For my mom.

I lost my mom last week. Fifteen months of battling lung cancer that spread to her bones and kidneys, and it finally became too much for her. I knew on the very day of her diagnosis last year that this would take her, and the manner in which it would do so, and so I began to prepare. We all watched as she dealt with the side effects of her chemotherapy, losing a startling amount of weight, her hair, as well as her normally endless energy. We almost lost her last year after her first round of chemotherapy left her so weak with pneumonia that I still don’t know quite how she survived it. I often felt frustrated at the universe for giving my mom so many “sick days”, when I would see other women out shopping with their friends and daughters, clearly battling some sort of cancer, but healthy enough to enjoy life regularly. My mom didn’t get that. I remember telling her that, and her getting upset, having taken what I was trying to say the wrong way. She thought I was blaming her. I wasn’t, I was trying to communicate my sadness for what she was experiencing, but that was the nature of our relationship. Contentious, edgy, misunderstanding each other around every corner.

I never understood who she was, thought she had no interests or hobbies, wondered silently throughout my life why she didn’t “get a life”-go out with friends, cultivate interests, be her own person. In turn, she often felt that I was uptight, had self-absorbed interests and ideas, and I believe that she often thought that I believed I was smarter than her. In fact, she said as much to me, a few years back. During what I thought was a pleasant conversation, she suddenly erupted, “You think I’m stupid, that I’m not as smart as you are.” I remember confusion being replaced by shock, and my dad quietly suggesting to her, “That is your thing, not hers. She’s not implying that.” Our conversations were frequently a near-miss.

In all the horror of her illness and death, there was a beauty in learning about who she truly was. My mom DID have interests, joys and hobbies-her family and friends. She loved my dad with her whole heart, and never wanted to be a day without him. And each of us, even me-she worried endlessly about our happiness, even if it came out wrong sometimes. “Call or text me when you get there”, she say to me as I left town for work. I would roll my eyes, and say, “No, Mom..I’m a grown woman, I’m not going to do that.” I wish now I had just appeased her anxiety, and said, “OK, Mom”. Her passion and caring often erupted from her in a loud voice, and I would shut down, feeling “yelled at”. She was just trying to convey how much she felt what she was trying to communicate. In the last few months before her death, I spent many days caring for her, and while it broke my heart to have to remind her multiple times about why she was taking medication, or to wash her bald head with “that soap that smells so nice”, I feel so lucky that I had that time alone with her, for us to really connect for the first time, to talk about life and what her greatest joys were, what she would miss. She worried endlessly that she wouldn’t meet Dempsey, and it made me so happy on the day that she was able to rub his little head and kiss him. I feel at ease knowing that she died knowing how much I really did love her.

In the days after her death, there was an outpouring of stories from my mom’s friends, family, co-workers and students about her impact on them. The common thread in all of them was that she made them feel cared about, accepted, worth something. Despite all our differences, I always knew that my sense of social justice, of inclusion, of doing the right thing came directly from her, but I was humbled at the far-reaching impact this seemingly simple woman had on so many people throughout her entire life. I can only hope that I’ll have half the impact on others that she did, that I will raise Dempsey to be a man of strong moral character, with a heart of love to offer the world. Those were her gifts to the people that she loved, and even now, I can feel those things all around me.

To everyone that has shared their love and support with our family over the past year and a half, and particularly in the past week-thank you. You will never know the gratitude that we feel. Each of you has been a beautiful tribute to my mother, and her life.

A word on tragedy.

A precursor:  Some of you reading this may find it offensive, and that is OK.  Strong events evoke strong reactions, and this is mine.  I will not respond to, or validate any negativity from anyone.

Let me just put it out there-I can’t take anymore posts, news, information, stagnant lamenting about the horrible events of this past week.

What happened is beyond comprehension, because it was a senseless act.  There is no rationalizing any of it.  Innocent people died-many of them small children.  Like everyone else, it hurts my heart.  No one should have to endure such violence, and its resulting echo. I can’t even fathom what those involved feel, in the depths of their hearts.

I am bothered by the credence that tragedy is given, not just with this, but with the countless horrid things that happen daily in the world.  With every post about the gunman’s troubled past, we place a spotlight on his actions, thus making him the most prominent individual in this situation, not the victims.  Does endless information regarding his “social awkwardness” or possible Asperger’s Syndrome help us to make sense of the senseless? No.  Does post after post on social media asking others to wear Sandy Hook school colors, or regarding your own new-found fears of sending your child to school help anyone? Not likely.  As much as your heart hurts for those involved, remember that you weren’t.  Be thankful for that.  We are no more or less safe than we were the day before this happened.  Be mindful of the fact that children learning of this event will likely find themselves worrying about formerly unthinkable things, and will not benefit from any added amplification of those fears.

I do not mean to discredit the sympathy that we all feel for those involved (and I do feel a very deep, abiding sympathy), but I do take issue with the way we choose to channel it.  We are saturated with media coverage that places a high value on the quantification of tragedy; that is, referring to events such as these as “the worst school shooting in history” or “the second worst school shooting in history”.  Every school shooting is the worst one, for those experiencing it, and really, for our nation as a whole.  To buy into this rhetoric is to support the categorization of death’s significance,  according to the number killed. And that’s the exact opposite of what the true issue at hand really is.

So, pray and offer up a supportive thought for those suffering, in the silence of your day. And if you want to see change in our communities-stop talking about it, and do something.  Instead of perpetuating despair, perpetuate life.  Because in the midst of death and loss and unthinkable sadness, there is even greater love and joy and peace to be found.  Be a part of that.  Choose to move forward.