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Sunday, May 13, 2012

For My Mother

I wrote this essay to read at my mother’s funeral service. I botched it horribly, weeping throughout, making it nearly impossible for those in attendance to make any sense of it whatsoever.

Mom might have approved.
In the end, she usually got her way. My mother and I spent a good deal of our time arguing. About principles, about the weather, about football, about life—Mom would argue about just about anything at all. She loved a good fight. I would usually give in to her arguments, being the quiet, gentle soul I am, but she would always make sure that I understood why I was giving in—because she was right. I would nod and sigh, sometimes wave the back of my hand, or make a face to annoy her. But it would only be a temporary respite— the gun was on safety—she was simply waiting for the moment and the fire would sparkle in her eyes and her face would turn a little bit red and the next dance would begin, the next big battle.

When she left, I was fifteen years old, my sister eleven, and we couldn’t really understand why Mom had gone. It seemed to us that being in a family meant holding things together—even when they weren’t perfect. A family meant a father, a mother and their children. And now she was gone. We were angry, my sister and I, and it took years to realize just how much strength it took her to leave her children, with no career training, no money and no real prospects for the future. It took years to learn that all unions are not meant to be—God knows I’ve learned it a couple of times—and that sometimes you have to make tremendous sacrifices for a little peace of mind. In the end, it was another battle, and in the end, my mother won, eventually settling into a life of her own, a life without yelling and fighting and misery—she became content.

She had her first heart attack when she was younger than I am now—at thirty-four. And they never really stopped. A year here, a year there—she was familiar with temporary respites—then another “spell”, as she liked to call them. A hospital in Phoenix, a hospital in Ohio, the famous Mayo clinic in Minneapolis, eventually a hospital in Temple, Texas—My mom visited them all. A bypass here, an angioplasty there, even a pacemaker—she put her head down and met them all, the fire in her eyes, her face just a little red, ready for the fight.

We mended all our fences years ago, and even more than the bickering and our endless tape-loop of arguments, I remember the laughter—going to see “Freebie and the Bean” when I was a teenager, both of us laughing until we nearly wet ourselves. The movie was never really quite that funny after that. In fact, it was horrible. Perhaps it was the company…Her telling of a family story—we’d heard them all hundreds of times, and still laughed at the outcome. She was supportive of my passions—she read every short story, every novel, listened to every song, saw every play. Once I got a call from Texas and my mother was nearly hysterical—she had seen a commercial I had filmed in Phoenix and that had aired in her town. She couldn’t believe it. And she was so excited—she couldn’t wait to call me with the news. She read each new book promptly upon receipt and called gushing with praise every time: “I liked this one even better than the last one!” If I was going to do battle with the world of publishing and agents, by God, she was going to be there with me. And we would win it together.

Toward the end, we ended every phone conversation with “I love you”. Since her last illness, we began to realize how valuable those conversations were. “I could get hit by a bus tomorrow,” I would tell her. “Don’t say that,” she would say, her voice reproachful even after all these years. Well, it wasn’t a bus that put an abrupt and permanent end to those conversations, it was the same old fight, the same old battle. Even after the installation of a pacemaker the month before, it ended up that the heart that had held so much fire, so much passion and so much conviction was simply able to take the strain no more.

Surrounded by those who cared about her and content with her life the way it had come to be, my mother left the earth the same way she had lived. Her chin firm, a fire in her eyes, her face just a little bit red, she clenched a fist and faced the next battle. Only this time, she didn’t get her way. The way I see it, we were lucky to have had her as long as we did. The world was just a little bit better and quite a bit more interesting having had her aboard. She showed us how to fight and how to laugh, and for that, she will be sorely missed.

I miss you, Mom... Happy Mother's Day.

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