It sure seems like I'm doing a lot of these lately.
Mother and Dad originally hoped that Mother could be a stay at home mom, but it became clear that the extra income she could provide as a teacher would make life far easier for our burgeoning family. But, Mother had let her teaching certificate expire, so she had to go back to college for several summers to get re-certified.
That was when Donna came into our lives. She was hardly older in the big scheme of things than Sis and I - she was just old enough to drive out to our farm. Sis wasn't old enough to go to kindergarten yet, and I was in the early years of grade school. So, it was a growing experience for all - a young teenager learning to help raise two young kids, parents learning to cut some apron strings, and the two children growing up with a new influence. Donna had a very positive guiding hand - she played games, kept us intellectually busy, fixed our lunches, refereed our fights, fixed our boo boos, and became quite entwined in our family. Sis and I adored her.
When her father, an ag pilot, was killed in a small airplane crash, my dad stepped up and took her under his wings - no pun intended. It was a grievous blow, but one that she endured with help from my parents. Donna told me once that my father's help was a great deal of comfort to her, and for which she was very grateful. She had my Dad on a pedestal.
Mother finally finished and started teaching again, and Donna got married. Sis - the flower girl - remembers the wedding better than I - she broke down crying that she was going to lose Donna forever. This mortified our Mother - who believed children should behave themselves in public, not ruining someone's wedding, for instance. Donna took it in stride, and comforted my little sister, easing her mind and the situation. She ended up getting divorced and remarried.
As we all aged, we did grow apart. The electronic age helped revive our friendship in the form of email. When Donna's aged 'puter was giving her fits, I gave her one of mine - it was not the latest or the greatest, but all she did was go online and read emails, with a side of surfing, so the one I gave her sufficed for that. She was there for us when Dad died, and when Mother died, she announced that we were to consider her our mother when we needed one. She was one of our "Extra Mothers," which we were lucky enough to have three.
Donna was really into bowling, too. She visited Sis in OKC during some of the tourneys held there - she was pretty good at it. During this time, she was also diagnosed with cancer. It was a struggle - the therapy made her lose her hair, but she always had a sense of humor about it. She liked to wear punk style wigs. It seemed she had it whupped. She and her new hubby worked at the nearby Wally World, so I'd see them fairly often, giving my extra mom a big hug. She always had to show me off to her coworkers as her extra son, making a big deal out of it.
She was also one of "those" types who forwarded glurge emails that drive me nuts. I chided her for it, to no avail. She claimed ignorance - and frankly, she just didn't want to learn. But, I did to her what I do to everyone who sends me that stuff - I return it with the simply found truth that the story is false.
I noticed that the emails from her dropped off to nothing. Sis told me the same thing the other day when we discussed this, so I wasn't the only one. I figured I'd finally pushed the wrong button too many times, returning emails with snarky comments.
Another thing I noticed this year was the flower on my Dad's grave. Just about every year when I finally decorate graves on Memorial Day, someone beat me to it for Dad. It was always a small, completely innocuous little flower stuck in the grass. I wasn't sure who put it there, but Donna was my first suspect. The whole idea fit her - just a small memoriam. This year, no flower.
So, the other day, I got an email from Classmates.com. I've never been a paying member, and I fear Facebook has blown them clear out of the water. However, I did notice a memorial section - and Donna's name was there.
Donna passed away July 8, 2009.
No one in her family told us. Nobody told us her cancer came back, or that she had passed on. We would have liked to say goodbye, if that were possible. We'd have been there and helped out, had we known. We'd certainly have shown our respects by being at her funeral. We will be decorating her grave at some point in the future - that, at least, is left for us.
I really wanted to point some fingers. Character flaws and whatnot of some of the family. I find that I'm just too weary to do so, plus it's probably for the better that I keep my smart mouth shut. I'd have thought that someone would have questioned why we weren't there - what sort of ungrateful brats were my sister and I, to abandon our extra mom?
I was carping about this to one of my best friends. He emails or texts short messages letting me and others not "in the loop" know if someone in the local society is having some sort of trouble. He knows that those he informs probably won't find out any other way, and considers it just something that should be done. He knew about Donna, but he didn't know her involvement with our family. I called him to thank him for that particular "service" - his little moments of thoughtfulness are in stark contrast to what we got from other sources in this case. Small town societies survive thusly. There is a lot of gossip passed along these kinds of networks (not from my buddy, though) - Dad used to call it "The Widow's Hotline." My grandmother was a major node in that system, fer sure. The gossip the men pass on at the coffee shop or the pool hall is no different. It is part of the lifeblood of a small community.
Sis and I both have had to contact relatives and friends to pass on bad news. It's just something that you do, period. We did it, even though it was painful.
RIP, Extra Mom.