On June 25th, 2017, my dear sweet mother and best friend passed away after a year-long battle with a recurrence of breast cancer. She had beat it once in 2011 and she was supposed to beat it again. Though we knew this recurrence wasn’t curable, the possibility of remission was high. But cancer doesn’t play by the rules, and another strain flew under the radar until it was too late. It has been two and a half weeks since losing her, and time has both slowed to a standstill and flown by in her absence. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. She was supposed to have more time. WE were supposed to have more time. To go shopping for clothes she could enjoy in her lighter body. To train for a 5k together. To have brunch and get pedicures and feel fabulous. To talk for hours at the kitchen table about our struggles and dreams and the small seemingly-inconsequential moments of the day. To walk the beaches of Cornwall and listen to music in an Irish pub and to tour Italy in search of the best of all pastas. To discover a new indie movie together. To eat pizza in St. Joseph. But instead, her body decided it could take no more. In the moment she departed us, my heart was instantly split in two. Below is the eulogy I wrote in her memory, read by me at her memorial service on 7/1/17 . I’d never written a eulogy in my life, and decided to record and share whatever came to me in the very raw moments shortly after she left us. There’s so much more to say. I could write for the rest of my life and it wouldn’t be enough to describe the love and life our family shared. But even so, as impossible as it may be, I’ll write anyway.
Mom, you taught us all so many things.
Love your body. Love what it has done for you and what it will do for you. Love that though you may look in the mirror and see imperfections, that your friends and family will see only love, the arms that held them tight, the hands that wiped away their tears, the chest they laid on for comfort, the legs that walked with them when they weren’t sure they could go any farther. Don’t waste any more time thinking your body needs to be “perfect” to be worthy of love and worthy of celebration and worthy of sharing. Your smile and your light are what make you beautiful, not your “toned” arms or “beach ready” body. And mom, you were so beautiful. The most beautiful of us all.
Enjoy yourself. Eat the ice cream. Get the mall pretzel. Treat yourself. Take time to window shop. Dream. Buy all the mugs. Spend a little extra for the better quality. If you don’t like it, you can always return it.
I remember when I was in pre-school we’d go to the Baskin Robbins in downtown Crystal Lake after school every day. We made friends with the woman who worked there and she’d give us out of season ice cream cakes. A boy in my class made fun of how we went for ice cream every day. “That’s not good for you,” he said. You and I then secretly called him Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater. Because he wasn’t going to tell us what to do!!
You loved Julie Ann’s Frozen Custard. No more than a few days would go by before you’d get a glint in your eyes after dinner and say, “Julie Ann’s?” You loved your Nutella topping, and turtle sundaes, and don’t forget the whipped cream . You loved checking the flavor of the day in case it was something you just had to try.
Wear the bright colors. Buy those shoes. There can’t be too much pink or Vera Bradley if that’s what the day calls for.
What you do does not matter nearly as much as who you are. You would always tell me when I had a frustrating day in customer service, “But did you help anyone today? That’s what matters.” It’s how you felt about your own job, when things got stressful. If you could ease someone’s mind or go above and beyond for a student in need, you wouldn’t hesitate.
Look for the good in others, dig deeper, empathize with them even if their behavior makes you angry. “You just don’t know what they might be going through,” you’d say, and you were right. Everyone is carrying their own weights and struggles.
You always made friends everywhere you went. Talking to people in line at the grocery, making jokes with office receptionists, complimenting a stranger on her Vera Bradley bag, making sure to ask the cashier how they were doing too. It used to embarrass me when I was younger. But now I do it too. Because the world needs a little more love and light and you were the best at that.
Sing! However it comes out. Wherever you want! You loved to sing but you didn’t do it nearly enough because you’d get shy and embarrassed and I’d go “Mommmmmmmmmmmm” and I wish more than anything I would’ve shut my pre-teen mouth and instead said “Sing mom sing!”
Looking through all these pictures, we are realizing that though we knew you better than so many, there was so much we didn’t know. A child forgets there was life before they were born. You told me when I asked that you didn’t even particularly LIKE kids until you had your own. I’m sure anyone who met you as a parent would never believe that, since you became mom to so many others while raising us. You were the mom every friend would smile and say “I love your mom!!” about. Ours was the house with the cookouts and the cast parties and the giggle-filled sleepovers.
You always wanted everything to be just right, as close to perfect as possible. Birthdays, holidays, work, recipes… Cancer makes that impossible because it doesn’t follow the rules. I won’t say you never complained. You complained and you deserved to, because you were going through hell. How we wished we could take away the frustration and the anxiety and the fear for you. But at the end of each day we’d tell each other tomorrow is a new day, and we’d quote a favorite internet cat: though every day might not be good, there’s good in every day. I’d tell you, “We’ll get through this,” and you’d reply, “We’ll get through this together.” You’d say, “I’m sorry you have to see me like this,” and we’d say, “You’d do the same for us!” because, well, you DID, and we would do anything for you, didn’t you know that?
I watched my dad advocate and fight for you at every turn and learned over and over what real lasting true love looks like. It is not glamorous or sexy, but instead it was real and raw and sometimes scary and always unconditional. It is literally holding someone up when they are too tired to walk. It is refilling water bottles one thousand times without being asked. It is the same encouragement offered day in and day out without fail, drying tears and holding hands and never ever giving up no matter what the day brings. Dignity and grace are possible in the worst of times. Peace and relief can be reached even after so much struggle and frustration.
For us to get to walk with you in your final moments was the hardest thing we may ever do. But once again, you wanted everyone to be taken care of, so you made sure to see and, if possible, say hi to everyone who visited you at JourneyCare in the 3 days you were there with excitement and love. When you no longer felt like speaking, we could still see the excitement and love in your eyes. And then, on Sunday, after everyone had said their goodbyes for the day, you made sure Annie and dad and I were there, and you made your own exit, as beautifully and peacefully as anything I’ve ever been witness to. You were not afraid, of that I am positive. I’ve always been afraid of losing you, as long as I can remember. But in that moment, I was not afraid either.
Annie and I had the honor and privilege of being your daughters. Tom had the honor and privilege of being your partner. And everyone here had the honor and privilege of being your family or friend, or sometimes, more often than not, both. You were always so worried about being a good mom. A good partner. A good friend. There were times you’d ask me, “Was I a good mom?” and I’d want to laugh because I couldn’t imagine a better mom and I didn’t understand how you couldn’t see it. As our friend Emily said, you mommed harder than any mom has ever mommed.
We will all miss your listening ear, your encouraging word, and your uninhibited laugh when something funny would surprise you. We will miss your uncanny ability to select the perfect gift for any occasion. We will miss you sharing new recipes or hilarious TV episodes or sweet thoughtful online articles. Because it didn’t matter what you did or didn’t do, mom. It didn’t matter whether everything was perfect or whether we had the best clothes or took the most exciting vacations or had the most magical Christmases. It mattered who you were. And to us, from the first time we laid eyes on you, you were everything. And I hope you understand now you always will be.