April 27th, 2016, my siblings and I were with our mother when she died at home. There’s much to write about that process – both leading up to it and following her death – but for starters, I want to share the words I spoke at her Memorial service the other day. Whether it’s the stuff of blogs or not, I really don’t care. I just wanted an easy way to hold it and share it with those who wished they’d been there.
On August 16th, 1962, in St. Cloud Minnesota, I saw my mother for the first time. It was about 3am, the moving truck was packed so the family could move to Eau Claire, Wisconsin the next morning. They’d been at a ‘going away party’ which surprisingly became my ‘welcome to the world’ party. As my family headed off to our future home and unpacked the house just as Mom had so carefully plotted, planned, charted and mapped out… my mom and I got to spend one precious week alone together in the hospital. Though I don’t remember it well, I trust it’s when I fell deeply in love with one of the most beautiful, complicated, intelligent, fierce, loving, creative, champions of human potential I’ll ever have the privilege of knowing.
I was the youngest of the 5 children. (Still am!) Even though it was the 1960s, Mom always worked. She said she split her salary with the babysitter because she had to do more than raise children. Not ‘had to’ as in it was required or needed for their survival, but because there was a drive in her to contribute and engage in the world that was not fully met at home raising kids and ironing Dad’s shirts. Being the youngest, my sibs would probably tell you I got the best of mom… And the worst of mom. And for some reason, that I’m still sorting out with my therapist (!), I’m the one child who never really left home. I followed her to Michigan… She followed me to college…. I followed her back to Michigan…she followed me to Marquette… then at last we came to NY together.
I won’t detail for you the worst of her, as it doesn’t really matter right now. Much of history has proven that many of the brightest lights in our world cast the darkest shadows. If you were caught in the shadowy bits of my Mom, please know there’s an opportunity in that for understanding, forgiveness, healing, and deepening compassion for yourself and others. Mom would want it that way as she believed that all Problems are Opportunities in disguise. I do want to tell you some of my favorite things about Mom though. Trying to narrow down to just a few things after spending 53 years with someone is not easy.
Many of us heard our parents say as we went out the door as kids “Have a good time!” Not with us. Mom used her mother’s words and would exclaim instead “Give a good time!” No one could ‘give a better time’ than our mom. We were taught to go out in the world with a generous spirit, be curious with other people, be interested in our friends’ parents, and live life fully.
Mom was always an ENGAGED LEARNER: When I was about 7 years old, Mom and a neighbor decided to work together to enrich the young minds of my friend Nora and I. Since Mom knew about ART and Nora’s mom, Doris, knew about Sunday school… MOM taught us Sunday School stories and Nora’s mom taught us about ART. There’s no way Mom would have done it the other way around, because she always wanted to learn more too! At the end of it, we all flew to Chicago to visit the art institute and to see in person all the paintings we’d been studying all year. It was a grand adventure! Mom planned out every detail, of course, so we could all just take in the experience. Yes, she was about ‘the experience’ always, and often the experiences were driven by an underlying desire to learn and teach in full-bodied ways.
TRUST: Another thing I adored about our mom is how much she TRUSTED US from a very early age. When I was 9 and Pat was 13, she put us on a plane in Spain back to the US to visit our grandmother on a small island off the coast of Massachusetts. Every detail was outlined for us…. And EVERY thing went wrong! The plane didn’t fly till the next day, our luggage was lost, the 2nd flight was on an airline that had gone out of business, our hotel reservation didn’t exist, and the sea plane pilot seemed unfindable. We did just fine, however, and got where we needed to go. Mom grew us into people who could do that and she trusted that we could manage whatever came our way.
When each of us turned 16, she trusted us to plot out and go on our own coming of age adventures. These took us on solo adventures to Mexico, France, Bicycling Europe, Getting a pilot’s license, and bicycling Canada’s east coast. She trusted us to plan it, execute it, and be grown by it. And when we returned, she was of course WILDLY CURIOUS and interested in everything we’d be willing to share. She ALWAYS wanted to hear about our adventures… from our earliest years to her very last days. Her curiosity and interest NEVER ceased.
ENTHUSIASM: In recent years, we started to have a running joke in our family. Whenever we’d cook something for Mom, she’d say “THIS IS THE BEST__(fill in the blank)___ I EVER HAD!” I think we started to get a little competitive with one another as we’d take our turns up at the island. I think we secretly wanted to get an added, “no really, I MEAN it, THIS really IS the best!” Her enthusiasm for so much in her life was infectious. It was rarely matched or met by anyone she met, which was a great disappointment earlier in life, but I think in her later years she grew to accept that she really was THE BEST at ENTHUSIASTIC responses to things that any of us will ever meet.
When she loved you truly and deeply, you knew it truly and deeply. In the days since Mom died, we’ve received lots of letters that freely speak of some of the hard bits of mom. She was a truth teller, which has invited others to tell the truth about her widely, freely, and publicly. Sometimes this feels good. Sometimes it hurts. That’s not so unlike how she lived and how she loved. When you were seated firmly in her heart though, there was nothing quite like it. The way she supported, listened, celebrated, championed, invested in, and held you was like nothing most of us will ever experience again. I suspect many of the people who have traveled a distance to be here, you’ve done so because you knew that feeling. The thing that I grieve most of all, is losing that. I suspect many of us know there is no one who has or will ever again have us feel seen or loved quite like she was able to. I will miss that always.
Lastly, one of the complicated things we lived with was Mom’s long held idea that she would die at the same age her mother did – age 58. She surprised herself, more than anyone, when she lived to be older than nearly all of her relatives and ancestors! (Heck, she smoked longer than she thought she’d live!) One reason she lived so fiercely, checking off every item on her bucket list and searching every nook and cranny of the spiritual world for meaning and understanding, is because she wanted to have lived fully by age 58. This was a great gift on the one hand – and it was a great challenge growing up having the idea we’d lose her early, as she did her mother, held over our heads. It led us all to think about things in ways others don’t bother with till later in life, if ever. I’ve been thinking about death for as long as I can remember – hers, especially. A couple of months ago, I wrote this poem. I didn’t write it for her, but it was definitely inspired by her.
Birth and Death
Long distance lovers
We work so hard to
They are as distant as
Dallas and Singapore
If one were to crawl to the other
They live simply
Next door as neighbors
Standing by their windows at night
Hoping to catch a glimpse
Of their baby giggling as they
Discover their feet
We are the Love poems
They write back-and-forth
Our daily living and
Our daily dying
Brings them ever closer
To the passionate embrace
Sealing their fate
That moment when they
May we seize each day and live it as a love poem to the Universe. May we let that which is no longer needed die away. And may we all celebrate in knowing that Mom/Margo/Grandma/Aunt Margo is dancing in the vast oneness of All That Is.
I’m so glad I got born,
and I’m so glad I chose you.