My mother died a month ago.
She was 98.
I don’t know what to write about her now. I’ve written about her so many times already; I’m not sure what else I could say.
She was bright.
She was funny.
She was beautiful.
She was kind.
She was a daughter, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother. She was a nurse. She excelled at all her roles. I cannot think of a thing she failed at.
Is there such a thing as a cheerful worrier? I think my mother would fall into that category. She worried incessantly, but laughed at herself while doing so. “No one is better at picturing her kids in a ditch,” she once told me. I remember a time when my brother was late coming home from a math tournament or some such weird event, and my mother called the school and made the janitor check all the bathrooms. She was sure he had been locked in. Who locks bathrooms from the outside? Nevertheless, she was sure. For decades afterward, anytime anyone was late, Mom would smile and say, “Maybe they are locked in a bathroom.”
Mom had good priorities.
She believed in education. She had come from a time and a culture where educating women was considered unimportant. But Mom fought hard for her education. She became a nurse. I learned only recently (from Mom herself) that my grandmother had secretly paid my mother’s tuition. So women’s education (and all education) is in my family genes.
All of her children have advanced degrees. We all did well in school, which may be predominantly due to the intelligence genes on both sides of the family. But while my mother stressed the importance of learning, she never put pressure on us to achieve high grades. Learning was essential; grades were insignificant. I remember in my frequent calls to Mom when I was in college, our conversations always ended with the same advice from Mom. She didn’t say, “Study hard.” She said, “Have fun.”
My mother was passionate about fairness. Not only in her own family – she couldn’t even bear to watch a TV show where someone was framed or blamed for something they didn’t do. “NO!” she’d yell at the TV. “That’s just not right!”
But especially with us kids. She counted the Christmas presents, the jelly beans in our Easter Baskets, even the size of our birthday cards. “Even-Steven” was one of her common expressions. She never wanted to show favoritism towards any of her kids.
Just a few years ago, my mother told me a story. We girls are older than my brother, and when he was growing up, my parents were doing better financially than when my sisters and I were little. Mom said that she and Dad were out having lunch with my little brother one day, and he asked (as we were all taught to do), “What can I have?” And my mother replied, “You can have anything you want.” And Mom said that she suddenly realized something that made her feel terrible. She said, “I’m so sorry that I was never able to say that to you.”
My mother had 97 fantastic years of happiness and good health, but her 98th year was difficult. The decline in her health was unrelenting.
I’d rather focus on all those other years, but here is one thing from this time that I will remember:
Just a few weeks before she died, I was telling her about an issue I was having with one of my several part-time jobs. Mom wasn’t well at all, and I wasn’t even sure she understood me, but I liked telling her everything anyway – I may be in my seventies, but she’s my mom. I told her I was going to give the job two more months to see if things got better. Mom said, “Well, okay, but just remember, two months is a long time if you are unhappy.”
I will remember, Mom.
And about not being able to order anything I wanted? I already had everything I could want.