New Blog Series – Memories of Mom – Introduction

I've been tooling around the idea of capturing memories of my mother who passed away in 3/2014 in a blog series, mostly to capture them for later use and I've found as I get older, I tend to forget more and more details. I had considered just putting them down into a Word document journal fashion but this way I can share these memories (good and bad) with other people who loved my mom, like my daughters, other family and close friends. The posts won't be in any chronological order and I will probably be guessing at the general date of occurrence and honestly, our memories aren't the most reliable so it may not be exactly accurate but simply the way I remember things occurring.

My mom's name was Anita Marie and she was born on Christmas Day 1941. After 8 years of bravely fighting cancer, she went to Jesus as they say, at age 72 just shortly after my daughters, husband and I's birthdays in February 2014. In 1970 she gave birth to me, the fabulous oldest child and in 1972, to my sister who ruined my only child gig (just kidding). My parents were married in Washington DC, the city in which they met, on February 18, 1966, and they split up in early 1983 following years of abuse due to my father's raging alcoholism and what I believe was mental illness stemming into paranoia schizophrenia later in his life. My father passed away in 2002. The divorce was final in 1984 and my mother never received any child support from Dad. So she ended up working long, long hours to barely support us.

Her parents helped us out from time to time financially and such, but only when my mother was desperate because she hated asking them for help. I'm sure knowing my grandmother, it was held over her for marrying such a worthless piece of trash (my grandmother's words) not realizing my mother had been more than punished for her choice. My mom wouldn't have had any idea my dad would end up being an alcoholic when they got married. He was handsome and very charming. The thing was, when the pressure of life came down on him, he couldn't cope and turned to alcohol. Maybe this was part of his growing mental illness.

Back in the 1970's, you didn't get a divorce, it was shameful and against her faith. Though had she divorced him early on when the drinking and abuse started, I think maybe she wouldn't have killed herself working so hard and maybe met another man who treated her better. By the time she got away from him, she was done with marriage and close romantic relationships. If she dated, she kept it quiet for the most part. She was just too afraid that she'd make a wrong choice and someone else would make her life a living hell. She never deserved what my father did to her regardless of the reason.

I get some religions' idea of the sanctity of marriage and you should stay married since this was done in the eyes of God, but I don't get why it would be upheld in the face of physical, mental, verbal and emotional abuse. Why weren't these men (and women in some cases) held accountable for their actions instead of excused back then? I have a hard time believing God would condone that kind of treatment of anyone and I'd think he'd given my mom a pass. As I think back, people excused my father's alcoholism, trying to hide it because it was embarrassing as if they didn't call attention to it, then it would go away but it only got worse. Using religion to trap women into horrific marriages was criminal.

Oh, poor, Larry, he struggles so much. Oh bullshit, he should have been held accountable for his actions. I loved my dad but I think he should have been in jail for the physical violence and domestic abuse to my mom and also to my sister and I on a smaller level. Unfortunately, this all happened before the domestic violence laws were established. Even today, it happens all the time. Don't stay, get the hell out and get safe. This person may love you and you love them but you don't deserve that kind of terror, pain and abuse. It is their responsibility for getting well and if they refuse to do it, then you don't have to stay with them and be a victim. Stop this shit! And honestly, some people just can't get well or we don't have the ability yet to treat whatever is going on with them which I believe many times stems from mental illness that has just now started to come into the light.

Anyway, my mom's life wasn't always easy and she spent 29 years working herself into the grave essentially with all the stress and long hours. The problem with the way she coped with the stress, was by smoking and drinking too much (until she quit smoking in 2000), and her health took a serious hit. People wonder why I don't want to rush into a high pressure job because I could easily be good at more than what I do for a living, this is why. Life is too damned short and I don't want to make it shorter if I can help it. I still may get hit by a bus crossing the street, but I just saw how unhappy my mom was in the midst of all that stress and I just could never bring myself to go there. I think my husband would be happier if I made more money and worked some high-powered job but I wouldn't be happy at all. I'd rather do with less than kill myself the way my mom did.

On a happier note, my mom was resilient and she found joy in many things especially her three granddaughters. Though I regretted my first marriage and having kids so young, it worked out the best because they had more time with their grandmother. My mom was always a survivor, a fighter and she always wanted to see you do your best and get what made you happy. She spoiled the girls, with the kind of Christmases she couldn't give my sister and I when we were younger. She had a strict work ethic and liked to do things by the book so her job in quality assurance kept with her personality. She loved Tennessee and while she only lived in Knoxville for a few years before my dad's alcoholism forced us to move to Missouri near his parents in the late 1970's, we returned most years starting in 1997 for spring break vacations which gave us many happy memories.

Mom and Corrinne on 1997 Tennessee Trip

My mom lived modestly even though she could afford a more lavish life because she was terrified of being poor again. She sunk back literally almost a million dollars in 30 years in investments which would have been more if not for that market downturn. I've always regretted she didn't spend more of her money on herself but she did what she wanted to do, which was pass on a safety net to my sister, my daughters and I. She didn't want us to ever have to live off of cases of Campbell's chicken noodle soup my grandparents brought to help us get through the leanest times right after her divorce.

Though growing up in the 1980's where designer jeans and such were the metric in which your worth was determined in school (and I fell way short because I didn't have most of these things), I never felt poor. We had enough to eat, we had the three of us (my mom, my sister and I) and we were making it day by day. Actually it was a source of pride for me. I was 13 when my parents split up and I had long been taking care of myself admist the chaos of dysfunction but once my dad left, it quieted down considerably and I stepped up to do what I could to help my mom. When we had plumbing issues in our rental house and the landlord couldn't get to it right away, I found my dad's toolbox and fixed it myself.

I took over being the 'housewife' because my mom had to work such long hours to support us. A lot of times I did the cooking and cleaning, making sure we were all fed. This gave me a sense of accomplishment that I never resented. No I didn't have much of a childhood and was bitter and angry about it for many years until I realized it helped make me who I am today. There isn't much I can't do or learn to do. I can take care of myself and I've passed this down to my daughters who are also very independent. My mom and I became this team, even working together for about 13 years until she retired. I also looked after her during her cancer (along with my daughters and husband) fights. I was there beside her when she passed, holding her hand. My mom was not only my parent, but my best friend. And when she got more sick, the tables turned and I took on the role almost of parent to her, though god knows, she fought me on damned near everything until the last few weeks.

Losing her was the most devastating thing in my life so far. She was so influential (good and bad) in my life. I walk around some days still, pretty lost, wishing I could call her or go over to her house, to sit on the couch and eat some dinner she put together. Though I hate shopping, I'd give anything to have her drag me around the mall and Kohls for long hours again thinking how bad my feet hurt. Or when I went to her house when she was still working in that jungle of her gardens, to have her walk me around her yard to show me what she weeded or what flowers were blooming. I notice when I visit my oldest daughter's house, we do this as well. Walk around to see what she's planted or is blooming and vice versa when she visits me. But this seems to be a family tradition, because all the women on my mom's side of the family garden and we all walk around the beds admiring their handiwork.

My mom was tough but she loved even tougher. She was always in my corner even though I made two poor marriage choices and divorces. She looked out for my girls, being more a parent to them than a grandparent. They spent their school years walking to Grandma's house after school because her house was closer to the different school buildings especially once my oldest daughter was of age to watch them and we no longer needed a sitter. She'd buy snacks to keep in the house for them as they huddled up at her house doing homework, playing video games and watching tv, until we came home from work together. Sometimes we would stay and eat dinner together at her house. I'm grateful my girls have so many wonderful memories and had so much time with their grandmother. She helped shape them into the amazing women they are today.

So in closing, I look forward to bringing different memories of my mom to my blog. My mom was so influential and so much a part of our lives, that this is a way for me to feel closer to her. It's always a good way to get these memories down before I forget them. I can't think of the times I wished when my family had told me stories, I had jotted them down because you do forget. Not all of the stories will be positive, but life isn't all good. Though I think I will dwell more on the positive than negative. I prefer to keep the happy memories close and let the painful ones drift into oblivion of the forgotten. Though the good times wouldn't have been so important without the bad times. C'est la vie.

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The Many Shades of Grief

It has been several months since I posted a blog entry as I really have had nothing to write about.  Or maybe, I have and I just haven’t felt like writing.  This morning I was lying in bed thinking about the previous day where my husband and I worked in our yard, trimming back all the many bushes that grows in our quarter of acre patch.  Working in the yard since my mother passed March of 2014, is bittersweet to say the least.  She is the one who walked into this house the summer of 2000 while I was a single mother and said, Laura, this is your house, I can feel it.  And so it is and has been for almost fifteen years.

When I moved into the house it had precisely two lines of honeysuckle bushes lining the back yard, evergreens in the front, one old maple, one old crabapple and two ash trees by the front street in the city-owned strip.  Now it is full of anything that flowers.  Over the years my mom and I have bought things for this yard, I have divisions of plants that come from my great-grandmother’s yard.  We pass down plants like some people pass down family heirlooms such as an antique clock or jewelry.  You can’t be from my mom’s side of the family and not want to dig in the dirt.  So now when I work in my yard, it is like walking among a tapestry of memories.  Here is the lilacs my grandmother gave me years ago.  Here are the forsythia bushes my mom bought me on sale a the nursery.  Almost every plant is tied to a memory including ones my kids bought me for Mother’s Day.

As I sat on my front porch after we had completed a long overdue task as I let much of the yard work go last year because I couldn’t even bear to even pull weeds in my gardens full of memories, I felt so restless.  My husband recently asked if we could look for a new house in a town about 20 minutes south of our current one so he could cut down his hour drive to work.  We had talked about it when we first got together, moving about halfway once my daughters had graduated high school.  This of course started a ripple of anxiety, stress and uncertainty in me.  On one hand I wanted to dig in and say well we don’t owe much on this house, why go into debt and on the other hand, I did make that promise to him seven years prior.  The search has netted little.  We did make an offer on a house outside of town that I think we both thought would work but neither of us was thrilled with the idea of living there.

The only house that really excited us was pushing our mortgage limit.  It is also a uniquely designed home from the late 1970’s that would be hard to sell.  It’s already been on the market over two years so we would have to really commit to this home.  But as we put the mortgage payment that would accompany this 5 bedroom, 5 bath, 6 level house tucked in the woods, we cringe at what it does to our discretionary money.  There just isn’t much left over.  We reconsidered it last night after a month of letting it sit on the discussion table, even driving by it and thinking oh how perfect it is for us because it’s secluded and everyone else in this “neighborhood” seems to be just like us.  Wanting to be left alone.  Coming home, he ran the numbers and said it just makes us too tight unless they came down significantly.   We sigh and let it go.  Maybe it just isn’t the time to move.  Or maybe deep down we are both struggling with grief and we don’t want to truly move, though that is probably more me than my husband.

However, I have days where I think, I want to start over in a new town.  One that isn’t full of memories and in a house where we just start over.  Then I think about the town that is half way between our jobs and I am less than excited about moving.  It’s a little bigger than my current town, puts me closer to things I do often, more stores, restaurants, etc. but it’s not my dream town.  Then my mind thinks, well do I even want to live in Ohio?  Maybe I want to move back south?  Then I think well maybe we should just bite the bullet on that expensive house.  Then I think no, I don’t want that financial stress.  In other words, I don’t think I know what I want.  There are days I don’t feel I fit in my hometown at all.  And other days it feels like home.  Days where my house feels like a warm, blanket of love and other days where I feel weird and restless in it because I see so many memories that include my mom.

Grief, I realize manifests itself in so many unexpected ways.  For me it can be as simple as weeding around one of the roses my mom bought me that can trigger it.  Walking into the garden section of any local store.  In addition, I am at that point in my life where everything has changed for me.  My daughters are all out of high school, one graduated college and one in college.  They are all independent and my mothering duties are slight.  I no longer have parents to take care of.  People call it empty nest but all my girls still live at home for the moment.  I work in the same place my mom retired from and my middle daughter works.  I walk the halls my mother used to walk for many years.  My life is like a shrine to my mother almost. I live in the same town, in a house she helped me choose and at a job where there are constant reminders of her.  Even some of my documents show the author as being her because the templates she created.   And I was always in her shadow.  She worked her way up to the top of the food chain at our company while I chose to stay in much more quiet roles.  Mostly because I saw what the stress did to her.

Now that I am at a point in my life that it is much like that last year of high school where I am scrambling trying to decide what direction I want my life to take, I find myself quite lost at times.  I realize how short life is so I want to live it to the fullest, do the things that make me happy but I am not really sure what all that is anymore.  What was important to me two years ago is no longer important to me today.  Watching someone die, you realize how little in life is truly important.  I”ve narrowed it down to the people you love, helping others and enjoying life.  What other people think doesn’t matter at all.  What you own doesn’t matter unless you get a lot of enjoyment out of that purchase.  I suppose for me, it is much like waiting for my calling to be revealed.  I sense there is something, not sure what, but it is out there.

Maybe I just am being taught to be patient, maybe I am being given time to heal before suiting up for my next big adventure…