Yesterday, my mother died. She had been ill for years with peritoneal cancer, a cancer which invaded her abdomen and decided it liked it there far too much to leave. Eventually, my parents and the doctors who cared for her decided that enough was enough. Four years of chemo was enough for her tiny, 4’11” body to handle. The cancer had won, modern medicine had lost, and at 2:45 pm Eastern Time, she breathed her last.
I cried when Dad first called to tell me she was gone. The finality of knowing she was gone hurt. It was no surprise to any of us, however. We knew in late summer that she was stopping chemo and would begin her downward slide, so I had made my peace with the inevitability of her absence. I began to think about her life – about the 28,370 days she spent on this earth.
I thought about her strength and her courage. She had an unwavering devotion to her family, giving up her own career aspirations for us. She was married to my Dad for 52 years and took care of him as a good child of the 50s did. I sometimes think she would rather have been a free child of the 60s, as she sometimes chafed at not being able to follow her dreams. But she felt duty-bound to make her marriage work and raise good girls. I think, for the most part, she was successful at both (although I do admit to being a wild child when I got out of the house and went to college). She was devastated when our sister Maureen died at age 13, but she shielded us from her pain and taught us to move forward, lovingly remembering those who have crossed before us.
She had a mind like a steel trap. What went in never left. She was a champion at trivia games and could remember recipes for years. She was telling me how to make a quiche for Dad to put in the freezer just a few days before her death. She was horrified that I might use milk instead of cream! She also had a wicked sense of humor. I loved hearing her laugh – she had one of those slightly manic belly laughs that make you laugh along. I still remember drawing a picture on a steak fry in ketchup at a restaurant when I was in high school. I made a really awful pun about it (I drew a roof and one of her closest friends was Ruth) and she guffawed until her eyes teared up. She was not ashamed that people stared – she was having fun!
Mom was also a brilliant woman. She was her high school valedictorian, winning the Latin prize. There was nothing she couldn’t understand or master intellectually. I used to think that was one of the reasons that my Dad was so in love with her – she was flat out smarter than him and it was a challenge for him to keep up with her. Lord knows Dad loves a challenge!
She was also a culinary adventurer, and I know that my sister and I inherited that trait. She and my Dad would have cocktail parties in the 70s on a fairly regular basis. She would make exotic appetizers and drinks, clipping out recipes from newspapers and magazines that sounded interesting. I remember tuna turnovers, ham rissoles, cocktail hash (the REAL Chex party mix), rumaki, fondues, sweet pastries. I remember her friends and their crazy big hair and plaid leisure suits. I remember sneaking upstairs to snatch food off the tables and running as fast as possible back to the basement with sweet and savory booty. Sometimes her recipes were horrible, but, growing up, each one of us kids was allowed to choose a food that we didn’t have to eat when it was presented at table.
During a visit to her home a few weeks ago, I came across one of her metal recipe boxes. In it were clipped recipes, some of which I know she never made. I suspect she would need another lifetime to get through all the recipes she saved. It would be nice to have one of those boxes to remember her by.
It is impossible to adequately encapsulate my mother into one post. She was too expansive a spirit to be spoken of only once. The dynamic energy that was Mom is gone now from the earth, and there’s a hole. She’s away whirling somewhere else in the universe, probably feeding people, repairing clothing, and painting pictures that were stored in her imagination for 60 years. I like to think that she’ll come visit us every so often. She’s got some catching up to do with Maureen first. It’s been 35 years since they’ve seen each other, so I imagine they’re having a cup of coffee right about now.
A lovely woman, a life well lived. I’ll miss you, Mom – you were the best Mom a girl could have had. Thank you.
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