I never thought I'd be writing my memories of my mother at 30 years old.
But here I am.
Sunday, Feb. 11, would have been my moms 50th birthday.
In 2010, on her 42nd birthday, I was flying to Great Lakes, Illinois to begin my life as a sailor.
It's funny how much I have changed since that day. I traveled the world, made friends with people from all walks of life. Those friends helped me see things differently. The perspective of a kid from a small southern town with a population less than my aircraft carrier.
I mention this because I was always bewildered at finding out different parts of my mom's personality.
When I was young, she was the definition of nurturing. Surprise, surprise, I was an overly emotional child. I remember weeping, no, sobbing uncontrollably and she would sit my head in her lap and stroke my hair and talk about good things.
I remember sharing a bedroom with my two brothers in a tiny single-wide trailer on a hill. We would raise all sorts of hell. That's why we spent most of our time outside.
But I remember the hallway that would lead to her bedroom. I remember her sitting on her bed, nursing textbooks open and notes scattered all over the mattress. She would speak her notes into her tiny little tape recorder to listen to later.
I remember sometimes I would just stop and watch her. She had determination. She was focused.
I remember the day she graduated from nursing school. In her white uniform with a goofy hat. She was holding a candle. Then they spoke some words. It was like attending a lowkey Illuminati event. I would imagine anyway.
When she started nursing, she worked long hours. But she was always up early with us. We lived out in the country and the bus ride itself took 30 minutes after the last student was picked up to get to school. We were the first to get picked up.
When we moved, we were all beyond excited. We upgraded to a double wide, each kid, their own room. It was wonderous. It was because my parents, both, sacrificed so much to get us there.
She began working the night shift at the hospital. And here I am, a kid obsessed with playing baseball. She never missed a practice. She never missed a game.
You could see, or maybe just sense, how exhausted she was. But it didn't matter. She did what she had to do to make sure we were able to develop character. She helped cultivate that character.
That's why I say my mother, the gardener. We did have gardens growing up, but she was a gardener of the soul. She helped us become individuals.
Throughout my stubborn teenage years, I went through phase after phase of figuring out who I was. She never gave me shit about it.
She would say "Oh Dusty, you're so handsome. Why don't' you buy nice close, like your brothers. Girls would love you." Ha, yeah, ok mom.
I would rather have my Iron Maiden teeshirt than Abercrombie.
I went through so many phases it was ridiculous. I had a Christian band. I had a punk band. I had a metal band. I had a jam band. I had a rock-n-roll band. I had a jazz rock band.
Every single show she could come to, she would. When we didn't have practice space, she helped me move the furniture around the living room so that we could practice in the house.
I actually don't know if she ever really liked any of my music, but she supported me.
When I turned 18, I got a job watching cardiac monitors at the hospital she worked at. She was the best nurse I ever worked with, and I don't say that out of bias. Every nurse on that floor would come to her with questions or ask for her help.
She was a caretaker.
But she was also funny as fuck.
She loved playing practical jokes with everybody on the floor. I wasn't exempt from any of them.
I saw a completely different side of my mother. At home, because of how hard she worked, she always seemed exhausted. At work, she was full of life and laughter.
That year we spent working together was honestly one of the best things for our relationship.
I saw my mother through a different lens and she was still comforting to me.
My first day on the job, a patient came in wearing a bike helmet. He informed the nurses that he was filled with the blood of Christ and that the devil was coming after him.
A patient who is clearly having a psychotic episode. They take them away in handcuffs so they can't hurt anyone.
My dad picked my mom and me up that day. I was quiet. I was staring out the car window. I felt so distraught. I remember the man panicking as they were handcuffing him. He had no idea what was going on. His eyes filled with tears and he began questioning them in great fervor.
The images kept swishing around my head and about 10 minutes into our drive, my mom sensed exactly what was bothering me.
She explained to me that mental illness is like any other illness. If a patient has a broken leg, you treat them to mend and make that leg better. The mind can be broken sometimes and you have to treat it and make it better.
Something I experienced first hand when I was 5150'd myself.
Every fight with my wife, she was my first call. She didn't blindly tell me that I was right, instead, she talked to me about understanding. I wish I wasn't so stubborn then. I have always been stubborn.
At the end of her life, I saw another side of my mom.
When I was younger, my mom would have three or four beers and would dance. It was the fucking cutest dance in the world. She just swayed back and forth and would snap both fingers on the beat of the song.
She is the one who taught me how to sing. With every cassette in her car, she would sing every word, and she was on key. She actually knew how to sing. I always wondered why she didn't sing more often. She only sang while music played.
But that's just me chasing a rabbit.
In her last few years, she lost her father. It was tragic. Murdered by a man after pain pills. Fucking pain pills have haunted my life. It's why I never took pain pills, even after surgeries.
After she lost her father, she began to enjoy the biker culture that my dad had always loved. She would go to the bars and listen to music. My parents would travel to the mountains and have the vacations they could never seem to get around to when they were younger.
It was cool watching my mom enjoy her life. She still stressed. I don't think the woman knew any other way of life than stress.
But she also enjoyed her life.
She was a wonderful grandmother to my brother's children. She spoiled them. She focused on loving them.
It hurts to think about that because I always wanted a big family. I kept putting it off for one reason or another.
I really wish she could be around to see and love my kids. If I ever have kids that is.
Losing my mother was the toughest thing I have ever gone through in my life.
I remember the phone call. I couldn't answer it because I was in the middle of interviewing sailors for my work. But my then wife texted me and told me my Dad had called her crying. I listened to the voice mail from my dad.
He was sobbing. He said "Dusty, you have to call me as soon as you can."
I felt the blood drain from my face. I looked over at my co-worker who was with me.
"I think my mom died."
"He said, "What? Do you need to leave to make the call?"
I stood up and called my father.
My instinct was right. He asked me to call my older brother and tell him.
I was calm, I was like the still water of a tranquil pond.
I called my sister in law first. I told her she needed to go home and be with him when I told him.
She called me back about 20 minutes later and handed the phone to him. I told him. I think he went into a small shock.
I went back to my hotel. Still calm. I felt numb.
We switched my flight over so I could fly into Nashville and go straight to my brother's house.
On the first flight, I lost it. I began to weep uncontrollably. I feel bad for the passengers who had to sit next to me for two hours while I just cried.
Then the strangest thing happened.
On my next flight, one of my best friends from high school sat down next to me.
It felt surreal. Like I was in a dream. How is that possible?
He talked to me. He listened to my stories. He comforted me.
Throughout my life, I have always doubted the possibility of a creator, but that day, that one simple thing made me rethink all of that.
When we got off the plane he gave me a hug. I went to my car and drove.
The rest of it seems a blur. Family from Michigan came in to help us, comfort us.
I remember the morning of my moms funeral, I threw up. It might have been the gratuitous amount of drinking, but it was really just nerves.
I watched as the dirt was poured into the hole of my moms final resting place.
I stayed until it was filled.
Mom will never have to stress again.
I wish she would have made it to her 50th birthday. I wish I could have given her shit about being over the hill and joked with her. Watch her drink too much and dance like a fool. I wish, I wish. But it isn't going to happen.
I hope to touch the lives of people in the way my mother did.
I don't think she ever made an enemy. I don't think anyone who walked away after talking, working, listening to her wasn't better for it.
This is it for me. I don't want to mourn anymore. I want to celebrate. So this is the letter to the woman who cultivated my soul and made me into the man I am today:
My life isn't what I thought it would be. I've lost friends and experienced things that I wish no human should ever have to.
Through all of that, you were there for me. Thank you.
I wish thank you was enough, but honestly, it isn't.
I ruined my own marriage, I didn't take care of myself mentally. I was stubborn and should have listened. My life would be in a better spot if I had.
But it still can be, right? Like you said, there is a new chance to make tomorrow better by working hard today.
Maybe these mistakes lead me where I need to be. Maybe I can work hard and make something you would be proud of. I know, I know, you'd be proud of me no matter what.
But I want my life to be a reflection of the kindness and goodness that you embodied. I haven't done a very good job at that. Maybe you can give me a push. When the west wind blows, maybe you can whisper some good advice that will be carried to my ears.
I miss you. I am glad you don't have to deal with stress anymore. If heaven is real, and you're watching my life, maybe you are a little stressed. Don't be. I'll get back at it.
A minor setback for a major comeback.
I love you mom. Happy birthday.