I woke this morn with the image of the flower on the left side of this journal spread, made back in 2009, in my mind. Today would be my mother’s 55th birthday. Saturday will be the sixth anniversary of her death. I didn’t—couldn’t—speak at her funeral, so instead friends got together and organized much of the content of the service and served as the officiant. I’ve never regretted passing up opportunity to say something in public about my relationship with and love for my mother. Instead, I knew that choice was good and right because it offered me the opportunity to take care of myself and also meant that I truly felt I had said everything important to her already—while she was alive. I did, however, cobble together her obituary, knowing that, other than her brother, I was the person in her life who knew her the longest and could best sum up who she was, not just in those shining years before the cancer diagnosis, but the length of her journey:
PAMELA JOAN THOME. January 8, 1959 – January 12, 2007.
Lived a varied and joyous life: beginning in a Polish neighborhood in Chicago, traveling across the Midwest on the dog show circuit and up and down the East Coast, stamping her passport to see the Crown Jewels in London, and making her home in a quiet neighborhood in Port Richey, FL, while enjoying a creative and beautiful life as Her Excellency Baroness Duva dea Pullea in a kingdom known as Trimaris. Her resume lists many jobs, but first and foremost was her dedication to her children, Michael (11) and Angélique (28) of Port Richey. Also survived by a brother, Larry (44) of Buffalo Grove, IL, and countless people who called her “friend.” Died after a more than yearlong battle against cancer, but her humor, love, and joie de vivre stay with us.
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived. This is to have succeeded. — Ralph Waldo Emerson
And, of course, since then, I’ve written both about and to her again and again—here, in a separate blog that chronicled a lot of my grief and in my journals private and shared (as above). I’ve learned a lot through processing my grief (my mother used to exclaim in (sometimes) mock exasperation, “Joy, another damn learning experience!”), and today two lessons stand out to me:
- Say it now. My mother made it a point to tell me she was proud of me, that she thought I was awesome in part because she did not get those messages from her parents. I learned from this and, therefore, had countless opportunities throughout our time together to tell her how important she was to me, how much I valued her. I didn’t realize until she was in Hospice was a gift this was; in comparison to her experience caring for her dying mother where she still felt like she had to prove herself, I could just act in love. Tell the people in your life what they mean to you, do it now. I have a lot of grief about my mother’s death, but none of it is invested in things unsaid.
- Change it now. My mother’s last marriage was to an emotionally abusive alcoholic. Extracting herself from that relationship was a painful and slow process, but the person she became afterward was truly magnificent. Gone were the caution, exhaustion and timidness and, instead, she became a vibrant woman who inspired many around her. She accumulated so many new experiences in the time between her divorce and her death that I am alternately emboldened by her lust for life and devastated that it was cut short. Some years after her death, I realized that the time she had to learn and establish who she was after the divorce was almost exactly the time she had spent being diminished by that relationship—six years. The perfect balance of those two periods of her life is strangely symbolic to me. If you’re investing your energy, money or heart in something that is not nurturing or supporting you, change it now. We don’t know how much time we have, and don’t you want to be the best version of you for the most time possible?
None of these messages are particularly unique to my experience, but sometimes we need to hear something over and over again in different words and formats before it sinks in and becomes the thing that prods us to act differently going forward. If this isn’t your moment for an epiphany, I only hope these words are one more step toward that realization.