Criminy, has it been over a year? There’s neglecting a blog and then there’s just flat out ignoring it. I’ve been so busy writing about a silly game called baseball over at Fangraphs.com that I don’t swing by here much, but I figured I’d kick my foot in the door a little just in case WordPress was about to fire me or something.
But today, I’ll probably just depress the hell out of you. Because I was missing my Mom today, who died a long time ago to that $#%*ing plague that starts with a capital “C”.
So I was missing Mom and I was thinking about her and then I thought about what a beautiful lady she was, which made me think of the giant portrait tattoo I got of her (oh, man is she gonna be pissed if I get into heaven and she sees it), which made me think of the photo I used as inspiration for it. It was the picture of when she was 21 that sat on my Great Grandfather’s Piano. I thought she looked like a movie star.
Well, so thought process this with me… in thinking about that picture, I thought about her funeral because that picture sat on the stage. And when I thought about her funeral, I thought about the eulogy I delivered which was one of the most difficult and awful, yet somehow wonderful experiences of my adult life. What’s weird is, I wrote it literally in one draft. It just spilled onto the paper.
I thought I’d share it with you.
This past summer my wife and I took a vacation to the Washington Coast with some of our closest friends. We all have two year olds, so we consider vacationing together kind of a support group.
Knowing Gus, I figured he would be initially cautious, but once he got a flavor for splashing in the water, he’d want to get right in. This concerned me. So I did some research.
I learned about sea creatures, winds, swells, and other such matter. Then I read about rip tide and what I found surprised me.
It turns out if you get swept up in a rip tide, if you try to swim against it you’re doomed. If you fight it it’s useless. You’re only hope to survive isn’t to swim, it’s to let it take you – you need to completely let go.
This operates against logic, against human will.
To fight it is futile. You have to surrender to it to have any hope.
When Mom was first diagnosed, I thought the decision on what to do next was obvious:
You fight it with all of your strength.
Go in swinging, go down swinging.
Doctors didn’t give her much in the way of hope. Her chances were slim. Fight it and you have maybe a year, and it wouldn’t be a very pleasant year. Don’t fight and you have a few months.
But this is my Mom we’re talking about. Stubborn. Resolute. Iron-willed.
And yet after a flirtation with a protracted battle, she did the unthinkable and she just stopped. Stopped chemo, stopped taking her blood pressure medicine, ignored her diabetes. She stopped fighting against the tide.
She let go.
This is my Mom we’re talking about. Realist. Practical. Wise.
I can’t say that I agree with her decision, but I recognize that she gave us a gift. She let go in order to make full use of the time she had left. So instead of the next chemo appointment, the next meeting with doctors, the next round of being too sick to get out of bed, she connected with her friends, she was visited by family, she got to spend time with her grandchildren Jonathan, Christopher, Gus. She got to hold little baby Ike.
She went to the casino.
She ate pizza.
She even drank beer.
She let go so she could live.
With this decision, this gift, we were able to simply love her during her remaining time and reflect on what she meant to us.
In thinking about Mom’s life I realize that she was the master of knowing when to let go.
Mom entered nursing school in a class of 43 and only 18 graduated. It was a grueling program. Students needed to study, intern, many worked on the side to earn money. She was good at what she did and she enjoyed it. One of my favorite stories that Dad told me years ago was that Mom would get home from work and leave a note about where they were going out with friends. Dad would get home a time later, change, see the note, and drive separately. They’d have fun all night, race each other home, wake up and swear they’d never do it again until my dad saw Mom’s note that night after work. And they’d do it all over.
I tell you this story because Mom had an endearing line she used to like to tell Kelli and me. “My life was really over when I had you kids.” And then she’d grin and look at us with adoring eyes and say “but I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Mom never wanted to be a cook. She didn’t want to shop for groceries. She didn’t want to vacuum, clean the bathroom, do the laundry. She didn’t want to do back-to-school shopping. She didn’t want to discipline.
But she did it.
She let go of her career, she let go of her fun, and she became a Mother. Because she was selfless.
I recall being in first grade and my buddy Andy wore a key around his neck and I asked him, “why do you wear that key around your neck?”.
“So I can get in my house,” he said rather incredulously
And I said, “You mean your mom won’t let you in the house?”
I never knew what it was like to not have Mom at home, there waiting for me, to take care of me, to ask me about my day. What I learned. What I liked. What I discovered.
Mom had a knack for knowing when things were beyond her control.
I remember being a young boy… and let’s just say my Mom and my sister were having trouble seeing eye to eye. Mom did the best she could but there wasn’t much she could say or do that would derail my sister’s determination to be her own person. I recall Mom telling me, “honey, I love you’re your sister but I just can’t fix her right now.” And she let her go. I believe it was this decision that allowed my sister to make her own choices, grow up, learn from mistakes, and mature. It’s why she became the empathetic, intelligent person she is today. Mom let her go to let her grow.
I also remember wondering why Mom cried so much when I was leaving for college. It wasn’t as if I was going to Central. I was only going 90 minutes north. I’d certainly be coming home for a good meal and to do my laundry on the weekends. It was much later that I realized that she cried because she had to let me go – she had to let me go and make my own mistakes, my own decisions, and learn from them on my own. When other Moms called night after night, mine let me call her – and I credit her for that.
Helen Hunt Jackson wrote:
Motherhood is priced
Of God, at price no man may dare
To lessen or misunderstand
When I first read that, the understanding part struck me – it reminded me of something I wrote for Mom that I never gave her.
Last year, I started to write her a letter for Mother’s Day because I was now a parent and I had a new respect for her with Gus in my life. Ironically, I never finished it largely because I have Gus in my life. In reading it over, so much of it seemed appropriate for today. I’d like to share some of it with you now.
Mom, I understand how you must have felt when I was born and they told you I wouldn’t survive.
I understand now why you always read me one more book before bedtime if I asked.
I understand why you didn’t want me to play football.
I understand why going out for pizza on Saturday was so important to you. You didn’t have to cook for us – and prepare two different meals: one for your finicky daughter, and one for the rest of us.
I understand why you spoiled me.
I understand why you couldn’t stand my hair long in college.
I understand why you forced me to go to confirmation.
I understand why you asked me to clean up my room. I also understand why it upset you when I never did.
I understand why you always made me send thank you notes promptly.
I understand why you couldn’t come to my baseball games because you’d throw your back out.
Mom, I still don’t understand gazpacho, but I understand why you made it. Because Dad liked it.
I understand what went through your mind when you heard the tires screech outside our house when I got hit by that car. And Mom, I hope you understand why the first thing that I told the medics was that Mom was going to kill me.
I understand why every time I left the house, you told me to “be careful”. And as if I couldn’t look at the gauge myself, you asked if there was any gas in the car.
Mom, I’ll never understand why you packed two kids into a 1981 VW Rabbit and drove 800 miles to Reno Nevada, but I’m sure you had your reasons.
I understand why you didn’t like some of my girlfriends.
I even understand why at Christmas time you always hung that picture of an ox that Kelli made in grade school even though it really had nothing to do with Christmas and it barely looked like an animal to begin with. I get it now.
I understand now why you always shopped on the sale rack.
I finally understand why you sobbed when I broke that ugly green vase that sat on top of our 1960’s television in the basement. It was the last thing your mother had given you.
I understand why you had a well stocked bar.
I understand how much you cared for us.
I understand how much you loved us.
I finally understand all the sacrifice.
And Mom, I was going to say that I don’t know what I’ll do without you – but in fact, I do know what I’ll do without you. I’ll honor you by attempting to live up to your example, and you all can do the same.
To be selfless.
To sacrifice for those you love
To be loyal to your friends
To be loyal to your family
To love your family almost to a fault
To know when to stand and fight
And to have the wisdom to know when to let the tide take you.