I’m not quite 45, and both my parents are already dead. Lost my dad in 1991 to a sudden heart attack (he was 49) and lost my mom last year to lung cancer after her 56 years of smoking (she was 72). It feels too young to be an orphan.
I find when writing about or sharing about either of my parents, I tend to focus solely on them: how rad they were; their weird, funny quirks; their senses of humor; their unbelievable brilliance (both had advanced degrees in hard sciences); stuff like that.
It’s Mothers Day, and it’s my first Mothers Day without my mom, Ginny. She died last June. But today, I find myself reflecting not just on my mom, and who she was, but on who she and I were together. Our unique relationship, and the shit that made us cackle when it was just the two of us.
I have four brothers. FOUR. I am the only girl in the family, although Kerstin (the genius-half of this blog) and our other two best friends pretty much grew up at my house (see the photo, above). Also, Ginny was really, really tight with the daughter-in-law who married her baby boy (see the photo, below). So it’s not that I was my mom’s ONLY daughter, but as her only biological daughter, there are some things I share with her.
Like my laugh. Christ, I sound exactly like her. I was in her church shortly after she died, and I laughed at something. Then I noticed a friend of Ginny’s had tears streaming down her face. “You sound just like her,” she said. I smiled, “I do. And so does my daughter [La Diva]. Isn’t it cool that her laugh will live on like that?”
A few months ago, a friend with whom I grew up but haven’t seen in forever (although we follow each other on FB), messaged me and asked me to call her, because she wanted to bounce some ideas off me. She knew my mom her whole childhood. She knew she’d passed. So I warned her before I called, “OK, but just know, I sound exactly like Ginny, so it may be a little freaky.” When she answered the phone, instead of hello, I said, “Can’t say I didn’t warn you. Do you need a minute to tell your brain this isn’t a call from The Other Side?” She laughed and said, “Oh my god, you weren’t kidding! You DO sound just like her!”
I know. And I’m glad.
My wicked sense of humor didn’t just appear out of nowhere, either. My mom grew up in a different time, though, and some of my more random, saucier comments could catch her off guard. One of my favorite things in the whole wide world was to get this reaction from her: she’d look taken aback, in a “what the hell goes on in your head?!” kind of way, then start laughing, then look a little ashamed she was laughing.
Here are a few of my comments over the years that elicited that response from her:
- When I was 19 or 20, I saw a candy bar labelled “fun-size.” I said, “FUN size? HAH! ‘Fun size’ would be something you could lie in and eat your way out of.”
- When cell phones first came out, I said, “Is it wrong that I leave mine on vibrate and ALWAYS have it in my front pocket? Just tell me if that’s wrong.”
- Another time, her cat was sitting on a counter, both hind legs straight out in the air, going to town cleaning her naughty bits. I looked at the cat, looked at my mom, and said, “If I could do that, I’d never leave the house.” That one really got her. I even got a startled, “Theresa!” for that one. But she laughed. Ashamed, like she couldn’t help herself, but she laughed. It was beautiful.
My mom could be saucy, too, though, and she got saucier as she got older. At least with me. THIS story needs a little background, so bear with me.
The week we found out she had lung cancer, it all started with a regular doctor’s visit that escalated into a transport to an ER an hour away, and a probable hospital-admission. She didn’t want to tell any of my brothers. It wasn’t only that she didn’t want to worry anyone; she didn’t want to deal with anyone else’s drama until we had more information. But one of my idiot brothers was living with her at the time (don’t get me started), so I said, “He’s going to notice when you’re not home tonight.”
So she called him. Things escalated from there. My mom and I did a lot of eye-rolling at everyone’s panic and hyperbole. “I’m glad everyone’s already trying to bury me,” my mother said, annoyed.
One brother of mine — a particular prick who thinks the world simply cannot spin if he’s not in charge — told my mother he was flying up. My mother VERY CLEARLY said, “Do NOT come up. We don’t know anything yet. I am handling this.” And she was. As a retired nurse, and a highly competent human, she was handling it. I took my direction from her, did exactly as I was told (by her), and we were handling it.
I think you know where this is going. Prick Brother flew up anyway and “surprised” us. (He was smart enough to know he wasn’t staying at my house, though, so at least he got a hotel room.) He went with us to my mom’s first oncology appointment. My mom was filling out background paperwork, and going through the list of symptoms. The only one she said out loud was this: “Vaginal dryness? I don’t know. No one’s been down there in a while.”
She gave me a wicked grin, and we cackled. Prick Brother looked like he wanted to go through the floor. She looked delighted: she’d gotten her revenge for him ignoring her wishes. (A few hours later, we were having a conference call with all The Brothers. I repeated that story. As my brothers squirmed uncomfortably, my mom and I locked eyes and laughed and laughed. It was glorious.)
A few months before we even knew she was sick, I had a realization about something that I’d never told my mom. When my girls were tiny, I told them all the time, “I’m so lucky I get to be your mom.” The first time Faerie Child replied, “I’m so lucky I get to be your daughter,” I got instantly choked up. She was three or four, and I was floored. I never said it expecting a response. I just wanted them to know how unbelievably, indescribably special they are, and that I was privileged to be part of their lives. My girls and I still say this to each other all the time.
One day in the winter of 2015 — before we knew she was sick — I realized I’d never said that to my mom.
My mom wasn’t much of a crier. When something choked her up, she’d look at the ceiling, blink hard, then look back at you and make a smart-assed comment to hide how touched she was.
So the day after my realization, we were in her kitchen having a cup o’tay, and I told her how I’ve always said that to my girls. Then I said, “And I realized I’ve never said it to you. So, Mom, I want to tell you, I’m so lucky I get to be your daughter.”
She looked up at the ceiling, blinked hard, looked back at me and made some smart-assed comment that I can’t remember, because I was too busy enjoying the moment, enjoying that moment when she knew how much I loved her.
I will treasure that moment for the rest of my life.