Posts Tagged ‘Mom’

It’s the end of April, April 26th, to be exact, and as always on this day, my thoughts are with my mom.

Her death at age fifty really brought home to me the reality of mortality. All things must end. We have a finite amount of time. It made me realize how important it is to prioritize, to make things happen now because there might not be a later, to fight against becoming stuck in a daily routine if it makes me unhappy.

Her death taught me the importance of shaking things up.

You want to know the truth? I don’t like shaking things up. It’s scary and uncomfortable. There tends to be a fair amount of risk involved, as well as failure and disappointment. It can be hard to decide when to shake and when to let things settle.

But when in doubt, I’d usually rather shake. I remember the finite life span of human beings. I remember my mom’s unhappiness, and how she couldn’t shake things up to make her life better. And then it was too late.

Could I be a writer if I didn’t believe in shaking things up? Could I be a blogger? I don’t know. I’m guessing I couldn’t be a blogger because blogs tend to shake things up. Any blogger worth her salt will have to occasionally offer up an opinion, and people will disagree. Shake, shake, shake. And without that extra push to make life happen for myself, would I have found the courage to spend so much time writing? To attempt a novel? To send stories out to be rejected? All these choices shake things up.

I worry when people my age (thirties) tell me how much they want to travel, but they haven’t been anywhere. I want to say, I hope you’re not serious. I hope travel isn’t actually that important to you. I hope it’s a nice dream that provides a pleasant thought diversion. Or else I hope you’re just being polite, like me when I say how amazing it would be to learn to knit (I don’t actually care if I learn to knit or not). Because otherwise, what if it never happens? What if you never shake things up enough to make it happen?

This is why priorities matter so much. So we can decide when it’s important to shake and when we can take a break, be laid back, and let things sort themselves out. It’s like my experience with Las Vegas. I live a short flight away from Vegas. People I know are going to Vegas all the time. It’s never been a real priority of mine to go to Vegas, so I sat back and figured it would happen when it happened. I chose not to shake things up.

And guess what? I’ve still never been to Vegas.

So in a way, today is about remembering my mom AND remembering the power of shaking things up. I don’t want to be a people pleaser anymore? Then bam, I’ll learn more about it, I’ll push myself to change, I’ll ruffle some feathers. I want to be a writer? Then bam, I’ll take risks with my writing, I’ll go out there and meet people in my industry, I’ll leave myself vulnerable, and I’ll commit myself fully even knowing failure waits right around the corner.

Hi, Mom. This earthquake is for you.

Read Full Post »

Thirteen years ago today, my mom died.

Yes, I still keep track.

My mom was fifty years old when she died. I was nineteen. She died of breast cancer. She was first diagnosed with breast cancer when I was sixteen. She was in remission for a while, and then developed a different kind of breast cancer (the nastiest kind) in the same breast. She died about a year and a half after that second diagnosis.

I don’t talk about my mom very much, except to my husband, who never met her. But I think about her. Sometimes I think about her a lot, sometimes less. This year I’ve been thinking about her more than usual.

My mom and I

I thought about her when my husband and I made our first lemon meringue pie. I used to help her make the same kind of pie. I thought of her when I saw the large doll house at the Smithsonian because she loved  doll houses and miniatures. I thought of her when I made my first story sale because when no one else believed in me, she did, and I know it wouldn’t have come as a surprise to her. I think of her when I teach the song “Think of Me” from Phantom of the Opera, which I sang at her memorial service and was one of her favorites.

When we have an important relationship with someone, it doesn’t end when they die. Just as we create stories about our lives, we create stories about our relationships, and when the other person dies, we become the only one who can affect that story. But it still continues, and as I get older, I gain new insights into my mom. I wonder how she felt about various aspects of her life. I see things we have in common that I never noticed before.

In many ways, my mom was a very troubled woman. This is the aspect of her that the family has often dwelled upon…when they bring her up at all. But she was also a truly great woman, and this is how I remember her best. She was brave and possessed an infinite well of compassion. She was the best listener I have ever met, and she gave the best hugs. She tried to change herself, and if she didn’t necessarily succeed, she taught me that it is worth the effort. She always had time to read aloud to me, and she took me to the library twice a month without fail. She loved Christmas and little dogs, waterfalls and the ocean, children and long hot showers. She also had horrible fashion sense and an inexplicable love for bad made-for-TV movies. And she loved me with all her heart.

I have a lot I want to say, about death and grief, about society’s sometimes dysfunctional attitude towards these things, about not knowing what to say. Some of these things really need to be said, even if they’re uncomfortable or inconvenient or painful. But today is for my mom. I really miss her. I think I’ll always miss her. And you know, I’m glad of it. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because I love her as much as she loved me. And we were lucky enough that we both knew that about each other before she died.

Happy April 26th, Mom. I’m still thinking of you.

Read Full Post »

What Makes a Home

Between the time I moved out of my childhood home to go to college when I was eighteen and when my husband and I bought and moved into my current house, I lived in eleven different places, with a few short stops at two of my dad’s houses along the way (summers and the transitional period post-living abroad).  Eleven different homes in twelve years.

I began thinking about what makes a home for me when I read Theodora Goss’s interesting essay entitled The Idea of Home.  I’ve had the opposite experience from her, in that in spite of all that moving (and don’t get me started on how much I abhor moving), I rarely felt homeless or like I was searching for a home.  I was searching for something, that’s for sure, but home wasn’t it.  I settled fairly easily into each new apartment, creating my own special retreat from the world.

I remember worrying about not having a home, though.  It must have been soon after I left for college, and I realized I had left my childhood home behind more or less for good (I spent my entire childhood in the same house).  Due to my artistic and traveling tendencies, I thought it was quite possible I’d be spending a lot of time either moving or on the road.  So I asked my mom to make me something that would symbolize home for me, something portable that I could carry with me wherever I went.

Here is the collage she created for me:


Home, by Carol Sundberg

So what does home represent?  Warmth, love, safety, comfort.  A place to let your mind spread out and dream.  A place where you can be completely yourself.

I don’t know when I realized that if I could achieve those ideas, any space became home.  Perhaps it was because I had no choice about looking back.  My old home gradually disintegrated: my mom, who embodied home more for me than anything or anyone else, died; the childhood house was sold; most of my old things were sold or donated or thrown away, a few of which I still regret ten years later; my dog died.  When I would say, “I want to go home,” I would still mean it, but I had no idea what I was even talking about.

And yet the idea of home has always been important to me, so I did what I could to create new homes wherever I went.  Home was a room where I could close the door and be alone.  Home was a place with my favorite books and either a piano keyboard or full-fledged piano.  Home was tea and toast and ice cream always in the freezer.  Home was where I could acknowledge to myself exactly who I was and how I felt.  Home was where my memories lived.

In every place I lived, I found something to love.  Often it was the trees outside my window, pine or redwood, or a distant corner of the sea visible if I stood on tip-toe.  It was the cats who lived there, or the ramshackle hodgepodge of books and papers, or the mismatched furniture.  It was the large expanses of empty carpeting, the guitar leaning on the wall, my warm green woolen blanket.  It was the roses growing out front, or the acoustics in the family room, or the colors of the walls.

Home was the lingering remains of my mom’s hugs, the ones that told me better than anything else that things were going to be okay.

Home is still all those things, and now it is also my husband and my little dog.  Home, for me, isn’t so much a physical place as a place inside of me, a feeling to which I try to give physical manifestation.  It’s comforting to know that I carry the seed of home wherever I go.

Read Full Post »