”The worst possible thing you can do when you’re down in the dumps, tweaking, vaporous with victimized self-righteousness, or bored, is to take a walk with dying friends. They will ruin everything for you. First of all, friends like this may not even think of themselves as dying, although they clearly are, according to recent scans and gentle doctors’ reports. But no, they see themselves as fully alive. They are living and doing as much as they can, as well as they can, for as long as they can.”—Anne Lamott, “Small Victories”
This reminded me so much of my mother in her battle with cancer. She remained extremely optimistic, almost annoyingly so, right up until the day she died. “No Mom, I do NOT think it is a wisdom for you to drive to Graceland when Aunt Cookie comes to visit . . . well, because she has back problems and can’t drive long distances and you are on so much pain medication that I’m sure she would rather have Mr. Magoo driving her than you . . . Mom, did you order anti-aging cream from a television commercial? Do you really think your crow’s feet are an issue right now? Yes that IS a beautiful semi-truck…no, I don’t think I have ever seen a turquoise semi before…I doubt he will let us ride in it…because that’s a long way up and you were barely able to get in my Camry this morning. . . well, the dr. said if you eat solid food you will be back in the hospital, but yes, I guess you could put that plate of Gary Rippy’s fried fish in the freezer until you are well….” These may or may not have been some of the conversations I had with my mom in her last months. You can’t keep a good woman down, I tell you. She had more hope than all of us I think.
I was reading some of the text messages recently and cracked up when I read this report to my sister after her last surgery: “Well she seemed to be in a lot of pain when we helped her to the bathroom, but then we heard her singing ‘don’t it make my brown eyes blue…wait a minute, I have green eyes…..don’t it make my green eyes….then she started talking about a dog in WWII from one of her kids books at the library.” Okay, I know what you’re thinking and I guess some of the optimism could have been narcotic-induced, but over and over again I heard from nurses and staff members at the hospital and hospice home about what a positive attitude and “bright spirit” she had, always encouraging someone.
There are several traits I believe I got from my mother—a love for reading and a strange compulsion to have books (or at least A BOOK) around me at all times. Another quirk I got was carrying tons of various pens with me. Is this a teacher thing, I wonder? Jeff marveled at my mother’s collection of colored pens in the outer pocket of her purse and once and asked her, “Linda, are we about to take a test?” She looked at him puzzled and he pointed at the pens. He teased her almost as much as my father did. Lots of people tell me I look like my mother and some people could never tell our voices apart on the phone. I got my “teacher look” from her that my students believe could actually turn them to stone. Granted, my father had this “gift” too that served him well as a principal so I may have gotten it from him. Nonetheless, I am grateful.
Don’t get me wrong—there are some traits I did not inherit from her or would never admit to it if I did. Mom was a bit of a hoarder. Not the filthy kind but the kind that wanted to fold up and save the wrapping paper her gifts came in because it was just “so beautiful.” And don’t get me started on the Elvis memorabilia. She also had the tendency to need to rush to the bathroom when she laughed too hard. Or if someone startled her. Those traits I am quite happy that she didn’t pass to me.
The thing I hope most, though, that I got from my mother was her ability to enjoy her life and enjoy people, and to feel enjoyed. On the evening of July 4th, Savannah and I were with her in her Tulsa hospital room on the 14th floor, and we had a spectacular view of every fireworks display within a 30 mile radius. We sat by the window holding hands for hours, oohing and aaaahhhing and laughing. The next day, doctors would sit by that same window and tell us in somber tones that there was nothing else they could do, and that we should prepare for the worst. Mom looked at me brightly, squeezed my hand and said, “Don’t cry honey. This means I get to go and be with your daddy!” Later she looked at me and said, “Vanessa can you believe they did all that for me last night?” I was perplexed. “What do you mean, Mom?” She was talking about all the fireworks….the celebration. She believed she was being celebrated…that someone knew she would be coming Home. And maybe she was right.
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