Home and Mom

After realizing my utter exhaustion with Julia, I decided to go home to St. Louis, Missouri on July 13th and be invisible for a couple of days.  This coincided with several other circumstances the next day, namely a phone interview and what would have been my mom’s 66th birthday.

I have neglected to mention much about my mom on this blog because it seems like such an inadequate way to communicate such significant information to some people for the first time, but I decided that when I blogged about July 14th, I’d blog about mom.

My mom on a cruise in May of 2007.

My mom was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer in January 2006.  By the end of the summer, she had been diagnosed cancer free, but the cancer returned in November of that year.  The doctors at Washington University experimented with different treatments, but by early July 2007, shortly after I graduated from grad school, the cancer had spread to her liver, and it was pretty clear she wouldn’t make it.  Still, she kept fighting until late August, when she, a former social worker who was very informed about her options, put herself on hospice treatment.  She stayed at home for a few months, during which I visited frequently while we battled about me moving home (I wanted to, she didn’t want me to), before moving into a nursing home at the very end.  She died on October 23, 2007.

At the time, I hated that mom went on hospice.  It felt like she was giving up and choosing to die.  It wasn’t until I attended a grief group and heard other people’s stories of family members being on hospice for a day or a week that I saw the wisdom and foresight in her decision.  That’s the way it’s been with a lot of things–I didn’t know how much she did, how right she was, how much I needed her, until she was gone.  And it’s too late to tell her what a good job she did at being my mom, which is my biggest regret.

My mom and I didn’t always get along.  In many ways we were very similar (looks, mannerisms, outspokenness, propensity to control people we care most about) and in other ways we were markedly different.  I remember saying at her memorial service that someone once called my mother the most organized person they’d ever met, and no one will say that about me before or after I’m dead.  I made a short film for a final project for grad school, and there’s a clip of mom saying, “I come from a stoic German background, and I do the stoic German background.”  Cut to me saying, “I’m a ball of emotion!”

People always say that mom and I look alike, and when I was coming home from the hospital, we even dressed alike!

But despite our differences, as I’m sure you can imagine, losing my mom rocked my world.  I lived most of my life to either please my mom or to spite her.  So without her voice, I had lost the compass that guided my life.  It was completely disorienting.  The profound pain of grief made it difficult to care about many of causes that I used to consider core passions in my life.  Two weeks before my mom was diagnosed, I was in Thailand working with an organization to combat prostitution and human trafficking.  I was considering moving to Thailand to make that work my life’s work.  Since her death, I haven’t been able to care about such difficult things anymore.  And as a person who defined myself as someone who cared about social justice, I’ve had to ask a lot of questions about my identity.  Who am I?  What do I care about?  Am I temporarily some grieving version of myself that will return to her previous passions, or am I permanently altered?

I only recently feel like I’ve been coming back to being myself, and this trip has been a big part of that.  I can only imagine the number of protests my mom would have uttered about me taking this trip, leaving a good job behind, being so whimsical.  But I also know that she would eventually have come around and been thrilled at how happy and alive this trip has made me, even if she didn’t fully understand it.

So on this trip, I have glossed over in the blog some of the visits where mom was a topic of conversation because I wanted to guard that information for a face to face context for certain people.  When high school best friend Janise and I “talked about hard things,” I was telling her that my mom, who was her secondary mom through all of high school, had died.  When elementary school friend Carly and I sat down to breakfast, the first words out of her mouth were, “I just have to tell you, I saw that video about your mom, and it was one of the most beautiful and touching things I’ve ever seen.”  That comment is what started our conversation off on such a deep level.  As a definitive moment of my life, talking about losing my mom has been a part of nearly every visit.  And frankly, she probably wouldn’t like all of the attention.  But she warrants it because she was one of the biggest personalities and most generous people I knew, and she’s left a big hole on the planet in her absence.

Whether you knew my mom well or never met her, whether you have her mannerisms memorized or only witness their echoes in me, I hope that you will enjoy this aforementioned video.  It was a project for grad school, but moreso it was a Mother’s Day gift for her.  Mom never overtly expressed how much it meant to her (the stoic German background strikes again), but I know that she treasured it because she showed it to everyone she knew with every chance she got.

Mom, you are sorely missed.  I could not have walked through this grief journey without the support of my friends and family. And a big thanks to Jason and Adam who helped me create the film.

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5 Responses

  1. I remember watching this and being really moved when you first made it. It still made me cry this time around. Thank you for sharing about your mom’s birthday.

  2. Blessings to you, friend! I have always been so amazed at how you and your mom battled through that difficult time of illness. I remember gathering to pray for her, and I will never forget the devotion and love you so clearly had for each other. Maybe you didn’t express it to your mom as much as you wish you could have, but I have a feeling your mom knew. 🙂

  3. Thanks Jen and Terri for these thoughts and for walking with me through the whole process. It means the world to me.

  4. A beautiful tribute! What a great memory of your mom. I’m sure she was pleased with her Mother’s Day gift that year.

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