April 4, 1948. 70 years ago today, one of the most heroic, strongest, and special people was born. She wasn’t an actress in television or movies, and was far from famous. As a matter of fact, unless you know me personally, you probably have no idea who she is. That is the reason for this blog. Today, I want to introduce you to my mother. This blog will serve a few purposes: First, I want to, in a very simple way, pay tribute to the first woman who I ever loved with all my heart. Second, I hope that those reading take away a small lesson from it. Lastly, writing my feelings out has been very therapeutic and helps me personally be a better person.
The bond between a mother and a son is as special as that of a daughter and a dad. It wasn’t until I became a father that I really truly realized just what my parents felt when they held me for the first time. Sure, I have seen hundreds of pictures of my mom and dad holding my brother and I. In each of those pictures, they wear smiles as big as Texas! Once you become a parent you know that the smile, no matter how big it is, doesn’t even begin to express the joy that you feel within you!
My mother and father met because she saw his name in the paper. My dad was in Vietnam fighting in the war, and my mom wrote him a letter. They were both from the same city and they corresponded until he came home. Neither mom or dad told me us much about the letters, but they obviously liked each other because they ended up getting married.
You always knew where mom was. My mother was loud. She was Ethel Merman loud! Remember the first play you were in, and the teacher or director said that you needed to talk to the wall in the back of the room so people could hear you? That’s kind of the way my mom talked normally. And boy, could she talk! She spent countless hours on the phone talking to friends and family (I guess this is one thing I inherited from her, because I am the same way). My house was the one you would call and always get a busy signal (this was back in the days of corded phones and there was no call waiting, kids). There was never a doubt when it was time to come home – mom would simple open the door and yell, “Keith Allan” and even if I was four streets away, I could hear her!
She laughed just as loud. She enjoyed life and it showed. Her boisterous laugh could shatter glass, and she didn’t care. I remember watching Bill Cosby, Himself on HBO with her. She laughed so had. She could be everyone’s friend, but don’t cross her, because if you did, you would certainly regret it. She could be incredibly loving and at the same time, when crossed, be terribly angry.
While she was usually loud, I do want to interject that there were plenty of times where my mom spoke to me in a normal or soft voice. Those talks were usually because I came to her with an issue and she gave me support or advice. Sometimes, she spoke softly to me when I was sick, in pain, or upset. The fact that she could speak to me in this way, made what she was saying even more meaningful.
Back in the day, we didn’t have cell phones to take pictures or movies. My dad had an 8mm movie camera and he had many films that he had taken of my grandparents and family, and eventually, he took movies of me as a baby. While I don’t remember these events personally, I can watch them and be a part of the memories caught on film. One of the movies I remember the most is my mom guiding me down the hallway in our house on Brandywine on various vehicles. It’s actually silly to think about, because it was almost like I was a model showing off different outfits, except there were no outfits, they were toys. There was mom smiling and pushing me down the hall on a tricycle, then a big wheel, some other contraption, and finally this metal fire truck. Man, I remember that fire truck! I am glad that there are pictures floating around of it still. I wish I still had it!
Mom was a night owl. She would stay up late and watch old movies on TV until 5am and then finally go to sleep. On Saturday nights on Channel 20, she would watch these ridiculous Kung Fu movies. I remember one day walking in and wondering why the hell the people’s mouths were not matching up to the words being said. She laughed and told me that they were speaking another language and I immediately said, “but I can understand them”, which made her laugh more. Because she was such a late sleeper, I remember many mornings when my brother and I would go in and jump on the bed to annoy her. It’s funny the things you remember from when you were a kid – not sure why, but I have never forgotten a set of sheets that had stripes on them or the gold comforter that used to be on the top of my parents bed.
Mom (along with dad) was certainly my biggest supporter. I remember her being in the audience when I was the lead role in the school play. I was a snowman. I had to sing. She helped create my costume. It was basically a white stretchy thing with pillows around my chest and belly to make me look like a snowman. My grandma and my aunt were there that night, too. She was smiling so big when she came back afterward. I remember her telling me how good I sang. It was such a boost. I will always remember that. On the other side of the coin, she held me and told me everything was ok when I my car lost the Pinewood Derby.
While mom was a good disciplinary, there were times that my brother and I often had to wait for the “higher authority”. “Wait until your father gets home…” were words we did not want to hear. I’m not sure who spanked harder, to be honest, because they could both leave a nice handprint on our behinds if we deserved it.
Like any child, as you get older, you think that you know it all and think your parents are overprotective. You feel as though they are doing everything in their power to make your life miserable. When you are an adult, you look back and realize that they always had your safety and best interests in mind. Mom and I did go through a period where we did not get along. My dad and I were obviously a lot closer during this time. It wasn’t until I was 20, that my relationship with mom grew stronger than ever.
In early 1991, I was single and had the opportunity to move away to do radio full time. I would be four hours away from home, and at the time I was ok with that. It was during this time that mom started to call on a regular basis to check up on me. She sent me “just because” cards and letters. Her letters and cards helped me, a guy who thought he’d be ok away from friends and family, feel so much better. I could not get to the mailbox faster each day, in hopes that I would find a note from home.
In 1995, I was just doing radio part time, and was working in the Mailroom at EDS. I was told by a co-worker that I had a phone call. When I picked up the phone it was mom. She did not sound right. I asked her what was up, because she never called me at work. She told me that she had just got back from the doctor and told me she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember feeling like I had been punched in the stomach. I sat staring off into space for what seemed like eternity until she said, “It’s going to be alright and we are discussing treatment options.” I could not fathom what I was hearing. As I hung up, my boss asked if everything was ok, and I told him about the call. He immediately sent me home, saying that was where I needed to be.
Breast Cancer. I hated that disease. It had already taken the life of my grandmother, and now it was threatening to do the same to my mother. She was a fighter and I knew if anyone could beat it, she would. There were many times I sat back and wondered if she was going to be around for future things in my life. There were times when she would go into remission and we would celebrate, and then there were times we heard of the return of the cancer. There were many ups and downs and she was strong through them all.
She had a lot of help from her friends during this time. Diane was like a long lost sister. They were like Thelma and Louise, Lucy and Ethel, and Laverne and Shirley. They would hang out together somewhere, come home and get on the phone and talk for hours. There was such a love between the two of them. She was such an amazing support for her. Recently, Diane also lost a battle with cancer. I am sure mom was at the pearly gates to great her and the conversation picked up where it left off.
There were only two times in the 10+ years that she battled the disease where she thought of giving up. The first time was about a year and a half before my oldest son was born. Mom was not a grandma yet, and when she found out that her first grand baby was on the way, she gained a new strength that I had never seen. She was not going to NOT be here to hold her grandbaby. A surge of determination and strength came to my mom. It was amazing.
She was the one who slept (very uncomfortably) in a chair in the hospital waiting room as my oldest son was being born. She, along with my mother-in-law, were the first to see him. They saw me wheeling him with a nurse down to the nursery. I don’t think I ever saw her happier. It was magical. I saw a whole new sense of love in her. My God, she loved him more than anything.
In the four short years she spent with my son, she spoiled him rotten. When we found out that he was developmentally delayed, she spoiled him even more. He made her smile as much as she made him smile. The mutual love they had for each other still brings tears to my eyes. After therapy sessions, I would take my son out for breakfast and we would call her on the phone. It was always a wonderful thing to witness. She would always tell me to make sure to call when we were at breakfast. I can still hear my boy telling grandma about Thomas the Train or Elmo.
She knew he loved Thomas the Train. Towards the end of her battle with cancer, she bought tickets for us to go to see Thomas and ride the train. She was so sick by this time, but she was not about to miss out on this day. She was moving slow, she had a walker and her wheelchair, and I was worried she wouldn’t be able to get up on the train. What was I worried about? When it came time, she stood and walked up there to sit next to her grandbaby. There is one picture of her on the train with him that remains one of my all time favorites. You would never know that she was sick.
The only other time I saw her give up during her battle with cancer, and that was when they told her there was nothing more they could do. There was really no further treatment and now it was all about making her comfortable. She knew at that point that she fought a good fight, but the cancer was going to prevail. At this point, it was time to start saying goodbyes.
Toward the end, there was one day when we were all together in the living room. Mom was in her hospital bed, and we all sat around telling stories. My brother, my aunt, my dad, and I laughed, cried, and all heard things we’d never heard before. It remains one of those days that I will remember forever. At one point, she said she was tired and everyone left the room. I asked if I could have a minute with her and we got to share some very special conversation. As my son left the room, she shed a tear and said to me, “That one is going to hard to leave behind”. It is a memory that is etched forever in my mind.
I was out at a restaurant when the call came from my dad. “I think you should come home. We’re close.” Just a day before I had spoke with mom on the phone, and she seemed a bit out of it, but ok, so I was surprised at dad’s call. The minute I walked into the living room when I got there, I knew just how close we were. We all took turns sitting next to her and talking to her. She was not able to speak any more.
At one point, I could see that we were all exhausted. I told my dad that I would stay up with her if he wanted to rest. During the time I was with her, I held her hand, spoke with her, told her how much I loved her and how much I was going to miss her. I reminded her of some Bible verses we had talked about in the past. I wiped tears from her eyes with a tissue and prayed with her. Throughout that time, her breathing was mostly shallow. At one point she took a bit of a bigger breath, and it returned to short breaths. Then, at 5:24am on October 25, 2006, she took a long, deep breath, and she passed away still holding my hand.
One year later, while looking for something in my dad’s basement, my brother found a bunch of envelopes. One was addressed to him, one to me, one to my dad, etc… What an amazing thing it was to read a message from my mom long after she passed away. The sad thing was that the notes were written before my son was born, so she doesn’t mention him in it. “Know that I love you” was the first thing she said to me. There was never a doubt, mom. Never a doubt.
There was a reason I picked the song “Hero” to dance with my mother to at my wedding. She showed strength that I could never know as she battled that damn cancer. She fought like no one I had ever seen. She pushed and kept pushing. She said she was going to “kick this cancer’s ass”! She hated it with a passion and she was bound and determined to win! She was truly my hero. I was so amazed at her fight against it.
Now, 12 years later, the pain of her passing remains. She lives on in many memories. There are so many things I wish she had been around to see. I wish that she was around to see and spoil her second grandson. I wish that she were around to know some of the people who have played such an important part of my life over the last 10 years. There are people who have come into my life since she passed away that she would have loved. I am sure that there would be things she’d have opinions about, there would be things that would make her angry, and there would be things that would still make her laugh. She would have been there for council, as she had always been in the past. I only wish that I had done more with our time together.
The lesson I hope someone takes away from this blog is one that I have stated in the past: Make every moment count. Answer the phone calls from mom, one day those phone calls are going to stop. Make time to listen to the same story mom has told you a hundred times, one day you will long to hear it again. Never stop telling your parents you love them, one day they will not be around to hear it. Never stop hugging your mom or dad, one day you will miss the comfort you found in them. Everyone is put in your life for a reason. Some may be there to guide you. Some may be there to teach you a lesson. Some may be there to love you. My mom was in my life to do all of those things.
The sad realization is that time is a funny thing. You never know how much you have. There is never a guarantee of tomorrow. Hell, there is never a guarantee of the next hour or minute! Use that time wisely, because it is too precious to waste. Again, that old saying from the band room grease board holds true, “Live every day as if it were your last – some day you’ll be right”. In the same way, you never really know when you are going to be talking to or seeing someone for the last time. Make that time count.
I would give anything to tell mom Happy 70th Birthday to mom face to face today. I know if I did, I would probably have some crack about her being old and call her Old Grey Haired Sally or something, and she would smack me and laugh. I would welcome that today. She is missed by so many, and my heart will forever ache that she is not here today. She lives on in memories. Those memories still bring tears, but also smiles, because they are memories of her. I have written this blog holding back tears. There are so many more memories I could share, but I will end for now.
Happy Birthday, Mom. Thank you for all you did for me while you were here….and all you continue to do for me in your absence. As I said at your funeral, “See you later”.