|Mom, Dad and me at my high school graduation.|
I teach an English class at Old Dominion and on the last night of every semester, I talk for a few minutes about what I call the rules of life. One of those rules is if you still have a mom or a dad, cherish that relationship. Friends come. Friends go. You only have one mom. You only have one dad.
Today I have neither. I lost my dad 17 years ago. I lost my mom this morning. And here again, I am reminded of another of my rules: Remember when it’s time to lose someone you truly love that it was never enough time. We always want one more day, one more visit, one more hug, one more “I love you.”
It was only two weeks ago when Mom and I were talking. I could call my mom at any time of the day. Like me, she was a night owl. My son has mono, and even though neither my sister or I ever had it, I knew my mom had some advice to help with the sore throat from hell that had my son in agony.
Chloraseptic throats drops are best, she said.
My mom was amazing, and not because she baked cookies or was overly affectionate or knew the right answers about homework. We butted heads when I was little – she’d often remind me that I was a “surprise” 10 years behind my sister. She didn’t always give me what I wanted when I was a kid, but she made sure of this: I was educated. My mother attended minimal high school. She always said she hated the inside of the school, and schools had certain smells. My sister graduated from MIT before getting her MBA. My master’s in journalism from the University of Missouri followed my bachelor’s from George Washington University. My mom stood on her feet as a cashier at a wine and cheese shop, I liked to say – at a liquor store, she would say – to pay for private high school so my sister and I would have those opportunities. She never made more than $5 an hour.
A therapist once asked me to describe my mom in a word and I said “hard.” She was, and I can’t sugar coat that. But she softened with the death of my dad followed by the birth of my first son 11 days later. I remember how she scooped up baby Harry – named for my father – and took a lawn chair to sit under a tree in my back yard. She held him in a way I’ll never forget, speaking softly under the warm breeze. When Ben was born three years later, she was here the next day, instantly attached – this from a woman who said she would never be the typical grandmother. Perhaps not, but her apartment was something of a shrine to those two boys. Becoming a mother myself made me understand and appreciate her perspective in a way I never thought possible.
When a gall bladder attack sent my mother to the hospital nearly a month ago, and complications developed, I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into her sixth floor room. She was crying – something I had only seen when she lost her siblings – and she was scared. I held her hand. She wanted to give up. The next day wasn’t much better until we started to talk. Really talk. I asked questions I had always wanted to know the answers to about when she was young. We talked about me –the raw pain I felt when losing that newspaper job that was part of me for 20 years, the depression that has often prevented me from seeing what’s right in front of me.
She told me I was never supposed to make it – all 4 pounds of me – as they cut her open when she was pregnant to remove a tumor.
She said the most amazing words that afternoon to me: “Now I know why I got sick. So we could have this conversation.”
I thought she was getting better. So did she. She went home and almost made it a week before an unforeseen setback sent her back to the hospital. Even then, I believed there was hope, realistic hope of a full recovery. The news came yesterday that it wouldn’t be more than 24 hours.
She died shortly after 5 a.m.
I wish we had one more Thanksgiving, one more Christmas. My mom was a great gift giver, someone who prided herself in finding the un-findable and surprising you on Christmas morning. When you’d ask where she got it, a smug “trade secret” would be her only response. I loved her cooking. Her fried cabbage is my favorite food on the planet, and her stewed tomatoes over fried potatoes ranks a close second. I loved when the daytime soaps were on, and we’d talk endlessly about the characters I had grown up with. We felt the same way about Frank Sinatra and Johnny Carson. We made the same jokes about Dad. We played Pinochle until all hours and a game only she knew called Liverpool. We sang HTTR when they beat Dallas in Dallas a few Thanksgivings back.
I loved talking to my mom about everything, but I especially liked talking to her about nothing.
I don’t have a dad anymore. Or a mom. I have the biggest ache in my heart. I have the memories. And I cherish each of them.