I write this on the eve of the anniversary of my mom’s death eight years ago. Ironically she crossed over on Mother’s Day.
I’ve learned a few things since then. Through the eyes of others who loved and enjoyed her, I’ve learned to appreciate gifts I didn’t fully acknowledge when she walked through this world. I recently came across a handful of sympathy cards we received back then and my heart was warmed by the remembrances of many dear friends and loved ones.
She and my Dad both adored babies and taught us all to love them, too. One friend said that she was someone who especially cared for children who were sometimes forgotten by others. She had an ability to relate to little ones in ways most adults have forgotten. She had a childlike quality that allowed her to come down to their level and make them squeal with glee and long to be in her presence.
A friend and neighbor recalled that she could remember my Mom so clearly-with a cigarette dangling out of her mouth as they cut up a ton of plums, trying to make plum jam. “She could talk me into doing just about anything.” I find that story especially amusing because in my lifetime, I don’t remember my mother EVER making anything remotely like plum jam. Cooking was not something she particularly enjoyed, but viewed it more as a necessary evil. Still, she convinced her friend to give plum jam a go.
Others called her “a character,” referred to her big heart, remembered her as loving and generous and a great friend. One said “she always made me feel welcome and a part of your family.” The one that made me laugh the most though, was, “she loved giving advice.” Yes. Yes she did. Lots and lots of advice to lots and lots of people.
She was different from the “other” moms. She rarely wore dresses or any makeup and she cursed with some regularity. Her hair was always cut short and she wore jeans long before they were fashionable. She drank Coke for breakfast and then throughout the day. She knew the managers and the clerks at the market and the drug store and was on a first name basis with the bank president. She used her connections to get countless friends and family members jobs when they needed one. She was a master networker before networking was a thing.
It occurred to me that she planted the seed of hospitality in me. Looking back I remember how she and my Dad welcomed a long parade of family members and friends into our home to live with us for brief periods. There were foster babies waiting adoption, relatives in transition, friends experiencing hard times and once even one of my mom’s hospital patients who needed a place to recover. The welcome mat was always out and there was always an extra seat at the dinner table for whoever stopped by.
She would regularly strike up conversations with total strangers at the mall and knew all her neighbors and all of their kids. She loved to “go visit” and we often had to track her down because it hadn’t occurred to her to tell us where she was going or when she’d return. She was unpredicatable. Whatever was on her mind often slipped out of her mouth to the horror of her children and those who didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. She wasn’t mean, just oblivious. And so, sometimes, we got cranky with her. Real cranky.
I have never believed it was necessary to pretend that one who has passed was someone different than who they actually were. What I’ve learned though, is that there is so more to each person than we may see. And, that with the passage of time, we can let go of what wasn’t perfect and learn to appreciate the good, the quirky and the gifts they brought to others we weren’t privy to. We all touch a lot of people in our lifetimes and no one has visibility of all of it. Those things are often revealed only with the passage of time.
I’m thankful for the life my mom gave me, for the many things she taught me, for the sacrifices she made, for the hopes she had for me, for loving me when I wasn’t lovable and for not disowning me when I almost burned down her kitchen. Who knew you shouldn’t leave baby oil warming on the stove and forget about it?
I’m thankful for the period of time when she constantly sang “I wish I were an Oscar Meyer Wiener” and for the trips to the Sundae Bar at Woody’s Smorgasborg. I’m grateful for her teaching me to love children, to care for babies and for the many memories that still can make me laugh out loud. She taught me how to clean a house, to be silly with some regularity and to not take myself too seriously. Other times she was serious. When I was six years old and told her I hated someone, she looked me straight in the eye and said, “you don’t hate anyone.” She said it with conviction and I never forgot it.
In the eight years since she left us, I’ve let go of all my unrealistic expectations of what a mom should be. I’m a mom myself now and I know that I fall short in many ways. I hope one day my own daughter will remember the good, let go of my own imperfections and forgive me where I’ve failed. I pray for grace as I’ve learned to extend it.
My funny, quirky, unpredictable mom– I’m thankful for the beautiful life she gave me the day she brought me into this world and to have been with her when she left it–on Mother’s Day.
‘Remembering her with great love and affection today.