When I was a junior in college my mother came to visit me. I don’t remember if it was winter or possibly even a really early spring break but in northeastern Missouri there was probably a foot of snow or more on the ground. It was cold, bitterly cold, and the roads were treacherous. She and I were already in for the night, in our pajamas and sitting in my living room watching surgeries on TLC (back when they showed actual educational programming). It was well after midnight and out of the blue my mother wanted to get chalupas from Taco Bell. So the two of us put on our coats and set off in the cold to get Taco Bell at 1am. No chalupa ever tasted so good.
My mother was a force of nature and an absolute blast. She wanted to be involved in her children’s lives, not just a guiding force. Growing up, I realized pretty quickly on that the pursuit of goofiness and joy were an essential part of our upbringing. It became something that I absorbed into my personality, but it also became something that I clung to when times were not so great. My mother was not perfect. She struggled with mental illness (specifically depression and anxiety) her entire life. There were big chunks of time that were spent with my mother being very, very depressed to the point of having a hard time functioning. I think, in retrospect, this is why she worked so hard to show us how to have fun because even when things are their darkest you have to remember to have light.
My mother was sick for a long time. While I was still in high school she went into congestive heart failure and we discovered that she had cardiomyopathy. Initially we were told that she had six months to live, but she beat that by 18 years. I remember spending the first years of her diagnosis living in fear that she would be gone suddenly, but then I sort of settled into a comfortable place with things. My mother was tough and stubborn. She wasn’t going to die suddenly; she was going to die only on her own terms. Last Christmas I think Mom knew that things were settling into a place where she could demand her own terms. Christmas 2014 was as close to perfect as we could get. There wasn’t any fussing or fighting, everyone had a good time. My mother and brother inadvertently got each other the same thing for Christmas and it was hilarious. It was a classic family Christmas. We took family photos, which is what I had requested. Her decline began right after the holidays, but she kept holding on. My brother got engaged this summer to an absolutely perfect girl. She and my father celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Her body was slipping away, but she held on for those important milestones. And when she went into the hospital the final time she demanded that she wanted to be at home so that is exactly where she was. We brought her home and in that room, the last words my mother ever said to me were the same ones she ended every conversation with, no matter how small: I love you, too, Kid.
It’s hard without her. Sure, my mother and I didn’t get along just as much as we did. She was by no means perfect. There were times she had some major flaws and said some hurtful things, but for every negative I have another Taco Bell moment or moments more profound that were literally perfect and all good. When I dismantle myself into component parts I can see my mother’s fingerprints everywhere and I know that all of who I am was carefully selected by her going back to the dark days when she desperately prayed to be a mother..and, as she always did, defied the odds and got her way. It’s hard. It’s lonely, too. But it’s beautiful knowing that she’s everywhere now, no more suffering and only laughing.
Only laughing. May I always be her Kid.