Someone asked me today how I was. It was a casual question from a casual acquaintance. The kind of question in which the one who’s asking expects a “Fine, thanks. How are you?” But that’s not what I said. Instead, I awkwardly blurted, “My mom just died.”
“I’m so sorry. We all go through that. It’s not easy,” she replied.
I wanted to scream: “But it’s MY MOM. MY mom is the one who died. MY MOM JUST DIED.”
It sums everything up, I guess. Those four words explain exactly how I feel. I could have said forlorn and lost and untethered and rudderless and numb and sometimes unable to function and so incredibly sad. But that’s a lot.
It’s so much.
The only thing I took from her estate was three pairs of pajamas. I didn’t need tchotchkes (although they were available in abundance), jewelry, or furniture. I didn’t want kitchen gadgets or pictures or one of her many fondue sets. Her things didn’t replace her smile, her sense of humor, the wit and wisdom of her that disappeared on June 23rd, 2021. Nothing ever could. But I wore two pairs of those pajamas over the past 48 hours. I lounged in them and slept in them and cried in them. I wrapped myself up in them, hoping they’d bring some sense of peace. They didn’t. They’re only pajamas, after all.
In the month of June, we lost our kind Uncle Brent, our sweet cousin Brook, and, of course, my beloved Mom. It’s been two days since the last of the funerals and the showings and the celebrations and the gatherings took place. Two days of silence and rest in a room with flowers that are beginning to wilt and cards that remain unopened. I’ve had too much wine, haven’t sent thank you notes, haven’t eaten anything healthy.
I’ve simply been.
A funeral home is an interesting and sacred space. I’ve always been of the belief that if you possibly can, you go to the funeral. There is only one opportunity to say goodbye. Mom’s funeral home was filled with loved ones whose presence was so appreciated, and it was haunted by the absence of those who did not come.
So many people were there. She lived a life of abundance, my mom. Friends, family, good food, well-mixed drinks, dancing sisters, karate uniforms, black hair dye in the sink, Helen Reddy on the turntable. “I am woman, hear me roar.” She insisted that “Sweet Caroline” was written for her, and when I was young, I believed it.
“Good times never seemed so good.”
It’s funny, the things we believe. As a little girl, I wanted my stuffed animals to come to life. I prayed every night that they would. I asked Mom if it could happen. “Anything is possible, Trinks” she’d said. “But not everything is probable.” It was a hard question to ask, an even harder one to answer. As a Mom myself, I would have floundered. But Mom didn’t. She always knew how to encourage my spirit without squelching my dreams.
She seemed indomitable to me. She was strength and beauty and wisdom and grace.
She was my cosmos.
My sister-in-law, Jeanna, so beautifully said, “If you didn’t love Sis, you hadn’t yet met her.”
There aren’t enough words to adequately describe what Mom meant to me, what she meant to everyone. The hole she leaves behind in the Universe is a chasm deep and wide, a well that has no bottom. I will miss her every single day. That is how she loved me: Constant, continual. I spoke the following words at her service. They are inadequate, but they were all I could pull from my grief. There was so much more to say about what I remember… water ballet at the Andersons, BBQs at the Suhrs, family gatherings fueled by Jim Beam and Aunt Sally’s meatballs, weekends driving the rusted out Chevette to Brown County to visit Granny, swimming in Zack’s Lake, aunts perfecting their whippoorwill calls, competitive games of 99 (always on the lookout for Grandpa’s smooth cheating), dinners at the Brandywine, Tuesday lunches at the Class of 58 and Ro’s, singing “Two Little Babes” and “Please Mr. Conductor,” jumping off the Weston Village balcony, riding my bike to Hook’s to grab a box of Merit Ultra Lights…
I may not remember everything, but I remember that my mom was extraordinary. I remember that I was the luckiest girl in the world.
July 1, 2021, Erlewein Mortuary
Mom often talked about taking Carrie and me kite-flying. “Don’t you remember?” she’d ask. “When I took you girls to the park?” But I didn’t remember, even though I so desperately wanted to remember. It seemed so important to her, this kite-flying memory.
But even if our trips to the park elude me, I remember so much more.
I remember the suitors who lined up for a chance to spend a moment or two in her radiant light. She was so beautiful, my mom. Raven haired and dark eyed. She loved Manhattans and Keoke coffees. And she could Jitterbug like no one else. She ultimately chose Bob to be her forever dance partner, the kindest, most devoted husband who loved her with every ounce of his being.
I remember Mom’s wide and wonderful circle of friends and her devotion to her lifelong friend, Kay. I remember dinners with Kay and Charlie the Worm. We’d dance and laugh and stay up far too late. Mom taught me the value of friendship. She helped me understand that people are always, always more important than things. When I listened to Mom and Kay laugh together, I understood.
I remember Christmas Eves with the Robaks, Lake Tippecanoe with the Tosicks. Out of our little circle of three, Mom created an entire world of love and laughter. She built us a Universe.
I remember Mom being my number one fan. At every volleyball game, every basketball game, every softball game, I could always find her face in the stands. She didn’t necessarily understand the rules of the game, but she knew how important her presence was to me, to my friends. My friends adored her, and she felt the same way. “You’re the most talented girls, but you’re also the prettiest,” she’d say.
I wore her love for me like a winter coat, warm and safe and secure. She was always worried about my shoulders being cold. “Wear a wrap, Trinks,” she’d say. “You’re going to freeze.” I say the same thing to my kids now. They, too, roll their eyes.
More than anything, I remember my mom’s love for her family. Her beloved parents, Chuck and Mary. Her siblings, Jimmy, Chuck, Sally, Mimi, Ketty, Kurt, and Brent. Her nieces and nephews, her in-laws and outlaws, her aunts and uncles and cousins. Her grandbabies and her great-grandbabies. Oh, how she loved her babies. After I had my fourth child, she would often say to me, “Just one more, Trinks. Have one more baby and give it to me.” She loved us all so well, my beautiful mom. That is what I remember best.
My deepest sympathy and condolences on the loss of your brave, beautiful, brilliant mother. Your words have not only honored her well, they have given me renewed strength in the midst of caring for my 95-year-old mama, who has mid-stage Alzheimer’s. Trying to patch together her care over a holiday weekend had me wallowing in self-pity and feeling overwhelmed, but your post has reminded me that at this stage every day is a gift, even the hard ones. May God bless and comfort you and all who mourn your mama’s passing, and may her legacy live on forever.
Wishing you strength and peace as you walk your journey with your mama. Caregivng is not easy, and saying goodbye is not easy. I hope you find comfort in the moments you still have with her. XO
Some things we don’t agree on but one thing we totally bond on is your mother, Sweet Caroline. Thank you and Carrie for sharing with me one of the best friends and most remarkable women I have ever known. Your words have me in tears and it has taken a while to get through them and I am sure I will re-read them numerous times…just as I do my favorite books. It is difficult to capture Sis because she was so many things to so many people but you have captured what she was as a mother and that was her proudest and most cherished role. She loved you and Carrie and your children with such ferocity. I know so many things about each one of you and they are all such wonderful stories. She was so very proud of each of you. My pain at her loss has no comparison to yours but I will miss her making me feel like the most important person in the room when I would see her. I will miss her holding her index finger to the side of her cheek when she would say something very clever and make everyone laugh. I will miss her pretending to cheat at Bingo and loving to “shop” afterward. I will miss her sitting at the head of our table at our lunches and looking so regal and so beautiful and enjoying her Keoke coffees and sneaking out for a cigarette. There are so many things I will miss about your mother and my heart breaks for you and Carrie because I know you miss her even more and that’s a lot.
Thank you so much for your kind words, Wanda. She was a wonderful mom, and I know she was also a beloved friend. She has left a hole in so many of our hearts. I smiled at the line about her index finder on her cheek–that was so Mom, and she was so damn funny. We will all miss her so very much. I am happy that she counted you among her dearest friends. XO