Happy 90th, Maw!

Mom’s BIGGEST Epic Adventure ended on June 26th. She passed peacefully at home, surrounded by Family. This video played at her service in Michigan. Watch until the end; it will make all the difference.

I used my time at the service to speak about the last few years with Mom and what I’d likely miss most: Talking Michigan football on Saturdays, daily dinner menus, current events and politics. We made much of the fact that her 90th birthday on November 3rd would coincide with the presidential election. She was one sharp cookie until the very end.

Her body was failing her though, and she was relegated to her chair or bed most days. She had bouts of pain and loneliness. A few years back, I started using delivery apps to surprise her with dinner from her favorite places. Her absolute fave was calamari from a place called Carrabbas in Woodbridge. To make the enterprise more efficient (and fattening!), I’d add a chocolate “dream” cake to the order. The delivery notice would pop up on my phone which would soon ring. Maw usually had the first or fifth bite in her mouth by then, and I could hear the joy and laughter in her muffled voice words. She usually admitted to starting with dessert.

In the days leading up to the service, during preparation and travel, I tried to arrange my thoughts on what to say about Mom. Actually, the thoughts tend to organize themselves in these moments of grief and reflection. The memories come rushing in, each one special and each one worthy. But memories and moments alone do not define who Mom was.

The idea of Mom as a Champion started to take root. Now, Mom would be the first to tell you that she was no champion because she never won anything of significance in her life. Fun story: at the awards night at a family summer camp we attended back in the mid-70s, prizes were given for the best scores and performances, as well as the worst. We didn’t win a thing. Mom was good with mediocrity. Her mantra — which I and my brothers had long emblazoned on cards, T-shirts and now her obituary — was “Es mejor que nada, baby.” It’s better than nothing.

Here’s the thing, Mom was a Champion in so many ways, mostly as a Champion of others. As a teacher, she went to bat for the good kids and the bad, encouraging them and their families to do the work and achieve. She was a Champion of causes, like the Equal Rights Amendment. She would travel to marches, something which met with snickers and derision from the four men in her household. Woke we were not.

I came to realize in my ruminating that Mom was a Champion for herself too, often because no one else would do it for her. She wanted to assert — no, prove — her independence, something that was not part of her upbringing. She was creative and entrepreneurial, determined, busying herself by staging puppet shows at schools and selling her crafts at weekend markets. And of course she loved to travel.

Then it hit me: Mom had been my Champion all along. (Let’s dispatch with the “my Mom is the best” debate, if you please; I win.) Mom inspired and guided me in ways I’m just now realizing. There are the obvious things like creativity, theater, wanderlust, socializing, Christmases at Disney, love of KFC and black olives. Deeper than that, Mom was curious, and that made me curious. She also made me compassionate. As a Champion, she could see the best in people, but she also understood the worst in them too. And she could tell when people were hurting. My empathy and occasional kindness stem from this.

Returning to the 70s for a moment: picture an awkward 7th grader who was not even the king of the nerds. Braces, horn-rimmed glasses, acne, B.O., gifted-talented, the total package. In an attempt to socialize, I would attend the junior high school dances. Boys on one side of the gym, girls on the other; the cool kids would meet up in the center. I watched from the corner, talking with nary a soul.

Mom would fetch me and drive us to the Big Boy on Maple Avenue for hot fudge sundaes. I’d regale her with stories of the two times I danced — it was always two. She knew I was making it all up, and I knew she knew. Of course, she never let on. She’d move the conversation forward and we settled in with our sundaes. Simply put, she made me feel normal and loved.

As I concluded my remarks at the service by noting that I would forever miss having a sundae with my Mom, my throat tightened. It was more than just the sadness I was feeling; I was struck right then by a revelation. When those chocolate cakes showed up at Mom’s door and she called to let me know, and we’d chat about the day we’d had, I think her pain and loneliness would ease for a bit. I hope it made her feel normal and loved, just as she’d done for me.

This marks the end of this blog series. Marge Binder’s Epic Adventure has been my adventure too. Godspeed, Mom!

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