When I stopped seeing my mother with the eyes of a child, I saw the woman who helped me give birth to myself. – Nancy Friday
My mom died three years ago, in the spring of 2010. Tomorrow is Mother’s Day, and I’m missing her. In many ways, my mom and I were nothing alike; she was an extreme extrovert, a real people-person who never met a party she didn’t like. She was an multi-sport athlete, a physical education teacher, who played golf until she was almost eighty. If the choice was between a good book and a round of golf, the book didn’t have a chance. She hated to write (the golf course awaited), and her letters usually just included a check, with a short “Miss you, Love Mom.” Her father committed suicide in 1930 when she was two, at the start of the Great Depression. As a young woman in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, she struggled against discrimination from both her family and the workplace. She wanted to be a nurse, but her wealthy grandmother wouldn’t pay the tuition, while her brash brother was lavished with gifts and opportunities.
Her personality, her life, her world and the experiences that made her, could not be more different from mine. And yet, we are so very much alike.
Stubborn. Opinionated. Dominant. Tenacious. Passionate. Those words describe us both, and are the gifts I received from her. Sometimes those gifts would be more properly called curses. As my brother and I used to say, “No one is gonna be happy unless Patsy is happy, so you might as well do what she says.” I’m sure my boys and Andrew say that to each other today when they talk about me.
She was a committed, devoted, fiercely protective mother. 100% always a mother, committed to the best interests of her cubs. You know those people who have a “best friends”, equals relationship with their parents? Well no, that was not us. Although we talked freely and easily about many things, my mom was always the parent, always the mom. Once we were grown, she didn’t cling, and let us live our own life, but even when she was very ill and bed-ridden at the end, she parented us.
We clashed often when I was young, and if I am honest, there were many days when she made me crazy. And I’m fairly certain I made her just as crazy. For many years, when Andrew or the boys would point out a Patsy-like moment, I would insist, ” I am NOT like my mother!”
But as I have matured, I have learned to accept my legacy, and even to cherish it. She lives in me, and those gifts have formed my core. I am not my mother, I am myself, but her gifts are the at the root of what is best in me. Thank you, mom.
What gifts, what legacy, has your mother left to you? What will you celebrate tomorrow?
Below is the eulogy I wrote for Patsy and read at her funeral on April 10, 2010.
In my most enduring childhood image of my mother, she is wearing a sleeveless shirt and a short golf skirt. Her long, slender legs and shoulders are deeply bronzed from the sun, and a perky blond rinse brightens her hair. There might be zinc oxide on her nose, along with her ever present sunglasses. She might have been coming or going from the golf course, and my brother and would have to run to keep up with her. She is strong and beautiful, full of power, and positive energy, energy that was contagious to everyone around her. “Let’s Move!” was certainly my mom’s tag line – way before Michelle Obama ever grabbed it for her current campaign against childhood obesity. The challenge of a good game, and the camaraderie of friends at the 19th hole were heaven to her. As her favorite golfer Arnold Palmer, said, “What other people may find in poetry or art museums, I find in the flight of a good drive. “ You can bet my mom never wasted a sunny day.
In later life, my favorite image of my mother is as the world’s best grandmother. My boys loved to go to grandma’s house. They learned to swim in my mother’s pool, with my mother’s expert instruction. They loved to go to the Country Club with grandma, where they were treated to golf lessons, a ride in the golf cart, and lunch on the patio. And on the way home, a visit to see the neighbor’s new puppies, and maybe a trip to the toy store. No wonder they love golf! But best of all was the rocking chair and my mother’s lap. No matter how naughty they had been – and if you knew my youngest son when he was 4, you would know how naughty that could be– her lap always offered a warm soft haven and unconditional love.
The English mystic Julian of Norwich said, “The greatest honor we can give Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of his love.” My mom certainly knew how to live gladly. She was one of those people who really was larger than life – someone whose joy for life and love of laughter was contagious. So many people have told me how much they loved my mother’s jokes and her upbeat spirit; – they probably don’t remember the joke, but they remember how my mother made them smile. One of the many beautiful and touching flower arrangements we received this week was a simple sunflower plant. The card said, “Patsy was a ray of sunshine – as happy to see you, as you were to see her.”
So I’ll close with a verse from Ecclesiastes, Chapter 8, verse 15, which seems a fitting way to say goodbye:
Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink and to be merry; for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.
So laugh today, raise a toast, and think of Patsy. The remains of her body might be here, but her spirit has already teed off.