I was telling someone last week about the month of March, and my family’s connections to it.
Not only is my birthday in March, but my mom’s was 10 days later, on the 31st. My brother and his wife were married on the 11th, and my parents’ anniversary was the 24th.
That makes the whole month a celebratory one, but it’s also at least a little bit tinged with sadness each spring. We don’t mean for it to be, it just is.
This must have been what my dad was thinking about when he wrote this. It arrived in my email inbox late on the evening of the 24th, sent to only me and my brother.
Mom and I were married 35 years ago today. We never celebrated too much, although we went out to eat and got each other small stuff. On our 21st Anniversary, I photocopied an Ogden Nash poem about a marriage turning 21and being grown up and left it at her spot on the breakfast table. She took it to work and showed it off and was so pleased you’d think I wrote the thing myself. So I got a lot of mileage out of a photocopy.
Seven years later, the situation was different. On our last Anniversary, Mom was in the hospital because her tumor had grown back so quickly. On the 24th, we met with a backup surgeon, a man I’ve not seen before or since. After confirming the catscan results that the tumor had grown back already, he rather inartfully added that with the only other tumor he’d seen grow that quickly the patient was dead within six months. After hearing this death sentence, I was in shock, but Mom calmly said, “I’ve had a good life.” That upset me, because it sounded like she was giving up without a fight, and, as we all know now, we process the bad information at our own individual paces. We never spoke of her comment again.
Seven years later, the situation is different again. I now have come to realize what a valuable and lasting present her comments were. They offer a palpable solace that increases with each passing year and gives a chance for real closure. And since her comments came just three days after her youngest child turned 21, it must be clear that her children had a lot to do with her having had a good life. So I want to share this message with you, as it reinforces that a life tragically cut short can still be a good one, and a cause for celebration as well as mourning.
I sent him a short message back thanking him for writing it, and called him a couple days later. I asked him if I could share what he wrote and he said that would be nice to see.
My mom was in the hospital on her last birthday recovering from her second brain surgery in six weeks. She didn’t want us to talk about it even being her birthday. I’d just turned 21 and we were staying in Cleveland near her hospital. She was 54.
She’d be 61 today, and a grandmother of two. I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately, and wishing I could ask her advice in recent weeks. I think she’d have some things to say about all these decisions I’ve been leaving to the last minute.
I’m sure her remarks were painful for my dad to hear at the time but I also see what he means about them now. She was calm and accepting of the inevitable, even if I myself found I was surprised, somehow, when she actually died. The human mind is a strange thing, and is prepared to convince itself of or against most things, despite all sense of reason.
I am looking forward to running in her memory in four weeks. I think she’d be proud.