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My mother was a complex, multi-faceted person. Many of you here today knew my mother personally, and many of you knew my mother indirectly through one of her family members. You may have known her as a coworker, a friend, or a support person. Of course, all of my mother’s family here today each knew a part of her, a “facet” of her--as a mother, a sister, an aunt, a grandmother, a cousin.
I, of course, knew my mother as a mother. As I have reached adulthood and become a mother myself, I have also known her as a friend. My mom shared much of herself with me, and I saw sides of my mother as she struggled with her cancer that I had never seen before, especially her strong belief in positive thinking and the importance of quality of life. I was privileged to know so many facets of my mother, but certainly I did not know all. There were parts of her life that I didn’t see, relationships that I didn’t know about. Last night, at the wake, so many stories were told to me about my mom’s strength, courage, humor, kindness, her quietness, her loyalty as a friend. It was so special to hear of these things that my mom said and did, to know some of these other parts of her life. I hope that her friends and family will continue to share these stories with me and with each other so we can continue to know and remember my mom.
So, therefore, I would like to share a little about my mother as I knew her--as her oldest child, her first daughter, her “firstborn” (as she called me), as her “Suzy”.
As a young child, I knew my mother as strict and consistent. The house was orderly. Rules were clear and expected to be followed. Of course, I was compelled to always test this side of my mother--I can’t tell you how many hours I spent sitting on a chair in the corner of the kitchen, staring at our yellow tile!! Even then, my mother did not believe in spankings and corporal punishment as such, but she did use the occasional “wap” on the arm or behind when she felt it was necessary. If you watch the old family movies, you will see me in many scenes pouting and rubbing my arm (Testing those limits again!!).
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My mother also had a fun side. I remember her listening to the radio in the mornings, as us kids were eating our breakfast before school, and watching her be excited about an Elvis song being played. During the summer, we were often allowed to sit on our front porch to watch a storm passing by, and my mom would give us cinnamon red hearts that she kept for baking in a big bowl to eat. I also remember spending many hours on the front porch mixing up my mom’s old makeup to create new “stuff”. I know, at the time, I felt pretty glamorous and cool, but I am sure those mixtures looked and smelled pretty strange! My mom never let on, though!
In my younger days, I didn’t know my mother as too outwardly affectionate, but I always knew that I was loved. She made birthdays special--she would make me whatever I wanted for dinner that day. She was always able to know what to give me as gifts--what I REALLY wanted. One year, for Christmas, it was a cheerleading baton, which she wrapped up and labeled as a gift for my brother! Right before we opened the gifts, she switched the tags and told me it was my gift!! I had not specifically asked for this gift, and I don’t know if I would have guessed what it was in the wrapping paper, but I was so excited about that gift. I used it for many years, until it became too bent and rusty. When I was in 7th grade, I wanted a dollhouse so that my friend and I could arrange furniture and pretend we were interior designers. Of course, at this age, we weren’t “supposed” to play with such things. We were sure that other kids would have teased us if they knew, so I didn’t really express how much I wanted one. My mom knew, though, and she bought me a fold-up portable dollhouse for Christmas that year, so I could carry it to my friend’s house without anyone else knowing what it was.
I also knew my mother as a person who didn’t shirk her responsibilities, who did difficult things without complaint. I saw her care for her own sick and terminally ill mother, even having my grandma live with us for awhile. After her mother died, my mom brought Cathy (her youngest sister who was 9 years old at the time) to live with us. It certainly wasn’t easy to go from a mother of three children (at that time) to four children in the house. It was not easy to become a “mother” to her sister. But my mom did this, and I have never once heard her complain about it.
I did get to know my mother as a teacher, too. When I was in grade school, my mom often would be a substitute teacher at the school. Sometimes, she even was the sub for my class. She had not had any formal teacher training or even any college education at that time. She was very good at being a sub, though, and was very popular with my friends and the other kids in the school. And, as I remember it, she did teach us the subjects and did expect that we would learn and do our work! I think the kids actually respected her for that--once again, it was her consistency and clear expectations that made her do well in my classrooms.
My mother certainly was not a perfect person, though. She made mistakes, she had faults, and weaknesses, just like anyone else. My mom had her personal struggles and difficulties to face. Many of you here today know this, but some of you do not--my mother developed a drinking problem when I was in about 6th grade. Alcohol began to control her life. We kids often had to deal with my mom being too drunk to do housework or bake Christmas cookies or care for her children. I stopped bringing my friends over to the house because I never knew what condition she would be in when I came home. My aunt, my brothers, and I took on many of the household chores, and we became very good at finding my mom’s hiding places and disposing of the booze. I saw a side of my mother that I had not seen before--weak, helpless, undependable. But my mother did still have her strength and determination. She reached the point where she didn’t want to live that way anymore. She found a support organization, and began to work the program. It was tough, and she slipped a couple times, but she achieved sobriety. She also sought therapy and changed those patterns of behavior that were a part of alcoholic life. My mom also worked hard to make family and friends understand that this would be a lifelong program. She would always need to attend meetings, she would always volunteer time to help others in their struggle as a way to help her remember how far she had come and how easily she could slip again. It took me awhile to understand this part of my mom, but she was very patient, and eventually I came to accept and believe that she would always be a recovering alcoholic. It was a difficult time, but my mom was a much better and stronger person by living with this part of her, and our whole family benefited from the changes in my mom. As my mom faced her illness, I learned more about the strength she derived from this support group. The many, many friends that had supported my mom through 29 years of sobriety now were her support through diagnosis, chemo, hospitalization, and radiation. I was in awe of my mother’s ability to call on her serenity, courage, and wisdom, which she had learned from the program, to help her through cancer.
I also saw my mother change and improve herself in other ways too. When she gave birth to Linda and Dave, after a 10 year break from having children, she was determined to do many things “better” than she had with us older kids (not that she did so bad with us!!). She put into practice many things she had learned in her own personal growth. She became more affectionate, less concerned with appearances and a clean house. She became more accepting of us kids as we were. She determined that communication and talking about our feelings would be the norm. (Sometimes, as a teenager, though, I did think she went a bit “overboard” on this honesty stuff!). She began to express in words how much she loved us and to make it clear that she saw our person as separate from our actions (How many millions of times did I hear “I always love you, but I don’t like what you did.!!). As an adult, I got to know more of my mom’s wisdom. You know that old saying about how your parents seem to get smarter as you get older--well, my mom certainly did!! I was able to talk with her about my children, about motherhood. She would share stories about me as a child to reassure me that my kids were “normal” (sorry, kids!!!!). She was “kind” enough to remind me of my own temper tantrums and disobedience (thanks mother!!) and then point out how wonderfully I had turned out so that I would not feel discouraged when my own children misbehaved. She was so supportive when I suffered a miscarriage before Kevin was born, knowing when to talk and when to just listen, and knowing that I needed her to call me every morning (she ended up with some tremendous cell phone bills too!).
Another “facet” of my mother that I was privileged to get to know was her “grandmotherly” side. She was a reluctant grandmother at first--she told me that she was too young to be a grandmother! In her mind, a grandmother was a little old lady with white hair and a rocking chair! But, once Phil, my oldest, was born, she decided she really liked this grandmother thing--but she was going to do it on her own terms! She was going to be an active, involved, “hip” grandmother. And that is exactly what she was. She loved her grandchildren (Phil, Melissa, Mark, and Kevin) fiercely, and she attended their many sports events, piano recitals, kid birthday parties (with her giant video camera in hand!), and school events. She was always willing to baby-sit for them. She also told them all kinds of embarrassing stories about me (none of which were true, I am sure!!!!). My mom extended this same “grandmotherness” to her dear niece, Margie, and her dear nephews, Danny and Tony, too. She delighted in all of the kids’ successes and always told them all how special they were and how much she loved them.
And, finally, in these last few months, I got to know the very human side of my mother. She showed me that she could be vulnerable, scared, and discouraged. At times, she became the child that needed me to parent her--I just tried to do what she had always done for me. She did, of course, still have her stubborn streak, though. Even the night before she died she was stubbornly insisting that she was not staying in the hospital--she was going home!!
I am sure that through the rest of my life, those around me will see flashes of my mother in me--the good and the bad!. I am my mother’s own daughter, after all! Each of you also carry a part of my mother, and at times you will do or say something a certain way because of her. I hope you will always remember my mom, and share her memories with others! There are so many more memories of my mom--if I shared them all here, we’d be here for a week!!-- also hope that you will give me the chance to tell about my mom sometime.