For as many times as I’ve mentioned my Mom on these pages, the way that I channel her memory in my baking and how a simple bite of something she used to make can bring a flood of memory into my heart, I realize that I’ve never really talked much about her beyond her astral presence in my life. My friends, those close to me anyway, may know the snippets of her that I share with them over time, time that includes others who painfully join the Motherless Club, and I thought that for Mothers Day, it might help ease the reoccurring ache in me to just tell you a little bit about this woman.
I’m not going to give you her history. That’s not important. But I can tell you what she did for me in the 30 years of life that I lived with her guiding me. Because this person who gave me life, gave me so much more than just a form that breathes, with a heart that beats inside my chest.
She gave me my laugh, and I wish those of you who have never even met me in person could just once experience this crazy hooting thing that bursts from my mouth when I’m amused. Which is often. Because she gave me my sense of humor too, and I use it a lot, especially when I can let go and laugh myself silly. I love laughing and really, I think we all need to do it a lot more. Get me laughing and the tears pour from my eyes, I double over with teeth bared as I about break the sound barrier. Get me and my brother Mike in a room together, tell a few funny stories and we’ve got people almost covering their ears because we are so darn loud. But this laugh, this crazy howl is a living legacy to my Mom, a testimony that she never held back when the world seemed ridiculous, and she gave us the same ability to throw our heads back and let loose when the feeling was right.
She also gave me my voice. Mom was not one to shrink away from the truth. I remember a story she told of a woman who worked with her that could never tell anyone ‘No’. Mom told this co-worker “If you can’t say ‘No’ to them, then send them to me and I’ll tell them ‘No’. And believe me, having the ability to say ‘No’ is a gift, people. I know plenty of folks who can’t do it. But the other gift is simply being able and willing to lay it down when it’s needed, meaning that when someone asks me for an honest opinion, I always raise an eyebrow to them and say “Are you sure you want that? Because you’re going to get the truth.” And I’m relieved to meet people who honestly want the truth. The world likes to lie to our faces, sugar-coating every detail and making the perfect glossy picture that looks like nirvana, but the truth is nothing like that. The truth is hard. It’s sharp at the edges and sometimes it hurts, but it’s also completely necessary. And along with the ability to be honest and real, I learned from my Mom that you simply don’t sit down and let the world walk all over you. Keep your chin up, say what you want and more importantly, mean what you say.
My Mom showed me perseverance in life. She lived through many tough times, and they took their toll on her, but she fought and clawed and pushed through them and I’m sure she spent many nights in the dark of her room in tears over the situations we faced, but she still rose each morning to do what needed to get done. I thought about that a lot in the 7 years I was a single parent, and had many of my own nights drenched in a cold sweat over what I was facing, but I never thought to back down and give up. Someone depended on me, and needed me and I couldn’t give in to that anxiety and fear. On so many nights I used to just pray for some good to come in my life, and in response I often heard her voice, crystal clear, telling me that everything was going to be all right. It might have been just a figment of memory, but at those times it felt like she was sitting right there in the dark with me, like she’d done so much when I was little, and the comfort it brought me took the edge off the pain. If she could be a single parent with five kids, I surely could manage with one.
In life, my Mom taught me many things, but in death, she’s taught me so much more. The simplest of those truths is the hardest to accept; you just never know how much time you’re going to have with anyone. Whether it’s your Mom, your Dad, your siblings or a friend, you could wake up today and it could be the last day you ever get to see their smile or feel the power of their embrace. You just don’t know when the end will come. The worst part about being motherless is listening to people complain about their parents, listening to other women grouse over the phone calls they get from their Moms, the way they think she’s trying to butt into their lives, the annoyance they have with what comes down to the simple fact that their Mom wants to stay in touch with them. It makes my heart hurt because I would give my right arm for my Mom to interfere in my life, to bug me with a phone call.
This photo was the last time I saw my Mom healthy and well. Griffin was two weeks old and she came to visit, thrilled to pieces over finally being a Grandma and getting to see her grandson. She was so excited about this new adventure in her life, so eager to be ‘that kind of Grandma’. She couldn’t stop holding him, snuggling him, tickling his little arms and legs and giving him her big wide smile. After the weekend visit was over, as her and her husband headed home to Warroad where they lived, she began to feel sick. Within weeks she was hospitalized and no one really knew what was wrong with her. She ended up at the Mayo Clinic, and passed away on August 25, 1994, barely four months later. I hardly even knew what was happening. One day she was there, in my house as excited as could be, then she was gone. Forever. I stood at her funeral, my baby in my arms and I could hardly believe that I had to raise my son without my Mom. Now, nearly 17 years later, I still can’t believe it. It was such a shocking exit that I reeled through life in deep grief for years. And as I watch friends of mine lose their mothers I wish that I could offer some kind of hope in such a sad situation, but the truth is harsh and brutal; you never get over it. You never recover. You move on, you live and you survive but a part of you dies in her, never to return.
If your Mom is still alive, please treasure her. Love her, accept her and be gracious to her. Talk to her as much as you can. Show her your appreciation. Remember everything she did for you, even if it wasn’t perfect. My Mom was not perfect, not by any means and many of my memories are painful, but she did the best she could, as everyone does. There shouldn’t be any room for bitterness, because you just never know how much time you have. Don’t waste it.