My mom’s name was Cora. Sixteen years ago, on this day, she died, finally finding peace after suffering from ovarian cancer for about a year. When she died, I felt relief. I know that sounds horrible but when someone you love is suffering in such a horrific way, you want nothing more for them than peace. You cease caring about your own selfish need to keep them alive and close to you.
At the time of her death, I didn’t appreciate her as I should. I suppose that’s probably typical of most young adults. I was 22 at the time and still a kid, honestly. She and I had so many problems throughout my life. Problems I won’t go into on a public blog. Still, she was my mother and I loved her. It was only as I approached 30 that I truly started to feel the void she left. It was then that I finally started to understand and appreciate her struggles, her triumphs and her dreams.
I don’t know much about her early life. I do know her life was never an easy one. She never talked about it to us and what I do know, I gathered from eavesdropping on hushed conversations as a child. Other things were revealed just last year by her cousin as I stood beside her grave. Decades of mystery unfolded and my appreciation, heartbreak, and empathy for her grew as did my aching desire to have her back and tell her all the things the stupid 22 year old girl should have said before she passed on.
Here are a list of things I want the world to know about my mother.
1.My mom was a fearful person.
She was afraid of bees, water, dogs, the dark…everything it seemed. She used to annoy me with her panic stricken pleas to “be careful” whenever my brother or I approached even the smallest amount of water. I remember going to a pool when I was 3 years old. I can still hear my mom (though I cannot see her in my memory) telling me to stay in the kiddie pool. Yet, I could see my cousins and brother, being much older than me, frolicking in the “big pool”. I can STILL remember feeling anger because I wasn’t allowed to be in that pool as well. My dad loves to explain to anyone who will listen that I was a very obstinate, sassy child and I guess what I did next proves it. I don’t remember climbing the slide but I do remember going down the slide at the pool and landing in the water and on my own, swimming over to my cousins. Apparently, my poor, fear stricken mother watched all of this and lost her mind! My dad said that a man jumped in the pool and pulled me out and my mom thanked him for “saving my life”. Hearing this I supposedly became furious and threw a temper tantrum because I insisted I was fine and didn’t need to be “saved”. Ha! The purpose of the story is to highlight just how vastly different my mother and I were. Even as a toddler I didn’t posses the fear and anxiety she felt about things. But I also didn’t have the experiences she had. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I made the connection between her fear of water and the death of my cousin Timmy (her nephew). He fell through ice and drowned when I was a baby. I spent years resenting the fact my mother had panic attacks if I stepped near a fountain….never realizing she was well intentioned or that her fears were rooted in tragedy.
2. She was as mean as a rattlesnake! Gracious, did she have a temper! My mom was absolutely terrifying when she was angry. No kidding, I’m pretty sure the phrase “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” was originally “Hell hath no fury like Cora scorned” because if you angered her, she’d burn the house down just to spite you. Luckily I am not quite as volatile but I confess to having some of her venom. Much to my chagrin, I also seemed to have inherited her amazing ability to hold grudges. My mom, bless her heart, could wait out just about anyone. If she decided she wasn’t going to speak to you, you may as well forget it. It was almost comical!
3. She was one of the most giving people I ever met. She’d give you just about anything you ever needed, which is ironic considering how angry she could get. If you needed something, she’d make it happen.
4. She was also funny! I’m so lucky. I am blessed to have two parents who were/are comedic genuises. They taught me everything I ever needed to know about sarcasm and irony. I used to LOVE listening to their conversations at the dinner table. Their conversations taught me more about life than any classroom I ever sat in.
5. She loved to play games. I used to love it when she’d challenge my brother and I to a game of Aggravation or Life.
6. She was very smart. I was always amazed by how much she seemed to know about things. It was wasted though. She didn’t have the self confidence to maximize her potential. That breaks my heart.
7. She had the most beautiful handwriting I’ve ever seen. It was impossible to forge (I tried).
8. She was crazy. I’m pretty sure she was bi-polar. It’s either that or demon possessed-ha! Seriously, it’s the only explanation (the bo-polar, not the demon possession). I loved her but the truth is, she was unhinged. Her behavior was so unpredictable and you never knew where you stood with her. One minute she was manic and buying me anything I wanted. The next she was chasing me around the house with a butcher knife.
9. She was a voracious reader. I’ve never met anyone who read so much. She went to the library at least three times a week. The odd thing was that she read “Harlequin romance” books. HAHAHA! I could never understand it as a child but as an adult I realize it was her escape. ANyway, her love for reading rubbed off on me too. I used to tag along with her to the Fincastle library and still remember getting my first library card! I have her to thank for my love of books!
10. She loved God. I don’t talk about my faith too much. However, I owe my faith in God to her. When my brother and I were kids, she insisted we go to Sunday School and Bible School even if she didn’t always go. Even if my family acted like heathens all week long, she made sure that my brother and I knew about Jesus on Sunday. One of the things that has brought me the most comfort since her death is knowing that one day we will see one another again in the presence of God in Heaven. I am thankful, eternally, to her for giving me the chance to love God. As a kid I protested so much, especially since I was a tom-boy and the mere thought of wearing dresses felt worthy of a war crimes tribunal in The Hague. These days I don’t protest church and I’ve come to appreciate dresses. 😉
The last time I spoke to my mother was on March 20, 1997. It was my birthday and she called from her death bed in the hospital to sing happy birthday to me. Two days later she died. She was 45.
A few years ago when I decided I wanted to climb Kilimanjaro, I told myself that I’d do it when I turned 40 as a gift to myself. Just this past year I started to realize that life is not promised. It wasn’t promised to my mother. I started to think that I should live my dreams now and not postpone them for the future and so, my dreams of Kilimanjaro started to take shape. Without a doubt, my quest to reach the summit is motivated, in part, by my mother. Her life was so short and I don’t think she lived a particularly happy life. I also don’t think many of her dreams came true. I think circumstance and fear squashed many of them for her. So despite the fact my mother would have been afraid to fly, been afraid of African animals and insects, been afraid of altitude and subzero temps, been afraid of disease, etc, I carry the memory of my mother with me up the mountain. I think the greatest memorial or tribute I could ever pay to my mother is to live a life well lived. Afterall, she never got to do the same.