February 22, 1989
Updated: Oct 2, 2019
Thirty years ago today (February 22, 1989), my mom, Margaret (Dronen) Cariveau, died.
I remember the day like it was yesterday. It’s amazing how some things stick out so vividly after so many years. I was 13 years old and in eighth grade. It was a Wednesday. My dad was the Chief of Police in East Grand Forks and visited my mom almost daily at Villa St. Vincent Nursing Home in Crookston, MN. As usual, I went to school that day and walked home afterward. I went for a run (hard to believe for February) and had come home to meet Dad for supper before going to visit Mom. We went to eat supper at the local Dairy Queen, affectionately nicknamed “The Dog House” by Dad and other Eastsiders. Those who know my family know how fond we were of the old DQ, a restaurant I eventually waitressed at for four years and found great support as I navigated some difficult years following Mom’s death.
After dinner that winter evening, Dad and I went back by our house because I had forgotten my homework. We pulled in the driveway and I ran in to grab my books. While inside, the phone rang; it was my auntie Pat. Because cell phones were not yet a reality, my aunt had received a call from the nursing home staff when they couldn’t reach my dad, to let him know that mom was not doing well. I clearly remember Pat saying, “Lynn, get your dad, I need to talk to him right now!” I ran outside to get Dad, followed him back into the house and then he said, “Go to your brother’s now, go to Junior’s house.” My oldest brother, Junior, his wife Brigid and their children lived less than a block away. I ran to their house faster than I had ever run before. I don’t know what Pat told my dad, but I think I must have known that it had to do with my mom. When I got to Junior’s house, Brigid was on the phone with someone - I think my brother Jeff - and I heard her say that auntie Pat had called, and Margaret died.
“Margaret died.” Those words resonated in my mind a long time. My brother wasn’t home when I got there but arrived soon after to hear the news. My sister Lisa was soon there too. Those pieces are more blurry. My dad eventually arrived to pick me up and we drove to Crookston to see my mom.
“Margaret died.” The car ride was quiet. There is not much to say when you are 13 and you have just been told that your mom is dead.
When we arrived at the nursing home, Sister Imelda was there. Sister had cared for Mom in our home for three years before she went to Villa St. Vincent. When Mom moved to the nursing home, Sister moved back to Mount St. Benedict in Crookston and continued to be with Mom daily. Sister was with Mom when she died on the evening of February 22, 1989.
Sister was an amazing and selfless woman who lived her life to serve the Lord and others in whatever way she was called. Sister Imelda died in November 2007. I find it significant that three months before her death, Sister gave our son, Shawn, a stuffed lamb for his baptism, and to this day, Shawn sleeps with that lamb every night, all while we have live lambs in our barn that may hold the cure to Huntington’s disease.
February 22, 1989, changed my life forever. Yes, once my mom was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, we knew she would likely die from it. However, I think denial set in and that can often happen for good and bad things that occur in life. For example, I know my children are going to grow up and move away, but I will deny that until the day it happens. It’s important to embrace the moment, right?
I hate the month of February. Ever since Mom died I have hated the month of February. I dread it coming and I can’t wait for it to end. Those who are close to me - you know who you are - know how much I dread the month and thinking about Mom’s death each year. I do think about it more than just the month of February, but it just hits home so much more in February. Thankfully, none of my children were born in February or I would maybe feel guilty about this.
Mom was 49 years old when she died. Sadly, I have few memories of her being well; she was diagnosed when I was in fourth grade. It’s sad for me to think about how little I remember from before that time. I look at my kids often and wonder what their childhood memories will be like, how much will they truly remember. What I do remember is that Mom loved to volunteer for our church and school; she was always doing something there. She loved her card club and played cards for as long as she was able, even when dropping and knocking her cards down due to erratic movements. She loved coffee. Mom loved us kids and adored her grandchildren. She loved all kids, really. Mom loved Thanksgiving and Christmas and having others over to our house. She loved my dad. She loved God. No matter how sick Mom was, she had the faith to take “one day at a time”.
We all have our “stuff” right? We struggle. We succeed. We have disagreements and disappointments. Life is hard at times. Parenting is hard. Marriage is hard. We get tired. I like to think that in our short, earthly time together, I learned a lot from my mom. I think I am a lot like her, other than that I don’t like coffee. I hope she would be proud of my family. More than anything, I learned from her example to take life “one day a time”. What I wouldn’t give to be able to call my mom and talk with her right now, to ask her what to do about a child’s health issue or how to deal with a challenge of my own. There are days when I feel like she is standing right next to me and nights when I can feel her arms around me as I cry myself to sleep. I know she is closer than I realize. I know that if I could truly hear her voice, she would say: “It will all be okay, just take it one day at a time.”