Updated: Jul 22, 2020
(In honor of Mother's Day, here's a portrait of my mother, which was excerpted from the eulogy that I gave at her funeral.)
Mom was a complex woman. Her true vocation, life calling and gift was as a mother. She’d mother anyone around her, no matter their age or size. No matter whether they were own children, or someone she barely knew. She’d even mother our father! Once he teased her, saying “Honey, for goodness sake, are you going to cut my meat for me, too?”
As we grew older, we kids would often chafe at her s-mothering as we were now adults, but it was her way of expressing her truest self. I saw this clearly when I had my own twin boys. She intuitively knew how to care for these infants, when I hadn’t a clue. Perhaps this is why she had five children. Babies were what she knew best and she was able to express her love and tenderness to someone more vulnerable than she.
I don’t know if it was because of her own Depression era childhood, or the sense of loss she carried with her at having lost her beloved brother and come of age during WW2...But Mom had a toughness to her; an edge that belied a hidden vulnerability.
She was not the soft, tender, snuggly mom that you see on TV, having heart to heart talks with her children. She didn’t verbally express her emotions well. Though there were moments of this sentimentality, by and large, her nature was that of a mother lioness, teaching her cubs to fend for themselves in a tough world.
She loved fiercely and heaven help anyone who ever messed with her family. I remember once when I was in kindergarten and a boy kicked me in the head when I was on my way home from school. The neighbors helped me home and rang the bell and as she opened the door, I remember seeing different expressions washing over my mom’s face: Shock, worry, fear. Then all at once, my mom was furious, irate, indignant. At the time, I mistook this concern and thought her emotion was directed at me. She quickly washed my face, looked in the phone book to find the boys’ parents’ address and then out the door we went. I don’t think my feet touched the ground as she practically ran the two blocks down the street, pulling me by the hand behind her. There, at my assailant’s home, the full fury of a mother’s wrath was unleashed, as she told off the boy and his entire family, in no uncertain terms. I can still see their shocked faces. Then, once we received an apology and assurance of the attacker’s rehabilitation, we calmly walked back home, where she put an ice bag on my head and made me a snack, as we watched “That Girl”.
Mom may not physically give you a long lingering hug, but instead she might symbolically offer you something cozy and cuddly. I remember that for years, every Christmas she’d give each of us a set of Long Johns to keep us warm in the winter. My brothers would all get Pendletons, too, making them look like a crew of lumberjacks, or Cholos. We might also get a scarf and gloves. Looking back, I think this was so that she could still feel like she was, at least, symbolically still holding her children’s hands and hugging us.
Mom may not give you a long lingering hug, but she’d slip you a $20, waving off any protests by saying “Put some gas in your car, or get something to eat!” Or, she send you home with a bag of tamales, or a container of menudo. She say: “I can’t eat all this. You take it. My refrigerator is so loaded up”, as if we were doing her a favor by emptying it.
About the same time that Mom stopped driving, the home shopping network launched on the television. Mom loved it. She especially loved gadgets and was always ordering something new that she’d seen on TV. When you would visit, she’d beckon you into the guest bedroom, that was now really her gift dispensing room, stacked high with QVC shipping boxes.
She’d apologetically offer, “Well, I don’t know if you’d want this, but, I saw it on TV and I thought you could use it”. Then she’ d gently hand you a gift bag with some recycled tissue paper haphazardly tucked around a QVC package.
More often than not, it was an item that you never thought you needed, much less needed to own. But to my mother, it offered the promise of so much more: It was an amulet to protect her loved ones against the harshness of the world. It was a solution to solve a menacing problem. It was a time saver, so you could enjoy life more and work less. It was a hug wrapped up in a QVC package. It was love.
One year, she gave me a three-way-tool, in case I was ever trapped in my car and needed to escape. It could break the windshield, tear through a seatbelt and illuminate my escape route, all at once. Never did I consider such circumstances, or such a tool. But Mom did.
She was a constant worrier. She worried so much that she often couldn’t be present in the moment, concerned about something that may or may not happen in the future. One year, I gave her a copy of a book called “Meditations for Women Who Worry Too Much”. Not missing a beat, next time I visited, she gave me a copy of the companion book: “Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much”. Mom worried that I was overdoing it.
As we both grew older, she’d give me motivational and inspirational books on tape and lectures to encourage me on my own path. She may not be able to express her emotions, but she always found a gift, or a Hallmark card that expressed it for her. One of my childhood memories is of her bedside stand, where one drawer was devoted to stationery. In it she always kept cards for all occasions, ready to send. I loved looking at these cards and I especially loved receiving them.
Mom liked being prepared and organized. She liked things to be useful and put away and in their place. She’d always get rid of “junk”. She was always giving things away. She wasn’t particularly sentimental. Or so I thought...Till after she passed away.
You see, Mom had a trunk locked away in the old playhouse. A steamer trunk the size that could easily accommodate two to three stowaways. As a child, I remember that from time to time, Mom would open it and sneak a thing or two inside. I always wanted to peek inside, and she’d chase me away, saying it was just a hope chest. Even in my 20s, she’d chase me away. I never knew what treasures were inside, till after she made her transition.
The contents inside revealed that she had saved each of our lifetimes of childhood memories: Christening gowns, beloved stuffed animals, baby bracelets and shoes, elementary school artwork. There she had stored away every report card, show program, school photo, love letter and greeting card she had ever received. A lifetime of treasured memories and emotions and vulnerabilities stored away and protected, just as she wished to protect her own loved ones. It truly was a hope chest, stored with symbols and objects representing a lifetime of love and hopes for a positive future.
After Mom made her transition, I was going through the nightstand where she kept her Bible, in the drawer just above the stationery drawer. I was looking through in hopes of finding something to provide solace to me. There, next to the Bible was the book I gave her. I never knew if she ever read it, but as I flipped through the pages, it opened to this bookmarked passage:
“Sometimes our primary form of sharing our love for our children is worrying about them and being aggravated with them when they give us an opportunity to worry. It helps to remember that when we experience fear and aggravation, this is an opportunity to share our love and caring”. Next to it, there was a meditation: “Love comes in many forms. One of them may be dealing with our own feelings, so we can show what’s under them to those we love the most”.*
What my mom loved the most were those who shared their lives with her: her family and friends. When she suffered the aneurism/stroke that led to her passing, some were saddened that they weren’t able to see her one last time and say goodbye. But really, there was no need for this remorse, for she knew she was loved and had a lifetime full of saved greeting cards to prove it.
Mom loved fiercely, like a lioness. She lived her 88 years on her her own terms: Smoking till the end, living in her own house till the end and mothering till the end. Even from her coma, she stubbornly refused to submit to death till she was assured of her cubs’ welfare and once she was satisfied, she peacefully drifted away to the next bold adventure.
Mom loved fiercely, like a lioness. She may not have let her tender side show very often, but she kept tokens of her love in QVC boxes, ready to dole out at the exact moment, like a secret antidote to whatever was ailing, or troubling you. She wanted to outfit you against the harshness in the world, and to make your life easier and guide you onward through life.
I still keep that tool next to me in the car, not that I think I’ll ever need to use it, but as a reminder of my mother’s fierce love.
*Quote from “Meditations for People Who May Worry Too Much” by Anne Wilson Schaef , Ballantine Books, New York, c 1996
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