Thinking of Mom on Mother’s Day

1987

My mom with me (I was about six here) and my brother, Kelly “Kel” Morgan. I never lacked for books, as you can see from the stack of Little Golden Books on the nightstand (Rota, Spain, 1987).

What would’ve been my mother’s sixty-fifth birthday passed on the twenty-third 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 you-know-what if there was cheese on it because “they slop cheese on everything now”), with me buying 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 relieved that Ann was included on the stone (all the other military headstones we saw only included the middle initial).  Bernadean (my grandmother) was the only person who ever called my mom by her first and middle name (which is customary in some parts of the South): Betty Ann (as she was named her paternal aunts, Betty Lee and Carmen Ann).

Mom was so sick for so long (her stomach and back always given her trouble), it never occurred to me that she was dying–that all it would take was a slight 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, echoing his previous words.  Isn’t it strange (and perhaps it’s 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), never doubting that they were meant to happen.

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, like the Bible says about a man leaving his father and mother and cleaving unto his wife, well, I guess the same goes for wives.  I became the adult in the family portraits, and my favorite subject to photograph became my daughter (still is).  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 “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.”

(as read March 12, 2018)

I’ve always said that no one loves you like your mom loves you. I never understood that till I had a child of my own.

I remember 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 was going to have the baby herself, and doubly excited that I was going to 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 taken care of, 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, but a teacher of mine told me at an event I read at, that she could see how proud she was.

I just hope that Mom knows I’m proud of her, too.

*

Throughout her life, Mom did what the writing experts tell all storytellers to do—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 all of 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 gone?

So, thank you, Mom, for all of that, and everything else.

The Last Leaf

Navy mom

Betty Ann Booker: Apr. 23, 1953-Mar 6, 2018

I’ve always considered myself the unofficial family historian (my parents the genealogists). Documenting the lives of those I love has always been my way of honoring their memory.

Last night, my mom passed away following complications of pneumonia, which she contracted from a cracked rib she sustained in a car accident a month ago.

I am thirty-six years old, and still too young to lose my mom. My daughter is four, and too young to lose her grandma. I can’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t my mom’s time to go; the suddenness of it all makes it feel that way—the fact that I didn’t get a chance to say good-bye because I didn’t know the last time would be the last time.

 

My mom was a survivor, having beat breast cancer twice. The second time she told me she had it, I was distraught, for how often did lighting strike twice in the same place?

This time, when I found out she had a fractured rib, I thought, broken bones heal.

When I found out she had double pneumonia, I thought, Dad beat that (complete with a blood clot on his lung) seven years ago.

It wasn’t until she took her last breath in hospice that I accepted she was truly gone, after having pleaded with her to wake up, but she had already lapsed into a coma.

The same doctor who had saved my dad’s life seven years ago hadn’t been able to save hers.

 

Before she passed away, while she was still in ICU, I was able to read her a story—Many Moons, by James Thurber, my favorite children’s book (she liked it, too)—about a girl named Princess Lenore who asks her father for the moon to make her well. I’d thought about reading Small Town Girl, by LaVyrle Spencer—one of our favorite novels—but maybe, in my own way, I didn’t want to start what I didn’t believe I would finish.

 

I am so grateful for technology—that I was able to play my daughter’s laugh from a handful of videos I had uploaded to Facebook. I even sang Amazing Grace to her (with no one close enough to hear me, of course)—all things I have done with my daughter, who loves to laugh at herself.

My mom has always considered a sense of humor a vital character trait, and I like to think I get a little bit of that from her. I have learned that having one has nothing to do with your ability to laugh at something funny, but everything to do with being able to laugh at yourself.

I told her that I loved her, and to say hi to some people for me; I told her that I appreciated her more than she ever knew.

The last thing I did was play her favorite song (or one of them)—Saginaw, Michigan, by Lefty Frizzell. It didn’t even finish before she had gone.

I was told by one of the nurses that the hearing was the last to go, and so I am glad she was able to hear her granddaughter—the one she nicknamed Hannah Banana—one last time.

I remember thinking, Gee, I hope you were this glad when I was born! But every mother should want their mother to love their child so much.

 

Time with Mom while she was in the hospital became like silver, if all the silver in the world had been mined. It became as precious as life itself.

I am so sad there won’t be any more memories to be made with her, but I showed a picture of her to my daughter and asked her who she was. She immediately said “Grandma!” and when I asked her what Grandma did with her, she said, “Build an ark/arch!”

Whenever Grandma came over, Hannah would bring the blocks and Grandma would build with her.

I will show my daughter that picture every day and ask her who she is, and what she did with her, so that there won’t be a time Hannah won’t remember her.

 

Technology has taken over our lives, so I’ve always tried to live “in the moment,” and then write in retrospect, but I say to anyone who will listen—take more pictures, shoot more video. My brother’s girlfriend shot this past Christmas, and there is Mom, just a couple of months ago, hamming it up.

That, that was who she was.

My brother played some voicemails she left on his phone, which he will save forever—voicemails which I have asked him to send to me, because the fear that I may forget her voice makes me incredibly sad.

For now, I am trying to piece together a thousand little memories; every scrap of paper with her face on it has become priceless.

But she left behind so much more than memories—she taught me how to be a good person by being a good person. At the time of her accident, she was on her way to help a family member in need.

I will miss her, but not forever, because she is in the forever—that forever she taught me about–so that I could find some measure of peace amidst the seemingly insurmountable grief I am experiencing now.