Friday, March 06, 2015

Tribute to Mom: One Year Ago

Today marks the one-year anniversary of my mom's death.  I have wrestled with her loss in ways that have affected the entire core of my being.  My greatest struggle has been dealing with how quick and painful her final weeks were. By the time we found out it, it was just all too late ... and here we are a whole year later, marking this commemoration.  Stupid, damn cancer. It robbed my mother of the opportunity to experience the joy of seeing her oldest granddaughter walk down the aisle, her youngest granddaughter head off to college and the ability to enjoy retirement with her husband.

Mom and her favorite oldest granddaughter and
her favorite youngest  granddaughter
Before she died, I got to tell my mom how much I loved and appreciated her sacrifices for me. I shared with her that one of my greatest fears/sadness would be having to go through the rest of my life without being able to share any of it with her.   I can never again buy a Mother's Day card for my mother or take her on a trip to a place that she long had dreamed of visiting.   I can only honor her by living a life that reflects the way she raised me.  
The following is the speech that I gave at her funeral service:

My mom loved Tootsie Rolls and despised heights. I have often punctuated conversations with my husband and friends with phrases like, “my mom would never do this.” Or, “she could not handle parking up this high.” When Janice and I went to Paris and made to the top of the Eiffel Tower, it was an incredibly windy day; I joked how my mom would never had ventured out onto the steel girded balcony on such a day. Five days before my mother passed away, she called me crazy. I was trying to get her to eat some ice cream and she was having a hard time remembering what it was. I was doing my best to coax her to eat and probably talking way too child-like to her. So, she was either annoyed with me or remembering all of the stupid, crazy things that I have done in my life … or it was all of the pain medication doing the talking for her. Whatever the reason, it was the funniest thing my mom had said to me after her months of excruciating pain. 
My wedding day

When I was a kid growing up in Bucktown, whether I was next door inside Diana and Sue’s house or all the way over on Bell Street at Jennifer Smith’s house, I could still hear her calling me home from the 3rd floor backporch – “Meri!” She watched from that same 3rd floor backporch as I labored for hours clearing out a strip along the fence in the yard to plant some flowers in order to create our own "Urbs in horto" (city in a garden). She laughed as she later watched the rats pull out and carry away all of the plants that I had meticulously planted. 

Sidewalk pickets. My mom was arrested during the hey days of Operation Rescue in the early 1990’s. She took part in the “Summer of Mercy” sit-in protests in Wichita, Kansas. Darrin and I had on at least two occasions gone to pick up my mom upon her release from jail at Area 3 headquarters at Belmont and Western. Despite how some people like to label pro-lifers as only caring about babies in the womb, my mom was an example of someone who cared about that life outside of the womb as well. She took in my own best friend and her infant son when they had no where else to go and they lived in our small four room apartment. She was a faithful Sunday School teacher to 1st and 2nd graders in our urban church. She prayed incessantly for my friends when I shared with her their problems, health issues, and crises. 
The night my mom really got to see and hear Paul McCartney
(Driving Rain Tour, United Center, April, 2002)

Music: Mom took me to my first concert, which was Dr. Hook at the old Taste of Chicago at Navy Pier. We saw Franky Valli, James Taylor at Grant Park (where she ended up falling down the ‘el steps on the way to Grant Park); Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel during the “Old Friends” tour at the United Center in 2003 while Darrin recovered from emergency surgery. Her coolest and most classic story is when she saw the Beatles at age 15 perform at the old Comiskey Park on August 20, 1965. While she was exiting the park and walking down the ramps, some of the girls started screaming because someone said they say the Fab Four. If you know my mom well, you know that she has never done well in crowds. She passed out on that ramp with the girls running all around her and had to be taken away in an ambulance.  Since she really couldn't hear any music that historic day, I made it up to her in April of 2002, by taking mom to see Paul McCartney during his Driving Rain tour.  It was also Alex's first's concert.   My mother grew up in an era where music was helping to shape the culture of the world in which she lived (in some good and not so good ways). It was always the music that filled our little third floor apartment on Hamilton – from the Bee Gees and Rod Stewart, to Harry Chapin and Pink Floyd. At Christmastime, we always played The Christmas Album by Nat King Cole. 

My mom was the first person that I would call when disaster struck. Last April, on the day of the Boston Marathon, she called me at work just as news of the bombing broke. She told me that there were two explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I couldn’t believe what she was telling me at first because I had been tracking our friend Sue who was running that day. We were both worried about her and all of the other runners. On 9/11, we both cried over the phone with each other from work as we watched the second tower fall. We had planned escape routes from the Loop in case of terrorism attacks. Two little news junkies – my mom the Baby Boomer Fox News’ loyalist and her daughter the Generation X independent. The two of us were like our own news bureau. 
The Song of the Lark, Breton, 1884

 I credit my mom for planting in me my love for art. She had a framed print of the painting “The Song of the Lark” by French realist painter Jules Breton that hung in our front room. It’s a hauntingly beautiful picture of hope, natural beauty and the dawning of a new day. Mom loved historical black and white photography books which showcased our City’s rich architecture gems and lost treasures. The places she remembered as a little girl. We would go to the Art Institute together to see the big exhibits, like van Gogh and Renoir and Monet. She loved Impressionism as much as I do. She was crafty, herself. Years ago, she started to make bracelets. We tried to convince her to rent tables at local craft fares to sell her goods, but she just gave them to friends and family as gifts. 

 My mom loved: 

  • To bring gifts  
  • The musical Big River
  • Clay Aiken 
  • QVC 
  • Her granddaughters and great-grandson 
  • To garden 
  • Her friends dearly  
  • Her pets: Max, Kitty, Ebony and Ivory 
  • Her son-in-law (I will tell you the tartar sauce story on another occasion) 
  • Her lilac bush in the Springtime.

Things I have learned from my mom: 

  • How to run from a bear in the Minnesota woods;
  • How to serve faithfully; 
  • How to cook (I will miss her potato salad); 
  • She showed me the elegance of Lincoln Park row houses; 
  • How to stand  against racial stereotypes and injustice;  
  • The value of hard work and a little elbow grease;
  • Integrity;  
  • To work hard at everything; 
  • How to clean my home;  
  • That education matters; 
  • The history of this great City;  
  • To never quit and always give it a try .

I stand here having confidence that I will see my mom again –“ I wanna feel sunlight on my face.” And when I do, she will be completely whole and able to do all that she was unable to do these past few years. “… and I can breathe. Breathe now.”


Lucy Rodriguez said...

What a beautiful tribute to your mom. Yes, you will see her again. Isn't that the greatest part of living in Christ, our tomorrows are secured in Jesus.

nmc said...