moved back to West Virginia. As a budding singer, I decided to stay put with my friends (and second family) and our relationship shifted to more of a friendship. After struggling with Myasthenia Gravis, which left her nearly paralyzed, she bounced back in a fashion that blew everyone away. She was a bonafide health nut. Juice this. Juice that. Raw almonds and kale. She turned her life around and formed a group to help others who were suffering with the same disease.
Always the animal lover, she soon started helping at shelters to place cats and dogs that needed love in good homes. She was that lady that you see on the local news with a puppy bounding up and down or a cat skittering all over the news desk while she tried to calmly explain how someone could adopt. That evolved into her briefly running her own shelter. I suppose she loved animals so much because she felt that people were constantly letting her down. She had a fiery personality and (in my opinion) tended to blame others rather than looking inward to discover what was causing some of these issues.
When the animal shelter fell apart, she was left with a lot of animals to find homes for and took them in to keep them alive. She struggled for a while and was soon completely overwhelmed as her health began to slip again - this time Rheumatoid Arthritis. She neglected it and it advanced quickly, crippling her hands and feet, among other complications.
I struggled watching my mom, who had always been active, slowing to a crawl, unable to even walk up a single step without help. And yet, she stubbornly wouldn't listen to the advice of anyone and pushed away people who were trying to help her course correct. She wasn't able to care for the animals she was trying to save and they, in turn, overran her house until it was nearly unlivable. By this time she was no doubt addicted to her pain medication and struggling day to day. Her phone calls became erratic and if she was pissed at me, she wouldn't answer her phone and I wouldn't hear from her for a month or two.
Last year she fell, breaking both of her arms and one leg. She was too fragile to maintain a normal life and too stubborn to let go of the idea. In the nursing homes she was in and out of, she snapped at the nurses who didn't bring her medication on time and complained about the help she did get. She was unhappy, frustrated, and depressed. She had lost all of her animals, and rightfully so since she could not properly care for them, but I know how much that hurt her. Being confined to a bed and a wheelchair was just the last straw. Throughout all of this she managed to make the nurses and doctors laugh with her sarcastic sense of humor and they always had nice things to say about her despite being a handful at times.
Cincinnati felt like light years away and in some respects I felt resentment that I was exactly where she'd left me. I held guilt that I couldn't drop everything and at the same time I was pissed at her for ignoring my (and others) advice for over a decade as her health declined. I had reversed the old parenting trick - "I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed." It dug under my skin a bit and I suppose it's still there. Maybe it will be for a while. But even in those dark times we found ways to make each other laugh. It was all we had, really.
The last year had been a series a bouts with pneumonia (she would not give up smoking) among an array of other infections, all complicated by the rheumatoid. Her body was struggling to draw oxygen into her bloodstream due to the fluid in her lungs, which is what ended her life. I would have suspected the potential quality of that life may have led her to a declaration of "Do Not Resuscitate", but she had always felt that way. She wanted her independence. When I received the call at 3AM that she was essentially being kept alive by a machine that pumps oxygen in and out of her lungs (which the doctor explained to me was not only uncomfortable, but felt like suffocating), I made my way to the hospital. Seeing the pain in her face made it an easy decision. She died within minutes of removing the device. With my hand in hers. Quiet and peaceful. In complete opposition with how she lived her life.
As I sit here now, looking at a blue folder that holds the details of her cremation, delivered by a company called "MELTON Mortuary", I can't help but hear her laughing her ass off. Where do you think I got my sense of humor?
Rebecca Charlton was a good mom. She was my mom. A firecracker with a short fuse who couldn't manage to get out of her own way. But also, and most importantly, a kindhearted woman with the best of intentions, who would do anything for the lucky few who had earned her love.
It was a steep climb for most. I was lucky. I was her son.
Mom - this is for you. I love you and I miss you so much, but I'm glad you're no longer in pain and held back by a world that crippled you in so many ways.
Here's to hoping it doesn't cripple me too.