As I sat by my mom’s hospital bed through her illness, I never expected the outcome would be laying her to rest and crafting her eulogy. Even as her damaged lungs struggled to process sufficient oxygen, she wanted to live, hoping she’d find joy amidst struggle. And, lost in dreams and dementia, between visits from family and friends, there was some happiness despite pain.
But how does one encapsulate 78 years in one page? Is it best to recount the highest highs and lowest lows? Or tell the everyday tales? The barest facts are that mom was born in San Diego during WWII and spent her formative years on a farm with her grandparents. She and my dad met and married in a whirlwind romance in their 20s and spent the ensuing 56 years together – Jeff and I came along in their 30s – in southern Cal. Family vacations usually entailed driving throughout California in our station wagon – often with our dalmatian pups, Lisha and Patches, in tow. Jeff and I were both born at St Jude in Fullerton, and there, mom spent her final weeks, eventually succumbing to pneumonia and pulmonary fibrosis.
There’s obviously more to her life than that. She was very human and, while not super patient, was very persistent. We never went to bed without the assurance that we were loved. And education was penultimate: we were to go to college, no matter what. Mom used to play a game with us as kids to pass the time during car rides: she’d play instrumental music on the radio and ask us to craft stories evoked by the melodies and rhythms. What we didn’t realize at the time was that, in addition to sheer music appreciation, she was teaching us how to use our imaginations. Turns out, the game was as much about the simple joy of togetherness as it was about learning listening and creativity.
Mom was also ambitious -and very capable- and gave her all at running our household and growing a career in real estate, all at once. I used to wonder aloud why it seemed she drew the short straw, both working full time and being responsible for cooking, etc. She was both tough and gentle with me … all mothers and daughters have complicated relationships; as women, we understand the complexities of life, and consequently expect more from one another, and yet more readily offer forgiveness and support. But the one clear and uncomplicated thing – uncompromising and unconditional – was her love for me, the rest of her family, and her friends. She wanted the best for – and from – us all, and she found such joy in being surrounded by us, in any circumstances.
Mom was friend and mentor to many in her Real Estate community, and relished her “elder stateswoman” status. She took care of her parents late in their life, and was very involved in many of her friends’ lives over the years as well. When dear friends of hers passed, she stepped in and played the even-more-loving auntie. And she lived her life as if it would never end. She would get discouraged at times but was always hopeful – frequently calling herself a Pollyanna – and she loved to manage, manage, manage. And she loved a good laugh! Her wicked sense of humor never failed to amaze me, and carried her through plenty of tough situations.
So, when mom’s health declined so precipitously, we realized in the gravity of the situation that we had to both convey the enormity of what she faced while encouraging her to think positively, and assure her we loved her and would take care of our dad, once she was gone.
In the ensuing weeks we have each endured a roller coaster of feelings – from inconsolable tears, to sharp anger, to howling laughter. We know mom was exceedingly proud of us – having raised us to be strong, vulnerable, and resourceful. She also, despite her grounding practicality, was an endless optimist, always hoping against hope, even bordering on the quixotic. We have sometimes lost our patience with her, only to melt with love the next moment. Her absolute favorite thing was family: being wife, mom, aunt, grandmother – and that, for us all, will go on. She is inside us. She is us: our compassion, our loyalty, our laughter.
We miss you, Mama, but we will be ok, and we wish you safe journeys.