But pretending doesn’t make real things less real—it just covers them up for a little while. And when they get too real to be covered up anymore, those real things are just as they always were. Except they feel harder to deal with than you remember.
from: The Ostrich and Other Lost Things
written by Beth Hautala
Philomel Books, 2018
I come from a long line of strong women.
My great-grandma was a Suffragette. (They’re called Suffragists, now.) My grandmother was strong-willed. My mom was independent, opinionated, (in a mostly good way) and an individualist. She was a “boot-straps” kind of woman.
Mom worked when I was growing up. She was the office manager for a small music school where we three kids took lessons. Then she was an executive secretary for a medium-sized local grocery chain.
Before that she volunteered for a local hospital. She answered the phone and directed visitors to patients’ rooms. She was my room mother and my Girl Scout leader. She trained other leaders, too. She volunteered for the Society for the Blind and won an award for her dedication.
Mom was a forward-thinker. She bought a computer when a desk-top was as big as her whole desktop. She used it to pay her bills, e-mail friends, and play games. She liked “Bejeweled” and different word games. She took on-line market surveys and sometimes got paid for trying different products.
Mom was a music-lover. She played clarinet in several community bands. She performed and went on trips with them. She was the librarian for a local orchestra. She worked with the conductor to make sure all the sheet music was in order and in good condition for rehearsals and performances.
Her favorite sweatshirt had the word FRONT printed on the front and a picture of J. S. Bach on the back. She enjoyed a good joke, but never at anyone’s expense.
But the things a person does or did, does not define the person.
When she was diagnosed with breast cancer on her 77th birthday, Mom took the information in stride as well as anyone could, I suppose. She was not resigned, not in denial, not outraged. We went to buy birdseed. She feed her backyard birds and the 20-pound bags were heavy for her to lift out of her trunk. She drove. Something like a bad diagnosis was not going to get in the way of her everyday life.
Wherever my mother lived, it was not in the state of denial. She believed in facing things head-on. She kept all her appointments, took all her medicine (poison), and continued to volunteer, play her clarinet, and feed the birds. For a long time.
She passed her 5-year survival anniversary. The lung-cancer diagnosis was a bad surprise. She didn’t let it stop her, until it did.
Mom was a little bit sick for a long time. She was very sick only for a little while.
My mom answered “perfect” whenever someone asked “How are you?” But mom was *not* perfect. Remember the time she cleaned out my mouth with a real bar of soap for saying a word I don’t remember now? She made me wear ankle-socks when all the girls wore Bobby socks and knee socks. She (and my dad) never approved of my friends, and let me know that.
I’m not strong in the independent way my mom was. But I think of her when I go to the gym. I exercise because I know it is good for me.
I think of Mom when I remember to live in the moment. She taught me that I could not change the past or influence the future, so the present is the only place to live. (I think you *can* influence the future, though. Actions have consequences and plans come to fruition when the intention is followed by the doing.)
She cared deeply about others, but she did not wear her heart on her sleeve. She loved her family, but she did not show her vulnerabilities. She was tactful, but did not mince her words.
Yesterday was the ninth anniversary of Mom’s death. I just stopped by to say “thanks, Mom.”
-—stay curious! (and brave)