I went to a friend’s mom’s visitation last night. I only knew my friend there- but knew stories about her mom. I got there and was pleasantly surprised to find a room of smiling, mostly happy, engaged people talking and sharing stories. It was beautiful- this honoring of her mom amidst lovely connection from the people that cared for her. It was, I assumed, the type of gathering her mom would feel comfortable in; friends sharing and connecting, reminiscing and taking the good with the bad because what mattered is being together. It was beautiful. The typical anxiety present at visitations and funerals- being in a space that seemed reserved for sorrow- was missing. Instead, it was refreshing celebration of a woman so many will miss. It felt as though I’d already known her then- and in a way, I do since I know her daughter and she’s exactly the perfect mix of happy, funny, talented and logical that was palpable last night. Of course, I thought of my own mom the whole way home. My mom is amazing. I learned to swear from my mom. Incidentally, so did my kids—I’ll never forget the day my 4 year old said, “it’s colder than a witch’s booby outside!” (MOM!) I learned to give the finger from my mom (although she did teach restraint- be careful because you never know who is crazy enough to shoot you). I also learned to persevere- to explore, to make things and be creative and to silence haters. Or as she would say, “fuck ‘em.”.I learned to place importance on education and to not be afraid to be smart and take people by surprise when necessary. She taught me to let others underestimate if only because it doesn’t matter anyway in the long run… and to also because being right will ring true in the end anyhow. My mom was raised by a Russian immigrant father and a mom that had been working since age 14 since she was from a family with a dozen siblings. My grandfather came over with his mom (who I’m named after) as a baby. His father was already settled in Wisconsin and Rebecca made the journey escaping from their Russian village with her brother and the baby. I can’t imagine making that journey 105 years ago with a baby that had measles. My mom went to nursing school after high school—a Jewish woman in a Catholic school—practically unheard of at the time. She dropped out close to finishing because she didn’t like the politics happening there and decided to get a degree in Geology instead (even more rare for a woman to be in a field science). After college, she got married to my dad and they began their moves across the country for his job. While waiting to adopt me, she decided she wasn’t going to wait around and feel sorry for herself, she was going to plod forward no matter what. So, she got her master’s degree in Counseling. She also taught in Old Salem and did historical tours. Then, I arrived! What followed was a career that adapted to where we lived/moved to; including jobs teaching and working crisis hotlines, doing teen suicide prevention work far before anyone else realized how crucial it was. Later in life, she embraced her artistic inclinations and became certified in journaling therapy as well as bookmaking and bookbinding. She teaches art and journaling now, as well as works for an artist friend of hers. She volunteers at her church- does trauma response training and counseling and is the volunteer crisis counselor and liason there.
I’m sad it took me this long to look back and realize her strength and the importance of her perseverance. Stories of hers regarding her own #metoo incidents in the workforce in the 60’s and 70’s are cringe worthy but knowing she was willing to lose her job because it was right speaks to me. I let the swearing slide because I know she’s teaching my kids to be “doers”. “Get off your ass and just do it”, she would say. I hear her words escape my mouth as I prod my teenager to get her homework done; as I kiss boo-boos and say, “it’ll get better before you get married” to the 7 year old. And she’s right. It’ll get better before you get married. At least the little stuff will. As I think back on my grandpa’s funeral—it captured his personality and my mom was insistent on not focusing on his death but rather what he gave to us instead. (and by that, I don’t mean the pen with the lady whose clothes fell off when you tipped it to the side) Grandpa liked peanuts and asked us to throw peanuts in his grave “so he wouldn’t get hungry down there”. So we did. My mom made a list of things he enjoyed for everyone to take- it was called, “in lieu of flowers” and listed things we should do in his honor… eat a Hershey’ s bar with almonds, treat someone you love, give money to a kid, etc. I still do these things and love the fun memories of him and in retrospect seeing his personality passed to her. We’re all getting older. Time is fleeting. We get too caught up in the daily crud- the “chatter”, as I call it. I might be an artsy hippie when I say this, but please—go do something for yourself today. And in the process, honor the people that made you this way. Remember the good stories, the funny stories, and release the painful moments if you can. Eat that Hershey’ s bar- or whatever makes you think of those you love. Get out and don’t be afraid to be you… and wear a jacket in case it’s colder than a witch’s booby. You can thank my mom for that advice.