Happy 67th Birthday, Mom

As always we are  missing you this day

A photo collection of a few pictures of my Mother on her 67th Birthday

Mom as a baby
Mom at 13
Mom in her 20s in Washington, D.C.
My most favorite picture of my Mother
My parents shortly after they were married
My parents on their wedding day in Rockville, MD in 1971
My mom and my sister in 1972
My mom and a baby me and my big sister in 1978
My Mom and my brother in the early 90s
My Mom and Dad and their dog, Minni
Me and my parents at my college graduation in 2007
The last picture I ever took of my mother, on my daughter’s birthday in 2007

This is the fifth birthday we’ve celebrated without you, Mom. The last birthday you had on earth was your 62nd. Unfortunately you were sick that day and we never got to celebrate it. I’ll never forget it because it was the night of that horrible Trolley Square tragedy. The siblings and I always get together on your birthday to talk about you and to celebrate your life.  We have lots of funny stories to share.  You always made everyone laugh.  Whenever I tell a “punny” joke, I think of you.  

I got to be honest, this time of year is hard for me.  Sometimes I get so angry because I don’t understand why you had to go.  It’s in these moments I hate cancer so much.  Losing you has had a profound affect on my life.  I can never go back to the person I was before your cancer diagnosis.  She is gone now too.  Sometimes I look at the women around me who are about my age who take their mothers for granted and I just want to shake them and ask them if they know how lucky they are.  The thing that hurts the worst, though, is that I feel the years slipping away from the last time I was with you.  The other day I was reading some emails from when you were sick and they just felt like it was such a long time ago.  And if that was a long time ago, that means it was a long time ago that I had a mom.  That I had you.

Whenever I read a good book I know you would enjoy, I wish I could give it to you so I could call you up later and we could talk about it, like we used to.  I miss your guidance and direction in my life.  I miss your unconditional love and support of me.  You used to tell me that I was as smart as I was beautiful, and I would believe you when you said it.  I wish I could call you up and tell you your only granddaughter started piano lessons this week, carrying on our family tradition.  She practices on the same piano Poppy played, that grandma left to me when she died.  I wish I could tell you the funny and/or cute thing your littlest grandson namesake did.  I wish I could tell you how my oldest son is addicted to video games like his father, and you would laugh and shake your head.  I wish I could tell you how smart, funny, and sweet all your grandkids are.  How great it is that the cousins are forever friends.  You would be so proud of them.  

I wish you could wrap your arms around me when I cry when people are big meany heads or when life seems too overwhelming sometimes.  All of these I took for granted when you here, alive and well.  Back when life made sense.  I have faith, mommy, that I’ll see you again and that you’re watching over us right now as our own personal guardian angel.  But like M’lynn says in Steel Magnolias, “maybe I’m just selfish because I’d rather have her here.”  

Life goes on.  Your death taught us that.  You left a great legacy behind you.  Children who love and miss you.  Grandchildren who are proud to be yours.  You left a piece of you with all of us.  I can feel you in so many moments.  Tender moments with my children and I flashback to a time of you and I together when I was a child.  Every time I finish a book.  Whenever I wear a piece of your jewelry.  Whenever someone laughs at one of my jokes or tells me I look like you.  I feel you in those moments.  Recently Jessica’s mom said that I look like you and I was so proud in that moment.  What greater legacy can you leave me than your face in mine?  Your eyes in mine?

I hope that I make you proud as a mother and as a daughter.  I’m who I am today because of you.  I’m trying to instill the lessons and values you imprinted on my heart into your grandchildren.  They are kind and that’s what matters to me most.  You might be gone, but you’re still a part of my world.

Happy Birthday, Mom…


Your Girl Baby

(Edited to add:  my kind friends let me write up a post on their blog in tribute to my mother about taking her endowments out as her proxy a few years ago)

15 Albums that Changed my Life

I like making lists. So here is a list of 15 albums that had a significant impact on my life and why.
 “Abbey Road” by The Beatles
Frankly, all of The Beatles’ albums have had a profound effect on me. I came to love The Beatles in high school and they are by far my favorite band. They are musical geniuses. Their melodies and harmonies are amazing! And how they constantly changed their style over time, which is extremely hard to do. They have influenced every band that has come after them. I could never fully articulate what their music means to me. I heart The Beatles!

“Little Earthquakes” by Tori Amos
Tori Amos wrote this music as her recovery from a horrific rape. This music is hauntingly beautiful. It also helped me during a very dark time in my life. Tori is a gifted artist and proves that from tragedy can come amazing triumph and beautiful art. “Silent all these years” has become an anthem for abused women everywhere. Tori has never stayed silent and has always spoken her truth.

“Weezer” aka the Blue Album by Weezer
This came out in 1994 and sounded different than anything I had ever heard before and I LOVED IT. Here were kids that were the weirdos in high school and rock harder than all the “cool kids.” Weezer will always be one of my faves.

“Songs about Jane” by Maroon 5
I could listen to this entire album over and over again and not get sick of it. I was at a point in my life where I never thought I’d ever hear any new music again and love it. I was wrong! Unfortunately their sophomore effort wasn’t nearly as creative or meaningful.

“August and Everything After” by Counting Crows
Words cannot explain how much I love this album. Another album I could listen to from beginning to end and never get sick of it. Like “Little Earthquakes” this is a album that helped me work through some tough times. Because, ’round here, we always stand up straight. I have new favorite songs off this album every time I listen to it.

“Pieces of You” by Jewel
I hated the first single off this album, “Who will save your souls?” but when I heard “You were meant for me” for the first time, I became a Jewel fan. I’m still amazed that a homeless girl living out of her van in San Diego wrote this beautiful album. The most profound line in the title track is, “do you hate her ’cause she’s pieces of you?” Those songs still touch me.

“Stadium Arcadium” by The Red Hot Chilli Peppers Honestly, the best work done by the Chilli Peppers in their 20 year career. I could listen to both discs over and over again, ad infinitum, and they would still sound fresh and amazing. Like a fine wine, the Chilli Peppers just get better with age.

“Taking the long way” by The Dixie Chicks
I was not a Dixie Chicks fan until 2003 when they had the courage to stand up against the whole world and declare that dissent is patriotic. Their words on “Not Ready to Make nice” helped me heal the wounds I had suffered at being called every name in the book for being against the Iraq War. Five Grammys and a few years later they were proven right. Also, the song “Silent House” makes me cry every time because I think of my mother. “And I will try to connect all the pieces you left. I will carry them on and let you forget. And I’ll remember the years when your mind was clear. All the laughter and life filled up this Silent House.” Amazing.

“Tragic Kingdom” by No Doubt
My first introduction to No Doubt. Simply amazing from beginning to end. I remember seeing the video for “Just a Girl” on 120 Minutes on MTV and thinking they were like nothing I had ever heard before. This album basically defines the summer between my senior year in high school and frosh year in college.

“Time Out” by Dave Brubeck
I took an Intro to Jazz class my frosh year and this is the album I love the most from it. It reminds me of my Grandpa and his love of Jazz.

“Ropin’ the Wind” by Garth Brooks
I remember hearing “Shameless” for the first time as a 13 year old girl and knowing that I wanted to love and be loved like that. The amazing thing is, the song was written by Billy Joel. I have every song Garth ever recorded on my iPod, but this one is my favorite. Garth’s the only country music artist I unequivocally adore. I went to see him live in 1998 and besides sitting in front of some psycho people, that concert was amazing. I don’t know what it is about his music that speaks to my soul, but it does.

“Luck of the Draw” by Bonnie Raitt
Who hasn’t cried while listening to “I can’t make you love me?” Or least had their heart break a little. The whole album is genius and Raitt’s voice is to die for.

“Come on Come on” by Mary Chapin Carpenter There are so many songs I love on this album. The song “Only a Dream” reminds me of when my sister left for law school and walking into her empty room and feeling her absence so completely. Recently listening to the title track, “Come on Come on,” really spoke to me as she describes looking at pictures of her parents on their honeymoon and saying, “now you’re older than they were then that summer night.” The longing, sadness, and her melancholy in that song is something I can identify with more than I ever thought I would listening to this album over and over again in junior high.

“Erasure Pop! – The first 20 hits” by Erasure
When I feel a little down, Erasure can always lift my spirits. I love their ABBA rip offs and their original music. This album helped me get healthy as I would wake up at the butt crack of dawn and walk 3 miles around my neighborhood with this in my Walkman. Yes, I said Walkman. It was the 90s and they were cool.

“Les Miserables: The Complete Symphonic Version” Introduced to me in Junior High, the story of Les Mis and Jean Valjean has touched my life. The words in this musical are truly inspiring. And they were translated from French! I’ve seen the stage production four times and anticipate seeing it again many more times in the future.  
“Take my hand, I’ll lead you to salvation. Take my love. For love is everlasting. And remember the truth that once was spoken, to love another person is to see the face of God.” Those were the last words I sang to my Mom a few hours before she passed away.

Why I AM a Feminist

This post is a long time in coming. I started it on March 3, 2010 and then abandoned it when I felt like I couldn’t accurately convey my thoughts and feelings on the subject. I’ve grown a lot in the past 15 months and thought maybe I should tackle this subject again.
This is how the original post started:

Recently the notorious blogger cjane wrote a post about why she is NOT a feminist. If you’re scared of self-identifying as a feminist, girl, that’s fine by me. But what seriously had me snorting Mountain Dew out of my nose is when she said that equality has never done a thing for her.

Here is a list of reasons why I’m a feminist:
The End. That’s about how far I got. Not that inspired.
Recently I was featured on my favorite blog where I was asked what feminism means to me. Simply put: Feminism is the radical notion that women are people too (famously said by Gloria Steinem).
I know it’s hard to comprehend for women in the 21st century affluent America to realize that at one time, women were chattel, women were property, WOMEN WERE NOT PEOPLE! You were owned by your father and then your husband and they could use and abuse you and it was legal and culturally sanctioned. Even in my own mother’s lifetime, she was not allowed to rent an apartment or have a credit card or have a checking account solely in her name. She either had to have a father or husband attached to those things. And she was only 33 years older than me.
What’s incredibly sad to me about cjane’s article is that it is written by a privileged woman living a privileged life. It’s real easy to say equality never did a thing for you when you live in an affluent country, where your immediate person is not in constant danger, and all your needs are met. Try being a woman in the DR Congo where 1,000 women are raped a day as a weapon of war. Not just raped, but gang-raped, tortured, killed, for their gender. I bet having some equality in your life would be a lot different if that were your every day reality.
So, when I think of my feminist sheroes like Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, I want to weep in gratitude. If you have not seen the movie, “Iron Jawed Angels,” run, don’t walk, to the video store (or whatever the 21st century equivalent to that is). Paul and Burns agitated for women’s rights in the early part of the 20th century and were jailed for months because of it. They protested in front of Woodrow Wilson’s white house for the right to vote (a perfectly accepted and celebrated American past time) and were put in jail for months where they were tortured, beaten, alternately starved then force fed rotten food, etc. For having the audacity to demand their American rights as a human being!
This was reaffirmed to me recently when I attended the American Woman exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. When we got to the Suffragette room, I was literally brought to tears. Those women worked tirelessly, suffered great indignities, so that I could walk into a voting booth and not be hassled. That I could perform the most basic function as an American citizen. Astounding.
As I said in the fMh post, I think of myself as a human being first and a woman second. As a human being I am entitled to the same rights and opportunities as every other human being. That means I should not be told to shut up and get in the kitchen because I’m a woman. Or I can’t handle a position of authority because I’m a woman. Or that I can’t sell a computer to a customer because as a woman I’m less credible than a man. All of these things have been said to me. My genitalia does not define who I am as a person or my capabilities and talents as as a human being.
It’s funny because recently a very good friend had the epiphany that she was a feminist because of me. It was because she was always told that feminists were man-hating family destroying lesbians. Not true.
Feminism does not mean that I hate men.
I love men. Well, let me qualify that – I love decent men that treat everyone with respect.
Feminism does not mean I’m out to destroy the family.
Family is the basic unit of society. Family means everything to me. I live for my family. I’ve dedicated my life to building families. Being an equal in my marriage and a co-head of my family only strengthens it as it shows an example to my children that, again, women are people too.
Feminism does not mean that I think men are inconsequential and I want an all female society.
On the contrary, I gave a talk in church last Father’s day on the importance of fathers. Men are very important. My life has been greatly blessed by the wonderful men who have impacted it. I regularly gush over the hubs, the best man that has ever lived. And anyone who knows me know that I’ve been boy crazy since 2 years old. I would not be able to survive an all female society.
Feminism does not mean I want to burn my bra.
Actually I pay big money for good support for my, ah, blessings.
So, why am I a Feminist?
-Because 1 out of 4 women is still sexually abused/raped/molested etc. in her lifetime.
-Because I live in a culture that continually tries to sell me the lie that my only worth is in my body.
-Because people are still killed all over this world for being women.
-Because women are not allowed to drive in Saudia Arabia.
-Because the number one cause of death for pregnant women is being killed by their significant other.
-Because women still make 80 cents on the dollar to men.
-Because I am my own person, not my husband’s property.
-Because women and girls are still under-represented in Congress, cartoons, books, super heroes, movies, etc.
-Because I don’t believe in the Cult of True Womanhood.
-Because some people still believe that because I am a woman my only appropriate life course is that of servitude to my children or a man.
-Because I want my daughter to know she is so much more than what she is told she should be. She is smart and strong and capable and can become anything she wants in this life, whether that’s a stay-at-home Mom or a doctor, and they’ll both be fine with me as long as SHE chooses her own life course.
-Because I am a child of God.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the post that took me 15 months to write.

Happy Mother’s Day

Today is the day we celebrate Mothers. I would like to honor two very special mothers in my own life.
My Mom

My mom was so funny. She was a ham! As you can tell from this picture. She loved to perform and make people laugh. She wasn’t satisfied until she had everyone in the room smiling. There was a glow about her and people were drawn to her for her warmth and radiance. And yet, for all of her out-goingness, she was deeply, deeply private. She only let a few people really inside to see the true Sue. And you were lucky if you got to know the real her.

She was a reader. She loved books probably more than people. I never saw her without a book or two that she was reading. Books were her best friends. She loved words. Her favorite book was her dictionary. It was a big, old thing, but she was never with out it. She loved to learn new things and share that with others, sometimes rather annoyingly. She called me very late one night just to tell me she found the word “pimp mobile” in her new Oxford dictionary. What a riot.
I hope she died knowing how much I loved her, how much I still love her. I hope she knows that all the mistakes she ever made as a mother were forgiven, the second I became a mother myself. This motherhood stuff is hard. She was one of my dearest friends. Even now when something happens, for good or for bad, I reach for the phone and then realize she won’t be there to answer it. Her loss in my life is profound. Most of the time I try not to feel so wounded by the grief of her passing, because I know she wouldn’t want me to be. But darnit, it hurts! I wish I could still feel her hug me, and kiss her on both cheeks (that was our thing) and have her call me “girl baby” once more.
‎”My mom is a never-ending song in my heart of comfort, happiness, and being. I may sometimes forget the words, but I always remember the tune.” — Unknown
I love you, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day.
My Mother-in-law
Mary Jo

A lot of my friends have issues with their mothers-in-law, but not me. I don’t know how I lucked out to marry into the best family ever. Mary Jo is honestly one of the kindest women I have ever known in my life. You are lucky to be her friend. She is selfless, generous, and loving. I couldn’t ask for a better grandmother for my children. I love this woman so much that sometimes I forget she didn’t birth me herself. It’s no surprise to me that her son, my husband, would take after her so much. He’s one of the kindest, most generous men I’ve ever met. This lady is a class act. She welcomes everyone in her home like they are family. There is no such things as “steps” or “in-laws.” Family is family to her.

I hope she knows how much I love her. I hope she knows how much I appreciate her for all the things she does for me, for loving me, for treating me like I am one of her own, and for being such a wonderful grandmother to my children. I hope she knows how much I admire her and how I aspire to be half the woman she is. I hope she knows that my Mom’s death is made easier because I have another mother to love me, guide me, and look out for me. I wish everyone had a mother-in-law like Mary Jo. They broke the mold when they made her.
I love you, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day!

The Complications of Mother’s Day

Me, my mom, Sue, and brother, Victor on May 20, 2005
“Beyond all lessons, beyond the model she provided, my mother gave me a parent’s ultimate gift: she made me feel lovable and good. She paid attention; she listened; she remembered what I said. She did not think me perfect, but she accepted me, without qualification.” –Fredelle Maynard
The week leading up to Mother’s Day is hard for me. I have been weepy all week. I didn’t understand why I was crying for no reason, why I was blue, why I’ve had no desire to do anything, why I suddenly became very interested in Cheetos. And then it dawned on me that Mother’s Day is coming up. And Mother’s Day is hard. It’s a very hard day for me.
This Sunday will be my fourth Mother’s Day that I get to celebrate with my mother at her grave instead of bringing her a gift and eating brunch with her. Honestly, it’s no fun celebrating Mother’s Day in a cemetery. It’s the one holiday that brings me to my knees.
The first Mother’s Day without my mother was awful. I wrote about my feelings here. I thought by the fourth one it would be easier, but it’s just not. In 2007, I got my Mom a necklace for Mother’s Day that was an “S” with two yellow stones in it, her favorite color. Now that necklace is mine, and I will wear it on Sunday.
I posted the quote above because it perfectly describes my relationship with my mother. Was she a perfect mother? No, but who is? But she was perfect for me. I hope I can give my own children the kind of love and acceptance she gave me.
Sometimes I just want to shout into the air at my Mom, “why aren’t you here? Why did you have to leave us?” People always hand me these platitudes that my mother is my guardian angel watching over us and she still gets to see my kids grow up. To quote M’Lynn from the movie “Steel Magnolias,” my reaction is, “maybe I’m just selfish, because I’d rather have her here.”
So you see my friends, my feelings for Mother’s Day are complicated. I know a lot of people have issues surrounding this holiday. Whether they have a complicated or non-existent relationship with their mother, whether they are part of the motherless child’s club like me, whether they are desperate to be a mother, and for whatever reason that blessing has been denied to them, etc. I know I’m not the only one who has mixed emotions surrounding this day. I know a lot of women who skip church on Mother’s Day.
I often forget that this holiday is for me as well. Oh yeah, I’m a mother too, and my sweet kids want to bring me breakfast in bed, and give me the presents that they made in school that they’re so proud of. So while I am mourning the loss of what I once had and will never have again, I will revel in the tender faces of my children and I will try to be the kind of mother to them that the above quote encompasses. Just like my Mom was to me.

There will by Joy

Thank you to all my dear friends and family members who commented on my last post about not loving Fall so much these days. Like I say in the description of this blog, “writing is my therapy.” It helps me process my thoughts and feelings. When I work with clients who are going through grief and loss issues I tell them that time does not heal all wounds. You have to do the “grief” work. I tell them about a song my children learned in pre-school that went something like, “you can’t go around it, can’t go over it, can’t go under it, you gotta go through it.” So it is with grief. You have to go through it. The more you deny it and push it away, the harder it will come back. That is why when I’m feeling sad or having those moments where I’m missing my mother terribly, I write about it. I’m getting through it.

What I want to tell everyone (and I do tell my clients) is when you’ve done the “grief” work (and it never ends) you realize that eventually there will be joy. It’s impossible to comprehend when you’re in the throes of the worst hurt you’ve ever felt in your life. But I have found that is very true.
Recently one of my friends told me that one of her friends’ father was just diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer (my arch nemesis). She asked me if I would “friend” her on Facebook hoping that I could help her in any way since I have been through this before. I didn’t really want to because I didn’t want to be taken back to that place of unimaginable grief. But then I remembered how after my Mom had breast cancer back in 1987 she reached out to others who had cancer to help and comfort them or to just lend a listening and compassionate ear. I remember she spent 2 hours on the phone with my friend Lauralee’s mom, whom she had never met, after she had been diagnosed with melanoma cancer. That was a great example to me so I “friended” my friend’s friend.
And talking to her did bring me back to where I was when my mother was dying. I remembered, rather viscerally, the feelings I felt and how grief is not only an emotional but a physical pain. She was very thankful for our talk and the advice I gave to her. And in talking to her I realized something very powerful. I have come a long way. I’m not in that place anymore. My heart isn’t breaking every second of every day.
I can feel joy again.
My life is good. I have a wonderful, loving, committed husband. Three beautiful children who enrich my life and teach me to be a better person. A beautiful home. A dream job that I love and look forward to going to. And wonderful, amazing, supportive family and friends. Life really is good.
Every now and then my heart still breaks a little. But those moments aren’t constant. They’re not everyday. And I have survived and am thriving. I know that’s what my Mom would want for me. She would scold me if I felt sad for even one second. She would remind me of all the good times, the funny times, the times we laughed. She would tell me that life moves on, I have to move along with it. She would tell me of her infinite love for me and how, as it says in our favorite movie “The Princess Bride,” – “death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.”
So for all those who are grieving I want you to know that eventually, there will be joy. I promise.

Fall, I don’t love you anymore

I used to love Fall like everyone else. I used to love watching the leaves change color on the mountains. The brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows. I used to love feeling the weather turn cooler and bringing out all my sweaters and hoodies to wear. I used to love going to the pumpkin patch and watching the joy on my children’s faces as they picked out just the right pumpkin to carve later. I used to love carving pumpkins and getting messy and goopy. I used to love Halloween and searching for the right costumes that my kids wanted. I used to love the transition into November and getting ready for Thanksgiving. I used to love all those things.

And now, Fall, Autumn, is a sad time for me. Everything about Fall reminds me of when my mother was sick and dying of cancer. She was diagnosed right before Fall started. The dying leaves and trees were symbolic to me of my mother’s dying organs. I spent most of October 2007 on the blasted 5th floor of the hospital. I sat for hours in the waiting room. I didn’t want to disturb my mother’s rest by being in her room, except for a few short moments when she was conscious. I had a front row seat in the waiting room of the mountains, the leaves changing color, dying, and then falling to the ground. Now when I see those same mountains change color, I am no longer filled with joy because of the beauty I’m surrounded by. I am forever reminded of the month I spent in the hospital waiting for my mother to die.
I used to like Halloween. My kids love finding their costumes. My wonderful mother-in-law took over the costume procuring for me that year because she knew I was incapable of doing it. My daughter wanted to be Glinda, from “The Wizard of Oz.” Since she was tiny, that was her favorite movie. My mother-in-law is very talented and made a Glinda costume for her from scratch. That costume is literally a masterpiece. For my son, she bought a pair of overalls, a denim shirt, a red bandanna, and a train conductor hat. At three years old, he was obsessed with trains, especially of the Thomas variety. I didn’t know that Halloween would be the last time my children ever saw my mom, their grandma, alive again. We took them up to the hospital in their costumes. My mom had just been taken off chemotherapy and was transitioning to hospice. She was lucid and so happy to see the kids. It was the happiest I had seen her in months. She loved my daughter’s costume and marveled at my mother-in-law’s craftsmanship and talent. We brought the kids in one at a time and didn’t stay too long in order to not overwhelm her. If I had known it would be the last time, I would have ‘whelmed her. Six days later she was gone.
That first Thanksgiving without my Mom was weird. We had just been through the funeral and the whole shebang a week and a half before. Several people invited my whole family over to their house for Thanksgiving. My in-laws invited all of us including my dad, brother, and my sister and her family. My sister’s mother-in-law did the same thing. We decided we wanted to close ranks and just be together. So we had the smallest Thanksgiving dinner I’ve ever been a part of. We had it at my house. I cooked the turkey. It was my first turkey and it was delicious (despite the fact that my dad and sister called me several times that week making sure I knew how to cook a turkey). My Dad brought crystal goblets that used to belong to his mother. He made a toast to my mother that was lovely and heartbreaking at the same time. We ate, laughed, remembered, cried, grieved, and loved as a family that day. We were all broken down, our hearts open wounds, not knowing that in a year’s time our lives would be completely different.
So you see, I don’t look forward to Fall anymore. When I see the first tree turn it’s leaves from green to red, I mourn. I mourn for what I used to have and can never have again. I mourn for my old life. I mourn for all the moments I took for granted in a blissful ignorance of believing my Mom would live until I was at least old myself. I mourn for my children. Their memories of her are already fading. And until the last leaf falls from the last tree, I am reminded of what I once endured and by miracle survived sanity intact, if not a bit scarred.
“Just because I’m hurting, doesn’t mean I’m hurt. Doesn’t mean I didn’t get what I deserved. No better or no worse.”
-Coldplay, “Lost”