One year ago today my mom died.
How’s that for a fun first sentence? Read on.. It gets better… no, really.
Note: I can’t adequately convey what I’d like to. This is a pretty poor attempt at tribute.. But, this morning, it’s what I have.
I miss my mom. More at some times.. Like now. NOT because it is the anniversary date of her death. I hate to say it but I might not have remembered the actual date had her sister not emailed us to let us know she was thinking of us and they were having a mass back in Canada.
read: Enjoy Every Sandwich
I mean, I had a nagging underlying knowledge that today was the day. But.. the bigger reminder was The US Open tennis tournament. Because, if you were to describe my mom, tennis would be near the top of the list.
Every major since her death has been like this for me. They are less fun to watch.
Yesterday, I watched the end of Pouile v. Nadal – an amazing match. The Frenchman, a rising star in men’s tennis, won a 5 setter that came down to the final points in a tie-breaker. He was incredibly gracious in victory and subsequent interview. I really liked the guy – I’m rooting for him.
My mom would have liked him too.
And this is why the major’s are harder than the date of her death….
Yesterday, I was reminded once again, that I couldn’t call her to discuss the match or Pouile’s great after match interviews. We couldn’t talk about how McEnroe – the best sports commentator in any sport in my opinion – loved Pouile’s no-nonsense humility. And how my mom would agree with him.
“The match isn’t over until the final point,” Pouile said.
We can apply the hell out of that wisdom, can’t we?
And we couldn’t talk about me joining her and her friends for doubles – me the “young gun” on the court – playing with 75-90 year old women who would tell me how fast I moved. I’d say, “You’ve spotted me 30 years, I’d better be fast because I have no confidence I’ll be out here at 80 years old – moving at all.”
My friend Mike texted me this past April Fool’s Day – his text.. “If you look out your front window you will see there is a horse on your lawn.”
It choked me up… the horse on the lawn was a running gag of my mom’s from my childhood. Every year, April 1st, she was going to call me or I was going to call her to say there was a horse on the lawn. Why that was funny to us.. I have no idea.
Of course, one year, we brought our two horses to my mom’s, snuck them in the backyard, and then I called her with the gag. Winner!
There are other things I miss.. Pet phrases and her dry sarcasm. Those of you who know me and my sarcasm have met my mother. In fact, the self-deprecation and sarcasm is from her… The love for people – and a willingness to generally accept and work with their foibles is also her.
“I’m not just a pretty face”
One of my mom’s favorite phrases. She said it if I commented on her knowledge – evident when watching Jeopardy with her. She’d say it during tennis, if she made a great shot. The exchange would look like this.
Me: Great shot mom.
Her: I’m not just a pretty face you know.
Me: That’s true.. You are not!
Her: Oh fuck off!
Yeah.. she’d tell me to fuck off every once in awhile – deservedly. It always made us laugh. The last time she really cussed at me was during the final 6 weeks – when cancer was killing her.
Please understand, she was not really prone to cuss.. We, her kids, brought her to that point… it was still always shocking and always made me laugh.. if the fact that she did bothers you.. well.. fuck off! 😉
We were feeding her through a feeding tube. I’d pretend I was a waiter and explain the menu choices and how great it was going to be. I’d ask her how she wanted her fluid prepared and did she want the vegetables or rice pilaf with that. I told her I was going to open a feeding tube restaurant to give people dying a unique dining experience. We both thought it was a pretty fun idea… morbid, yes.. but still funny.
Later, however, we were struggling to give her medicine orally..I told her I could crush it and put it through the tube. She did NOT want the tube to get plugged up. She was a nurse and through all the decline, understood enough that she was not getting calories she needed – even with the feeding tube. So.. she wanted the tube open.
I explained that I would crush the pills carefully and dilute them in water.
“Don’t fuck with my feeding tube!”
I looked at her with shock and then we both started laughing. I texted my siblings – classic mom moment.
Her other pet phrase was usually said when you did something intelligent and someone else noticed. Someone might say to her (or you might say it yourself), “Matt is really smart.”
Mom: “Yes.. but he hides it so well.”
I miss hearing that..
True story: Years ago I had been hired to speak in Calabasas. I invited my mom and the organizers sat her with us at the head table of the luncheon. After I finished, the woman in charge of the event said to my mom, “You must be proud of your son.”
True to form, my mom replied, “I spent 18 years trying to shut that kid up and now you pay him to speak.”
Some people didn’t understand that.. They thought it mean. I don’t.. It is so no-nonsense, achievement is sort of expected, go do things – that I love it.
Mom didn’t want you too big for your own good – and that’s good because I’ve never struggled with lack of confidence – at least not in those areas.
Other things about my mom.. She never spanked me or really disciplined me. She just talked to me.. You were expected to be a good person. I wish I’d done better at this with my kids when they were young.. My mom said I should focus on redirection rather than forced obedience. I believe this – though failed at it a lot!
She walked every morning – a few miles – never complained about being tired or sore.. In life, you will be tired and sore sometimes.. So what.. You still have to do things.
Even with cancer she tried to get out and walk. I remember going to the store just after the diagnosis.. I was trying to find a spot close to the store. She pointed to the end of the parking lot – “park there.”
“Mom.. I want to get you closer.”
“I’m not dead yet.. Park over there.”
I’ve said it before, she was a bit of a badass. I’m so thankful for that example.
Was I a good mom?
This questions haunts me… During the final weeks of her life, my siblings and I traded off spending time to care for her. I stayed at her house 3 to 4 days a week. The cancer had spread to her brain and elsewhere. It affected her physical function. I was watching as she was putting some clean dishes away (no, she was NOT going to stop working, there’s stuff to do).
She got confused opening the cupboard door.. Trying to put a glass away. She kept pushing it against the cupboard rather than through the open door to the shelf. I got up and went to her to help. As I got there, she realized what she was doing.
She put the glass down and I said, “Shit!”
She was frustrated and all too aware of what was happening to her.
Then she turned to me and said, “I’m sorry.”
“Mom.. why are you sorry? You have nothing to be sorry about.”
“I’m sorry I’m creating trouble.”
I started crying – she did too.
“Mom.. you are not trouble.. It is my pleasure to be here.. I owe you everything.. My life!”
I held her – not something our family is so good at..
Then she asked, “Was I a good mom?”
The question made me cry more.. There are some demons there for her.. Reasons she might not understand how great she was or question her mothering.. And damn those demons and the people who bring them!
“You are an amazing mom! You were the best mom! The best parts of me are from you! The best parts of my kids are from you!”
And this is true!
I could explain the end – how I got to talk to her prior to giving her a morphine/ativan cocktail that let her sleep – and never wake up. I could explain how I told her to stop fighting.. That we were okay.. That she did awesome!
But I’d rather talk about her taking a bunch of kids across country – several times – or arranging ski trips with us and with friends. Or how, the day prior to hip replacement surgery we went to her weekly tennis game.. She popped a bunch of ibuprofen and limped onto the court to play two hours of tennis. (Do you see where I get it from?)
I’d rather remember how all her friends talked about her humor and intellect – her care and love for people.. How she never had drama in her life – or, at least, you never heard about it.
How, devoid of rhythm, she would get out and line dance a few times a week. How she would get her friends together for lunch every week. How, regardless of health, tragedy, and any personal challenges, she was living life.
She wanted to go to Zion the last few years of her life.. But caring for my father and other situations made that impossible. So.. I want to go for her.. I’m going to hike the fuck out of that place.. I want to do it alone – well, I’ll take my dog and her! I’m taking her with me.
Thanks mom.. I love you!