So many people have said to me these last few days, “Your mother was a remarkable woman.” I always knew that. I’ve always felt proud of that.
She was born on September 1st, 1939, which was also the day Hitler invaded Poland, so I never had any trouble in school remembering the date WWII started.
She grew up on a farm in Illinois. Graduated high school at 17, got married at 18, had a child a year and a half later, another the next year, and the next year started thinking maybe she didn’t want to be Catholic anymore. (With a little family planning, she had my sister six years later.)
She and my dad made a life for themselves, full of things they loved, things that were important to them, things that brought them pleasure, and they saw it as their job to make sure that Mike and Kay and I were able to do that for ourselves. That’s what I think I learned, more than anything, from Mom. How to make a meaningful life. I think a testament to that is how Mike and Kay and I all have pretty different lives but have all found fulfillment and meaning and love.
Growing up, there was no place I wanted to be more than with my mother. We spent hours together, usually in the kitchen, talking about whatever came to mind.
She loved cooking and baking. One of my earliest memories is of her baking big sheet cakes for neighborhood association meetings. In the late 60s, a black family moved into our neighborhood on the northeast side of Indianapolis and almost overnight a couple dozen For Sale signs appeared in front of white families’ homes. She learned about blockbusting, which was a tactic where realtors would target a white neighborhood and sell one house to a black family and then blanket the neighborhood with fliers offering quick cash to white families who wanted to sell. Then they’d sell the houses to black families at higher than market financing. They were taking advantage of racism to make a killing, and to Mom, this was so obviously wrong that she helped create a neighborhood association to fight it.
My mother taught me to cook, and she taught me to look around, to get involved, if something is not right to say so, and to do something about it if you could.
We wrote letters back and forth all through my 20s, then email, and then with Facebook we were in touch often daily, sometimes more.
Conversation with my mother was one of the great pleasures of my life. I feel so grateful that on the last days I spent with her, her last days, we spent time sitting in the kitchen, talking. About food and politics and whatever came to mind.
She taught me an appreciation for beautiful things: art, flowers, the landscape, mountains, lakes, music, leaves in the fall. From her I learned the rewards of curiosity -- reading, history, culture, and travel. She loved to travel with Dad, whether it was just up to the lakeshore in Michigan or a drive cross country to Colorado and Utah.
She saw my artistic temperament, so she enrolled me in art classes on the weekends and Suzuki violin after school. When we were very young, she took us kids to museums and concerts and plays. It’s because of her that I wanted to have a life as an artist. She told the home nurse last week that she was still looking forward to coming with me to the Tonys and sitting in the front row.
She didn’t get to come to the Tonys, but she did get to come to my wedding three years ago. Her joy in that, her joy that that was even possible, was, I think, even greater than my own.
She was remarkable in the way that she loved her family. These last few years when she was experiencing so much uncertainty, and fear, and pain, she helped US all deal with our own fear and emotional pain. She never stopped thinking about what we needed, what would make us happy and calm and reassured. When we were so scared, so worried about her these last few years, she taught us how to face it, taught us by example to calm down, that she was going to be okay. We looked to her, as we always did, for guidance, even when eventually it was guidance in how to care for her. She let us know that there was no good in panicking, that the only way to do it was one day at a time.
These last few days since she died have been so full of her presence; she’s still so much here, in this house, in every conversation. She’s only been gone four days. But my mind wanders to the future, to when I’m back home doing what I do, and all the countless times during a day when I have something to share, some small success or something I read that I think she’ll get a kick out of, and I think what am I going to do without her? My hero, my biggest fan, my faithful correspondent.
But so much of that constant presence of her in my life wasn’t even about talking to her, seeing her, it was just the way I felt her in me, the way I feel her in my head when I’m reading the paper and griping about Mike Pence. I feel her in my arms when I put a chicken in a pot of water to make soup. Or send an email to my state senator. Or feel outrage at some injustice. Or vote. She lives in me in the way that I love reading and Patsy Cline, in the way that I hate noise and grocery store tomatoes.
A sense that she is alive in me: the only thing that makes this bearable is telling myself that that will not go away. Because now I just want so badly to hear her voice on the phone, to see a message from her show up in my inbox. To see her face light up when she says my husband’s name.
She lives in all of us she touched in countless ways. It has been comforting the last few days, all the sweet words from her friends, my friends, our scattered family, and everyone here today. It does feel like we share the pain of her loss and that lessens it.
Mom had a good life, and she was well loved.