Picture of my mom in front of an A-10, early 80s, courtesy of her friend Angelo of the CI Rangers.
The toughest part of this cancer journey has been seeing my mom slowly deteriorate, an inevitable spiral that has forced me to reflect on who she was, and what she has accomplished. She’s a very unique individual that broke through many glass ceilings because her drive to succeed came from her inherent need to make life simpler. Bless her soul, she always thought common sense should prevail. The daunting question was whose? Throughout my upbringing she encouraged me to succeed, to fail often and effectively because as powerful career women the ability to quickly adapt to change and disappointment would be critical to our success.
As an officer, and woman in power, she was taught to lead and challenge the status quo. As a mother, she learned to combine those traits to endure, to be patient with her children and loved ones despite her ability and instinct to commandeer the room and make though decisions for those dilly dallying. Whatever the group needed, the group got, especially if they earned or deserved it. She didn’t fight it, and only interjected if it was clear people were leading themselves astray. Freedom and space were things she gave my sister and I constantly. Autonomy in our household reigned supreme.
There is an element of her personality that made her adept for this path that I rarely highlight in my writings, her grit, a trait that she boldly instilled in us by being the most demanding and persistent person on this planet. As shy and reserved as she appeared to be, she had a soft spot for building people up, not tearing them down which meant she’d ride your ass hard because she cared, not because she wanted to, and only when it made sense. I inherited her stubbornness and emulated her resilience, a characteristic she nurtured from the get go.
My personality developed a counterintuitive character flaw: abnegation. She pushed me so hard I learned to sacrifice whatever was necessary, except my dignity and sense of justice, to please her demands and expectations. I learned to walk the fine line between straining ourselves and our resources to do what was right, not what was easier. Her child rearing and life philosophy was very simple: Crying never solves anything. Rolling your sleeves up and getting into the mix is the only acceptable way to turn problems into opportunities. There was no I in team, it was always about the we. About holding each other accountable for the collective benefit.
At the same time she raised the bar on me and encouraged me to do better, she snuck in valuable lessons about self care and motivation. As much as she’d told us to save for retirement and unfortunate events, she also stressed that there was always room in the budget to pamper oneself. Those who worked with her knew there wasn’t a day that would go by without the proper hair do, manicure, regulation approved make up and fashionable, yet proper clothing for the casual days. Young mom lived outside of her uniform. Older mom wouldn’t be caught dead without hers. It was fascinating. Guess she must have really liked the attention and respect her rank conferred her. It was fun to see her underlings, excuse me, subordinates become her friends once retirement requirements were met and people started to live their pensioners life. Everybody admired her. Especially my dad, the only boyfriend I ever saw her date. Their healthy relationship shaped my views on men and parenthood. They made it seem so effortless.
Love made her strong. To my benefit, this love also made her very aware and accepting of her own mortality. It was a certainty of life and she had made peace with this fact. Wills, executor powers and other topics were abundantly discussed with clear instructions of what needed to get done in case she got incapacitated or died. She saw death as a natural part of being alive, a brave and admirable appraisal. Knowing anything could happen while she was away training or doing business travel, she had prepared me at an early age to take on the role of head of household and caretaker of my sister. She made sure I understood stepping up wasn’t optional, and that if anyone could get through losing her mother and provider it would be me because she had seen to it. I was certain I would never ever find out the hard way if this was true. Fate had other plans. A few months ago.brain cancer decided to crash this party, and now I am staring the possibility of losing her. Tic toc goes the countdown clock. I need time to stand still.
Parents put on a brave face for their children therefore, many kids idolize their parents and put them on the infallible + invincible pedestal. My mom’s imperfections and flaws made her transparent, so I always knew exactly what was going through her mind and who I was dealing with. Egos aside, she may have pretended to have it all under control, and I’d trust she did, but I could feel the anxiety, rage or sadness veiled by her prim and proper demeanor. She could dish it out and she could take it but there was something vulnerable about the exchange even when were not treated as her equals. She’d laugh at our ingenuity which earned us her respect. Truth comes out of the mouths of babes as they say. I’m glad my mother decided to unshield me from the trappings of her protection and laid the law using reason.
As an adult, I value her so much more now, indubitably when she lets the cracks on her armor show. It’s heartwarming and heartbreaking to see her become overwhelmed with emotion when she talks about not being there to see us grow beyond her wildest dreams and expectations. There is not a more gracious warrior than the Colonel, the fearless matriarch who taught me how to accept defeat and when to go down swinging. As she prepares for the chemo and radiation treatments we stand in awe of what she has not only manage to achieve but of her ability to have created a support system because of how she achieved it: with humility, courage, love and deep respect for the people surrounding her. I hope she not only fights but that she gives her condition hell.
I’ll do my best to stand proudly by her side to remind her that she did well by us, her daughters. That we appreciate everything she did to make us stronger, more resilient and full of grit. Happiness may elude me mother, but it is not what you encouraged me to seek. Instead, I choose to love as boldly and as openly as you loved those you served. For us, there is no better legacy but that which we honor, through your altruism and compassion. Many will remember you as you were, as you lived, and I will do my best to continue the mission you entrusted me: to keep my sister and myself safe. We will carry you in our minds and spirits forever.
Mom, I salute you. May we never learn to live without you.