My mother died on Monday morning, September 26, 2011. The day before, my brother and I brought our children to her in the in-patient hospice facility. She said she didn’t have much time left and that she wanted to see them all. I stayed with her the night of the 25th. I was awake most of the night, but sometime after 5 am I fell asleep. When I woke up at 7 am she was 3 feet away from me, but she was gone. I hate that I was asleep at the end; I feel like it was weak of me to fall asleep. People keep telling me things like, “She knew you were there and that you were relaxed, so she chose to go.” I don’t actually believe that, but I suppose it could make me feel a little better if I did.
These are the remarks I read at my mother’s memorial service on Sunday, October 2, 2011. My mother’s family, friends and colleagues turned out for the service in numbers larger than I, or she, had ever imagined. There were people there I had never met, some I had only heard about for years. There were also people who had known us for decades, who met my mother in college, who fixed my mom’s car, who caught rides home from our childhood soccer games with my mom. It was an amazing day.
I want to thank all of you for coming today and for being a part of my mother’s life.
I’m going to talk a bit about my mom, what she believed in and how she lived her life according to these beliefs.
I’ve spent hours this week talking to people who knew my mother; her family, her friends, colleagues from work, people she socialized and volunteered with. It occurred to me shortly into these conversations that I was learning something about my mom, not just checking tasks off my To Do List.
You all were sharing the feelings you had for my mother, what you remembered about her, what made her a good friend, worker, sister and niece. You said she was kind, intelligent, fiesty and that she worked constantly to try to make the world around her fair and just for everyone. At first I thought… I know all these things. I know my mother was great; she was absolutely my best friend. I also know that my mother devoted most of her life to me and to my brother.
What struck me is that every person, without exception, said that the most important thing in the world to my mother was her family, and taking care of that family, often alone. It doesn’t surprise me but just struck me how evident that was to everyone outside of our house, to all of you. An old friend of mine, who neither my mother or I have laid eyes on since my high school graduation in 1992, sent me an email this week that said so much, and proved how important she was to everyone around her.
“I know we’ve lost touch but I wanted tyou to know that your mom impacted my life. I didn’t have a strong, independent role model in my life. I was envious of you because you had a great relationship with your mom. You had an incredible mother who pushed you and loved you. I can’t imagine how many lives she impacted.”
Now I can’t imagine how many lives she impacted either.
I realize now that my mother’s only real goals were to take care of us and to ensure that we were healthy, happy, compassionate and kind people. When we grew up and had children she wanted these same things for her grandchildren. I believe she accomplished her goals.
And I believe she left so much more for us, for our kids. I see her in all of us. In the way we look, the way we speak, even the way we read and write. And I hope that I continue to see these things, and to take care of my family the way she took care of us. My mom gave all of us so much, and I wanted to share a couple of ways my daughters showed me that this week.
My 7 year old wrote a story at school called “All About Grandmama.”
I have been feeling sad because my grandmother died over the weekend. She had had breast cancer, treatments and some years when she wasn’t sick. But she got sick again when the breast cancer came back. The medicine (chemo) made her hair fall out so she shaved it and wore cloth around her head.
Some things I liked to do with Grandmama were to read and play games. I would pick out a book in my room and she would read it to me. I liked to hear a lot of the stories, anytime, and at bedtime.
When she came to my house, I also liked to play board games. Checkers and Guess Who? were my favorites. Sometimes my sister played too. One time we made a book about shapes, and I really liked doing that with her.
I really loved Grandmama and I will always remember her.
Oh, and she gave me this awesome book called Bats in the Library.
That honesty about my daughter’s feelings and the illness would have meant a lot to my mom, and making those books with the kids was so very important to her.
Never to be out done by her big sister, my 4 year old drew this picture that shows her impression of her Grandmama. It’s hard for you to see but it’s her Grandmama in the middle, with her family all around her. When she thinks of her Grandmama, she thinks of her as the center of this huge circle of people who make up our family.
I believe that my girls showed me how my mother accomplished her goal of caring for her family before anything else. Whether she intended to be the “center” of the family or not, she was. And the things she taught us will always be central to who we are and who we raise our children to be.
Thank you again for coming and for caring about my mom. She cared for each of you deeply.