I was thinking recently about how I survived 2014. A lot of people tell me what a strong woman I am. Perhaps. But what made me strong was a foundation build so long ago. Like any tree that weathers the storm…it’s flexible, yes (able to bend, not break against the strong winds), but it is also held in place by solid ground and strong roots. The solid ground and strong roots that I have were put in place by my parents.
I spent this past Sunday – Mother’s Day – with my daughter in New Hope, Pennsylvania. I had gone there numerous times with my parents as a child. I thought a lot about my mom and how I wish to give my daughter what she gave me. My mom died on June 19, 2012. This was my eulogy to her:
June 21, 2012
I was going to do this the easy way. I spend all day yesterday trying to locate the letter I wrote my mom for Mother’s Day 1990 and I was just going to share that with you. But I couldn’t find it and then realized maybe that wasn’t the right thing to do anyway; mom deserves something fresh! Especially since I learned the most important thing ten years after that letter was written – I learned how difficult the role of “mom” can be and I learned how deeply one can love a child.
As many of you know, I didn’t start out my life as my mother’s child. While most mother’s wait a short 9 months for their babies, my mom waited the better part of two years. I have stacks of letters that went back and forth from my parents and Mercy Convent in Ballinsloe, Sean Ross Abbey in Limerick and Catholic Charities here in the States; no one ever really knowing when all my paperwork would be in order or when I would be on a plane to America. But I finally arrived on May 22, 1967 and my mom confessed only in recent years that her first reaction was that I looked so grown up and independent compared the baby photos she had been sent and she wasn’t sure she’d be needed.
But she certainly was!
She nursed me through illnesses, helped me with my homework and always supported me (even if her idea of support differed from mine – she always sided with the teachers!).
And she was constantly telling me how “terrific” I was.
From her I learned that being a mom had nothing to do with biology and everything to do with love.
When I was in elementary school I came home one day all upset because the other girls could jump rope and I couldn’t. So she got a rope, tied one end to a tree and turned the other end so I could learn how to jump in and keep jumping in a safe and supportive environment.
Not many people know this, but she was also a runner before I was. After my parents closed the restaurant and the gift shop, she became a supervisor for a telemarketing company – drawing on some of her initial experience with the telephone company in the late 40s. She joined their Manufacturers Hanover Corporate Challenge Team and trained during the summer between my junior and senior year of college. I thought she was a little kooky.
And sometimes she was kooky and that’s what made her fun.
I remember her dressing up as a card for my 2nd grade Halloween party; and as a clown for a Shelter Island Seniors party about 30 years later.
She wrote a column for a weekly newspaper for years. The sound of the banging typewriter keys often lulling me to sleep. I remember one specific article she wrote about the convent at Most Blessed Sacrament and how she made it sound like the nuns were taking in an orphaned child – when they were actually adopting a black lab.
No one ever left our house without being properly fed; although if you wanted the recipe she’d leave out an ingredient so no one could make it as good as her! All her recipes (with all the correct ingredients!) will soon be available on the internet.
In 1977, Gubernatorial Candidate Ray Bateman was passing through Franklin Lakes and planned to make a brief stop at our house which was serving as Republican Headquarters. My mom noted that it would be about lunch time and after all everyone had to eat! So the brief stop turned into a sit-down lunch for about 100 people – in our house! She volunteered at my school, the church, the library, numerous political campaigns, meals-on-wheels and probably a whole bunch of things I can’t remember.
When my parents retired to Shelter Island they planned to stay out of politics, but my mom was also not someone to sit idly by when something wasn’t right. So she ran for tax assessor – and won – twice!
She had a great marriage, but was a strong woman – an equal partner in their marriage and their business. She was a successful wife, mother, business owner, supervisor, volunteer and elected official. Without her example, I know I wouldn’t be who I am today.
And she never did stop telling me how “terrific” I was – which I admit got a little annoying at times. I thought it seemed patronizing and over the top. You know me; I’m not THAT terrific.
When I was a kid, my greatest fear was losing my parents. But when I thought of a time when they wouldn’t be with me, they were together. In life and in death, in my mind, they were always together. They were the epitome of what a married couple is supposed to be…two becoming one.
That is why the last 6 years have been so difficult. I am at peace now knowing they are once again together as they should be.
The last time I saw her was this past Friday. I will tell you that in her illness she had good days and bad days. Christmas was a bad day. This past Friday was a very good day. She knew who I was, she laughed at my jokes, and she kept saying I was wonderful, marvelous and terrific!
This week I realized having your mother’s voice forever in your head saying “you’re terrific” isn’t such a bad thing.
Sunny Mother’s Day 2016 in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Delaware Canal State Park. The Canal Tow Path on the right is the course for the Bucks County Marathon which I ran last November. My daughter wouldn’t take a picture with me.
Me and my mom. 1969.