What would’ve been my mother’s 69th birthday passed on the 23rd of April—a day when we would’ve gone to all the different Firehouse Subs and gotten (or haggled for) her free sandwich. I still remember her precise order and how she would flip her wiggins if cheese were on it. “They slop cheese on everything now,” she always said. Of course, I’d buy a brownie or two so we wouldn’t look like greedy a-holes trolling for handouts.
Since then, I’ve been to her marker, now headstone, twice. My grandmother was relieved that Ann was included on the stone, as all the other military headstones just had the middle initial. Bernadean (my grandmother) was the only person who ever called my mom by her first and middle name, Betty Ann, which is customary in some parts of the South. Mom was named after her paternal aunts, Betty Lee and Carmen Ann.
Mom was so sick for so long (her stomach and back always gave her trouble) that it never occurred to me that she was dying—that all it would take was a small thing to trigger a chain reaction that her body was defenseless to stave off.
“It still doesn’t seem real,” my dad still says, echoing my thoughts and his previous words. Isn’t it strange (and perhaps its own kind of wonderful) that wonderful things seem more real than terrible ones?
For good things have happened since “Grandma went bye-bye to Heaven” (as my daughter says).
I wish (two words I find myself thinking more often) that I had more pictures of my mom and me in our later years, but, as the Bible says about a man leaving his father and mother and cleaving unto his wife, I suppose the same goes for wives. I became the adult in the family portraits, and my daughter (now daughters) became my favorite subject to photograph. I became one of those annoying moms I loathed who think everything their kid does is cute. (Okay, maybe not everything, but I love to share what is.) I will never be a “Caroline Appleby” (Lucy Ricardo’s frenemy from I Love Lucy) about how adorable her little “Stevie” is.
My mom wasn’t the type to open up to other women (I am too much the other way), so even though she wasn’t a Caroline Appleby, I always knew how she felt.
I was hesitant about sharing this eulogy I wrote and read at her visitation, but then, what is a eulogy but a type of poem? I wanted to make this available for the family members who didn’t get to be there due to distance and circumstance or for those who came later.
The post I published before was about her death; this is about her life, who she was, and still is, in what I think of as a “galaxy far, far away.”
Read March 12, 2018:
I’ve always said that no one loves you as your mom loves you. I never understood that until I had a child of my own.
When I knew I was going to have a girl, I put Hannah’s ultrasound picture in a book as a surprise. I remember Mom was as excited as if she were going to have the baby herself and doubly excited that I would name her Hannah, for she’d always loved that name.
From that moment on, she started calling her Hannah Banana. Hannah eventually became Hannah B (for Hannah Beth). Mom was always so excited to see her. When Hannah got old enough to understand the concept of Grandma, the feeling was mutual.
But I know my mom loved me, too.
It was Mom who made my dad go into the room with me when I had to get a spinal tap for spinal meningitis because she couldn’t bear to see her child in pain.
It was Mom who showed me that a woman could have a career and a family and still be a good mom. (Cooking skills not required.)
When I lived at home and didn’t come back when expected, it was Mom who would worry and drive around looking for me.
It was Mom who taught me to be observant, so she may have helped me save my own life, and I never even knew it.
It was Mom who made my husband promise to take care of me.
It was Mom to whom I always first brought my stories—before they had the credence of publication or awards.
It was Mom who would give me rides every morning to work and pick me up when I didn’t have a car—sometimes when she was sick—because she had faith that I would be successful someday.
It was Mom who taught me how to have a sense of humor, and I understand, in times like these, how important it is to have one. I still laugh when I think of one of her “mom jokes”—funny only because they came from her.
It was Mom who told me that I could always come home if needed—that there would always be a place for her children.
Mom always made sure her mom was cared for, and I always figured the day would come when I would have to help take care of her.
I just wish I’d gotten that chance.
Just as Mom didn’t know how much I appreciated her—something we so often forget to tell people—I didn’t always know how proud she was of me until a teacher of mine said to me at an event I read at that she could see how proud my mom was of me.
I just hope that Mom knows I’m proud of her, too.
Mom did what the writing experts tell all storytellers to do throughout her life—to show and not tell. She did even better than that: She backed up everything she said.
She will be terribly missed, but that only proves how much she meant to us. She’s gone but not lost to us forever.
Almost everything Mom taught me I would never learn in a classroom, but isn’t that what moms are for? To give you the tools you’ll need for when they are no longer here?
So, thank you, Mom, for all of that and everything else.