A Birthday Tribute To My Mom

Today, July 8, would be my mom’s birthday. Although, I have written quite a bit about my mom and how close we are, I like to write an annual birthday tribute to her.

Although it was nearly nine years ago, my memory is so vivid of spending her birthday in the hospital with Ben, lamenting the overwhelming and inescapable feeling of alone-ness, not knowing what was going to happen with Ben but acknowledging that ultimately, he was going to join my mom as one the beloved people in my life that I would lose. I do feel so fortunate to have known and shown so much love in my life. And, I still feel much love. Still, at times I feel terribly lonely and ungrounded. I guess I miss the sense of belonging. I miss my mom and the closeness that we shared. I even miss what could easily be ten phone calls a day about everything and nothing. Sometimes, it is exhausting to miss so much.

We were always Mickey Mouse fans!

My mom is the person who introduced me to Mickey Mouse and instilled in me an eternally child-like wonder. When we were in London together, I remembered how excited my mom was to go to Paddington Station and the Paddington store in Paddington. The woman in the shop was so taken by my mom’s exuberance over the little bear and being in the shop- it was hard not to get caught up in my mom’s child-like delight- that she excitedly handed my mom a Paddington Bear doll to hold while I took her picture. Each year I put the little Paddington ornament she got there on my Christmas tree so that she is a part of the tree. I’ve always returned from visits to London with something Paddington to remind me of her. So, it wasn’t all Disney, but Mommy’s first true love was Mickey.

London 1987. My mom could not wait to visit the Paddington store!

I look at our old photographs and remember the laughter. I am proud to have inherited her ability to celebrate her inner child, her youthful demeanor and her joyful spirit. I still miss our shopping and theater excursions in the city. Sometimes people are surprised that she passed away more than 25 years ago, because I talk about her so frequently. She is always dear to my heart and so much a part of who I am, but also, of the person I aspire to be.

My mom visited my great-aunt, Tanta Rosie, with our Standard Schnauzer, Dulcie, almost every day.

My mom was my example of the consummate caregiver, perhaps being too selfless. She was so generous and kind, always smiling as she balanced the needs of everyone around her. She tended to my grandmother, who lived with us, and also took care of my great-aunt in the nearby nursing home, and my great-uncle who insisted on living alone but needed much assistance. I did see that her kindness and desire to support everyone took a toll on her. It has influenced me. After she passed away, I followed her lead and although I did not realize it at the time, I was stepping into the role of caregiver, tending to and trying to bring cheer to my dad and my grandma, and always visiting my great-aunt and great-uncle. Like my mom, I put my dad’s and Ben’s needs before my own. However, remembering my mom’s selfishness and how it drained, disappointed and hurt her, I am not as selfless. I think that some of my decisions, particularly with regard to family, would have saddened her and I sometimes struggle with this. Maybe, in some way, she led me to find ways to set boundaries and remain compassionate.

On her birthday, I will continue my tradition of watching The Little Mermaid, because it was one of the last films we watched together. I love to remember how much we laughed when we watched it together, particularly when we looked at my grandma, who just did not understand our amusement. I wish that I had gotten a chance to visit Walt Disney World with my mom, but she has always been present when I have been there. It always touched my heart that Ben was so aware and acknowledging of her when we were there. I know she would have loved Disney+!

I proudly say like mother, like daughter!

Happy Birthday, Mommy! I love and miss you every single day.

On a Significant Date, “Love Is A Song That Never Ends”

ALS,Walt Disney World
A PhotoPass photographer caught this moment in front of the Castle at Walt Disney World. It was actually the first time we returned after Ben’s ALS diagnosis in 2010

For me, today, July 6, will always be the day everything changed. It’s not a typical milestone date. No diagnosis, no birthday, no death date, but the day that Ben went into the hospital. Dates are important to me, for better or for worse. One of the many reasons this date is so significant is because it became the day when we could no longer deny or postpone Ben’s fate with ALS. So much happened leading up to this day. I’ve documented it often, and you can click here to see the details of that date. When choosing a quote for this post, the unwavering feeling is the song from Bambi, “Love is a Song That Never Ends.”

As a teacher, the end of June and beginning of July is a happy time. This year was particularly challenging, so I was more exhilarated than usual to leave the school building. I am trying to focus on the future, because I have put in place exciting prospects. Still, the memories of that summer nine years ago are like Eeyore’s gray clouds. I don’t relive each and every detail anymoreI allow myself to feel the sadness, grateful that it is no longer as paralyzing as it once was. I also continue to reflect on that time—where I was, where I am, how far I have come (or not).

Today, I happen to be home with a bad cold and laryngitis, so writing, remembering, and reflecting are perfect activities. Tears have fallen, and that’s fine. I will watch my “One Dance” video and listen to the lyrics, remembering how that song was the one that allowed me to acknowledge to myself that Ben was never coming home from the hospital, that we would never dance again, and that he was going to die. Yes, that may have been obvious to everyone else, and it is not that it was not obvious to me, but being alone and facing that in our apartment was a terrible heartache. An important message for me in the original Inside Out is that we can aim for joy, but it is not that simple, because our experiences are comprised of so many emotions and moments of significance, and sometimes joy arises from or coincides with anguish in unexpected ways.

Making summer plans had become a conflict of grief and wanting, or knowing that I should want, to move forward with my life. I made my plans with a clear conscience. I have no rules about my grief anymore, and I embrace it when it appears in good and bad memories. I will visit friends, human ones and my animal buddies at the Georgia Aquarium. I have again become accustomed to traveling by myself and I appreciate my good friends. I am also comfortable with wishing that one day, I will have a new love for company. I still don’t act on those wishes, leaving it to the fairies to deliver to me. But, I am living. Ben is always with me, and that’s okay, too. In fact, I wouldn’t want it any other way. After all, “Love is a Song That Never Ends.”

July 2024 calendar. Slightly different arrangement but same photos and memories. I guess that’s a good analogy for grief- the memories may shift somewhat but they are still there and strong.