Before you balk, my mom has cheated death more times than I can count. She knows this. Everyone who knows her knows this.
I joke with her all the time that I’ll be putting this or that in her eulogy. She laughs and adds to the list. So, don’t worry. I’m not killing my mom off. I love her fiercely and hope she lives to be 100.
If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you. -A.A. Milne
Braver Than You Believe
I offer you just a few highlights of her incidents, accidents and various conditions:
- Amputated arm due to a freak encounter with necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating bacteria)
- Lupus, complete with nearly every possible complication, for decades
- Donated a kidney to her sister 30 years ago
- Cat Scratch Fever (it’s a real thing… look it up!)
- Two amputated toes
- Numerous hip replacements and revisions
- Resistance to antibiotics
- Fractured femur
- Lyme Disease
Stronger Than You Seem
She has more lives than an alley cat in Manhattan. And her many close calls haven’t shaken her. In fact, they have made her stronger and more sure of who she is.
Years ago, my grandparents took their three daughters and two granddaughters (including me) on a grand tour of New York City. Broadway. Times Square. It was to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so we did it all and we did it right.
At the famous Rainbow Room, the waiter circled the table, collecting drink orders. An outrageously priced glass of Chardonnay. A top-shelf gin and tonic. When he got to my mom, she said, “May I have a Miller Lite, please?”
We never know what she’s going to say and that’s part of her charm.
She is just, well, her. That’s why people love her. Flock to her. Talk to her. She should have been a reporter. People spill details in 5 minutes that they never have told anyone. And she holds those confessions close to her heart. She doesn’t gossip. Rather, she cares. She cares about me, about the secretary at her doctor’s office and about the person sitting next to her on a plane.
But while she holds others’ thoughts safe, she makes hers known.
Tiggers Are Wonderful Things
When my now-husband was about to meet my mom for the first time, I warned him that she might ask a few questions. And that I had suggested she not ask every question this first meeting. “She can ask me anything she wants. Don’t take away Tigger’s bounce!”
Well, ok then.
The visit went about as I expected. My mom cornered my then-boyfriend and deluged him with questions about his life up to that very moment. Then, from across the room, I heard, “Ashley’s not perfect, you know.”
I laughed. “Geez, Mom! That’s quite the endorsement!”
She started giggling, too, saying that wasn’t exactly what she meant. She explained that I sometimes come across as perfect and that’s intimidating.
It’s a running joke in our household. Whenever I mess up in some way, a sparkle appears in my dear husband’s eye and I know what’s coming. “Ashley’s not perfect, you know.”
Thanks, Mom. 😉
Smarter Than You Think
A year or so later, my spouse and and I were in Alaska. I called my mom from a little Christmas shop in a town called the North Pole. I rambled on about the Northern Lights and the hot springs and the dark days. Then, I finally got around to asking her what she was up to.
“Oh, not much,” she said. “I just had two toes amputated. Can you hang on, honey? I’m driving through KFC.”
She once packed 37 pairs of socks (we counted) for a weeklong trip to Florida during which she would wear sandals every day. She used to mail huge boxes of clothes and shoes ahead when she came to visit because the airline charged so much for extra suitcases. And rummaging through the clothes she left at our house (so she wouldn’t need to pack as much next time), I found 7 pairs of white pants. Seven.
When my brother’s first daughter was nearly due, our mom pulled him aside. She leaned in conspiratorially and said, “I need to tell you something. Sometimes, you’re going to want to kill your child. Don’t do it, but it’s perfectly normal if you want to.”
From the kindest human I know. Hilarious. I can’t do the moment justice in print. My brother tells it best. It was simply her unconventional way of letting him know that parenting was tough, but that it would be ok.
A decade later, my mom and stepdad were watching our young sons alone for the first time, so my husband and I could attend a family wedding. My brother was with us. “You know at this very moment, Mom is feeding the boys chocolate and Coke,” he said. It was 9 a.m.
She is our sons’ favorite pal, playing hide and seek for hours, letting them snuggle in her bed with snacks and watch shows like “Naked and Afraid.” I once asked whether that was really the best program for little people. Her response? The kids like it for the adventure and the animals and the network “blurs out” the private parts on the naked people. Ay-ay-ay…
Loved More than You Will Ever Know
When she woke up after her most recent brush with death and found out her arm had been amputated due to flesh-eating bacteria, she thanked her surgeon. She also told all her doctors and nurses that she would be ok—that she was a “tough old bird.”
My mom is a force to be reckoned with—a larger-than-life personality trapped in a pint-sized body with a few missing parts. She only regrets that she wasn’t born a half century later, when doctors might simply have grown her some fresh, new appendages.
So, she occasionally forgets birthdays. It’s rare that she picks up the phone. Sometimes, it’s tough to catch up with her. But it doesn’t matter. Every fleeting moment with this living, breathing angel is worth it.
I love you, Mom. xoxo
P.S. I agree that you are not a wretch and give you my solemn promise that under no circumstances shall “Amazing Grace” make an audio appearance at your funeral.