Ten Years: One Foot in Front of the Other

My mother, Mickie, died on June 25, 10 years ago. She was 53. I was 33 and will be 43 next month. Ten years.

A couple of weeks before Mom died, her doctor sent her a certified letter saying that she was a narcotics addict and there was nothing physically wrong with her. The day after she died, a different doctor called us to let us know that Mom actually died of not one, but two rare cancers. She really showed them, didn’t she?

Ten fucking years.

Here’s my motley crew of a family now, 10 years after Mom’s death:

(We also have new additions to our family since Mom died — my wonderful sister-in-law, Julia, and my nephew and niece who aren’t pictured here.)

So if you’re going through loss like we did, and you think you can’t get through it (like we sometimes did, too), remember: You can, and you will.

Since Mom died, lots of life went on. Here are a few of the many highlights:

  • My brother married Julia and had two gorgeous babies. Mom really loved Julia and once told me, “I don’t know what he’s waiting for. I wish he’d marry her.” That’s kind of a huge compliment because Mom didn’t love just anybody, and I’m surprised that she thought *anyone* was good enough for her only son. But she did, and she was right.
  • My youngest sister, Carmen, was only nine when Mom died. In the past 10 years, Carmen became a young adult and recently moved into a new pad, got her GED, and grew into a beautiful, sweet, funny, sensitive, and kind young woman. Mom would have butted heads with Carmen a lot, because she butted heads with all of us, but she would have admired her huge heart and strong spirit.
  • My sister, Katie, put herself through college, started her own production company and made a documentary, and became a huge inspiration to many people who struggle with their own health and fitness goals by sharing her inspiring weight loss journey online at RunorHide.com. Although Mom was proud of all of us, I think Katie would have blown her away. Katie was only 15 when Mom died, and instead of letting a huge tragedy break her, Katie became stronger, more determined, and became the person on the outside that the rest of us always saw inside her. Katie sometimes says I remind her of Mom, but I think in many ways Katie is the most like her. Katie is what Mom would have been had she not had her own spirit broken at such a young age — brilliant, beautiful, independent, resilient, hilarious, kind, sensitive, and Full Of Life.
  • My daughter, my mother’s only grandchild at the time of her death, changed from a 6-year-old child into a 16-year-old woman who has blazed her own trail, graduated from school two years early, and will head off to India next month for an entire year. When I was 16, my Mom disowned me for a while, with a dramatic, “I hope you have a daughter JUST LIKE YOURSELF someday,” before hanging up the phone. I did, and she’s fucking awesome.
  • My step-father, John, managed to raise two young women on his own and keep our family together. We grew closer and I feel privileged to have him in my life. You will never meet a person with a better work ethic, bigger heart, or better sense of humor.

Ten years.
I remember back then, sitting next to Mom as she struggled to breathe in the hospital bed we had for her at home, I kept telling myself, “It won’t always be like this. Someday, you’ll look back on this and it will be your past.” Frankly, that thought might have been the only thing that kept me going through Mom’s final days and the months that followed.

On the one-year anniversary of Mom’s death, I wrote the following blog post:

It’s hard to believe that on June 25, it will be one year since my mom died.

I guess I’m still not ready to write much about her illness and death since it’s hard to think about, harder to talk about, and I imagine it’s horrible to hear about.

What a year it’s been.

I wrote and then read the eulogy for mom’s service. I’m still not sure how I did it, how I was able to write through the fog of sleep deprivation, depression, and grief. I think mostly I was still in shock and just numb, mechanically trying to keep going until I could feel or taste or smell something other than death and dying.

I ran across the eulogy today, when I was cleaning up files on my work computer.

There were several things I had in mind when writing the eulogy. I wanted it to be very personal, and reflect the uniqueness of my mother. I wanted to inject some humor, because my mom was often hilarious. I didn’t want to mention her parents, since they were horrible, abusive people who don’t deserve acknowledgement. And I wanted to end with a classic poem, a reminder that life is short and fragile, and you should capture moments as they occur.

Here it is: Our mom Mickie was born on January 22, 1950, and grew up in Excelsior Springs, Missouri. She was the oldest of four siblings, Vickie, Kem, and Doug. When she was 17, she married my father, and had me when she was 20. Our mom would want me to mention that she almost died while giving birth to me, a fact that she reminded me of many times. Despite the traumatic experience of giving birth to me and being told that she couldn’t have more children, she married my dad Larry in 1975 and had my brother Larry II on August 22, 1977, in Columbus, Ohio. She married John in 1986 and had our sister Katie in Kansas City in 1987. We adopted our sister Carmen not long after her birth on October 20, 1993. Our mom really adored Carmen, who is a real angel and our sunshine. Mom’s only grandchild, Cleo, was born on October 7, 1996.

Here are some things that you may already know about our mom. She was very very funny. And sarcastic. She was a genius. Literally. She was very opinionated and freely shared her opinions. She was a good listener. She was a very strong woman. You could always count on mom in a crisis.

Mom loved puppies, kittens, and other small critters like hamsters and bunnies. She left behind three cats, who miss her terribly, and two bunnies that are treated like royalty. She adopted animals often. She also adopted animals for her friends and family.

Our mom was very nurturing. When her friend Charla was recovering from surgery, mom helped run her household, and pay her bills … and gave her two kittens.

Mom was a great friend. Here’s what her friend Mel recently wrote to her:

“Mickie, you’ve become the best friend I’ve ever had. I don’t know what I’ll do when you’re gone. We’ve shared so much together. You understand me so well. You’ve propped me up when I needed it, gave me such good advice, and were so understanding. I’ve always felt that you’re such a wise woman. You’re the first person I would run to when everything was falling apart (which is continuous, isn’t it?) It’s been a great privilege to be your friend. I love you so much! No one will ever be able to replace you in my heart. We’ll be friends forever.”

Mom met Mel online. They never met in person.

Our mom was a fabulous Grandma Mickie to my daughter Cleo.

Mom was self-taught at parenting. She was a wonderful, supportive, strong, compassionate, sensitive, considerate, and unusual mom. Being a mother was her favorite job.

No one will ever have a mom like ours.

Here are some things we learned from our mom, and some things we learned during her illness.

  • Nothing beats a good sense of humor. If you can laugh, and make others laugh, even when it’s somewhat inappropriate, everything is more bearable.
  • If you can’t improve your situation, or make yourself feel better, maybe you can improve someone else’s situation or make them feel better.
  • You get love by giving love.
  • Life is too short to stay angry or hold grudges.
  • Creamed eggs on toast is the best Easter breakfast, but most people will never really appreciate it.
  • The women in our family have a hard time being assertive, without being aggressive.
  • Don’t name your child a name that rhymes with your sister’s name and yours.
  • Sometimes it’s best to ignore the details and appreciate the big picture.
  • Some things aren’t better left unsaid.
  • If you love someone, say it. Often.
  • Hug and Kiss your friends and family more than they think they want it.
  • Sometimes a new kitten or puppy really does make everything feel better.
  • No matter how smart or educated you are, or how huge your vocabulary may be, nothing works as well as good expletives, but don’t use them around Carmen.
  • And when someone dies, they will always live in your heart.

I’d like to close with a poem I think of often. It’s by Robert Herrick and called “To the Virgins, to make much of Time”:

GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he ‘s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
You may for ever tarry.

Ten years.

Mom, we really miss you, but I know you are still here. I see you living on in each one of us.