The Klingon Empire has a saying. “Today is a good day to die!” My mother really wasn’t a Star Trek fan, at least not to the the degree that my dad and I were, but she did participate because we enjoyed it. Yesterday, my mother left her mortality behind. She picked a good day to die.
When my father departed, it was a cold, foggy night in November, just before Thanksgiving and his 70th birthday. My mother, however waited until a day after my 50th, which tells me she finally decided I had grown up enough to no longer need her council or protection. It was a beautiful, clear, cloudless, and searing day, as the temperature here in Las Vegas, hovered somewhere around 113 degrees. The desert quail with their funny head gear and peeping cries were silent, the hummingbirds on the patio ceased to hum. The world drew a collective intake of breath and held it for infinitesimal moments as she breathed her last. And then, the breath released, the world continued, the mourning doves mourned, and she rejoined my father, who came for her.
When she was at Kindred Rehab, she developed pneumonia and a urinary tract infection that we never could get completely cured from. She had seizures, small ones, the petit mal variety, that cause her to blank out. She’d been having them for some time, these causing her falling problems when she resided with me. But, the nurses there told me of a dream she’d recounted to them. Apparently, my father came to her in the dream, and told her it was going to be all right.
And so it was.
What can I tell you about my mother? My mother was an extraordinary person. Her strength of will was what kept all of us going at times. I know she was my father’s touchstone. They did everything together. They hunted, they fished, they camped, they hiked canyons and creek beds hunting for arrowheads. They canvased new archaeological sites for the University of Oklahoma, collected samples, from all over western Oklahoma and a few sites in the eastern part of the state. They were curious explorers of the natural world, and my mother was probably most comfortable in the back country. My mother once faced down a mountain lion, who thought the family pet of the time, a daschund named Cleo, might have made a good snack. They did all this before I turned up, fourteen years into their marriage, when they feared they were unable to have children. I was the miracle child, and from the time I was small, way into my college years, we still packed up the Vista Cruiser, the Van with the wild paint job, or the aptly named Blazer (which burnt up on the side of the road and nearly deprived me of both of them) every weekend to go somewhere out into the woods. My mother was also an artist. She loved the paintings of Georgia O’Keefe and the mysterious beauty of the Sangre de Cristo mountains around Red River, New Mexico. She drew cartoons, the occasional watercolor, and an exquisite charcoal comic rendering of my father as a mad scientist…I believe I still have it somewhere.
She was not a stereotypical doctor’s wife. She could have cared less about the society functions and cotillions that my father’s status could have afforded her. She would have rather spent that time in an inner tube and waders out on some creek bank fishing for bass or perch. Or in a hunter’s blind, in the freezing cold, watching (and not shooting) the deer parade by.
After my father left us for the heavenly realm, she eventually came to reside with us. The action defied my father’s dire prediction that we could never live together because our personalities and tempers were so similar. My mother was a survivor. She survived the Great Depression when she was little. She would never eat rice because of the association with abject poverty. She survived the uncertainty of the world at war in 1941. She survived a dysfunctional home life with her parents, who were mentally and physically abusive to her, and her sisters and brothers. The actions witnessed her her formative years left her with an abiding mistrust of others. She was a bit of a misanthrope who felt the suffering of others keenly. I believe this ability led her to be with my father, who she helped put through medical school by working for the state highway department as one of the first women draftsmen. My mother observed people and their interactions, which led my father to believe she would have made a wonderful psychiatrist. Her deep empathy for the suffering of others led her to develop a tough shell that she maintained for the rest of her life. She tolerated other people, even family, but the ones she loved deeply were me, and my dad.
When she came to live with us, we continued the tradition of heading out into the wild. She loved the National Parks…Zion and Bryce Canyon. We traveled up to 10 thousand feet, perhaps unwisely, for a group of people with heart problems, to Brian Head in the summer. I will never forget the look on her face as she watched hundreds of hummingbirds circling the feeders at one of the stores in Brian Head. Nor will I ever forget the deer counting we did, as the deer were plentiful on the Utah roads. She loved the petroglyphs and pictographs on the walls of the Parowan gap, and the ones here at Red Rock Canyon. She loved the wildflowers at Cedar Breaks, and the violence of the sudden summer storm that had us all fearing we’d be electrocuted. She loved Kokopelli, and wore the shirt I’d purchased for her endlessly, along with one she swore we’d picked up in Phoenix when I was six. She loved the red hills of Kanab, and the mystery of the Sinagua at Montazuma’s Castle. She was fascinated by the Lost City here in Nevada, wandering through the museum at Overton, looking at the pottery and artifacts found before Lake Mead drowned the Anasazi, (proper name, Hisatsunom) sites of the Virgin River peoples. She had a National Park pass, and we wandered the parks, even in winter, looking for Bighorn sheep and deer. We even made a pillgrimage once to Boulder City to see the herd of Bighorns that have take over a city park. That was New Year’s Day several years ago now.
She also read, and had a complex intellectual life. She did not go to college per se. She had business courses, but her real education was shared with my father. She helped him collect specimens for his herpetology class, by standing in a waist deep pond in the middle of the night waiting for the sound of a tiny frog, whose call sounded like a fingernail running across a metal comb. This specimen, she told me, was microhylacarlinesis olivatia…long name for a tiny reptile. She memorized the scientific names, and when my father turned in his final paper, the professor gave him an A but also noted that my mother (who was not enrolled in the course) had earned an A as well. Her reading list included authors such as Patricia Cornwell, Tony Hillerman, Michael Creighton, Janet Evanovich, and Scott Turow. She told me once that she would have liked to have been a forensic scientist who worked on cases…and since my dad had been a coroner at one time, she went with him on those occasions…which no doubt further stimulated her boundless curiosity.
She was not a television watcher. Hated it in fact. She preferred the radio. She followed Cubs baseball for a time, and Sooner football. She liked Paul Harvey, and talk radio…listening to it for hours on in for the news of the world. She would occasionally watch a Superbowl, but most television bored her. She didn’t smoke or drink, and she was a staunch advocate of my dad…stayed by his side all the way to the end. I think she was proud of me. I have been told she bragged on me endlessly to anyone who would listen.
Before her mitral valve surgery and pacemaker implantation last year, I asked that she go to Build A Bear, and create me a bear with a microchip recording of her saying ” I love you, Lisa”. She did, and selected a plain dark brown bear, similar to my Squeaky Ben. I spent part of yesterday listening to that recording over and over.
I missed my mother’s passing, as I also missed my father’s but in the end, I don’t think it mattered. The CNAs’ and hospice were there at the end, and comforted her. I spoke to her in the shower, and told her I would be okay, and that it was okay to leave. The previous day, as I struggled to get her to eat something, she told me she wanted to “leave this place” and I told her it was going to be okay and rubbed her frail and thin arm. I painted her nails pink the day previous to that, and she held onto my hand, squeezing my fingers with surprising strength. The last words she spoke to me was, ” I love you.”
I love you, Mommy. I miss you already but I know you are happy with my dad and that you missed him fiercely these last nineteen years. Tell him I said Hi and that I’ll be along in time, after I too have lived an interesting life like my mom. I would say she lived a life well spent as she was nearly 86 years old at her passing. She came a long way from being born on a humble creek bank in Hastings, Michigan to the bright lights and searing heat of Las Vegas. Merry Meet, and Merry Part, Mom.
Hilda Marguerite Livingston is survived by her daughter Lisa, her son-in-law Bill, and her granddogs, Pudge, Daisy, and Odin, She is also survived by her nieces Anne Livingston, Kathy Reterstoff Scott and Jill Anne Haynes. Her nephews include Patrick Livingston, and his children Jack and Dolly, and David Reterstoff. Her grand nephews include Lindsey Hodges as well as many other relatives and friends.