"My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it."
- Mark Twain
I lost my mom last week. Poof — just like that. One day she was there, the next she was gone. Died in her sleep, they told us. Probably felt no pain. And that was a huge relief. I mean, why drag it out? My mother was well into her '80s, suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure, and had lived a full and eventful existence. The last thing she needed was a prolonged skirmish with the grim reaper.
Besides, I'd already seen what it had wrought on my dad. His dignity, his self-regard, his quiet pride — they were all stripped away by the ugliness of the soul-destroying battle that he'd had to endure. I was in tears long before he was declared deceased. Just to see his pain.
So I figure Suzanne — that's my mom — got off lightly. As a family friend put it: "I always admire people who can arrange to die in their sleep. Such a great way to go."
Still, her passing made me stop and take stock. They say that there's a special place in heaven for the mother of four sons. Well, if that's true, then my mother's inclusion is assured. When I think back to the task Suzanne was handed in the 1950s, '60s and '70s — wrangling four hyperkinetic boys and an adventure-crazed husband; essentially running a four-season sports camp for high-performance kooks — I can only shake my head and marvel. She did it all.
My mother hiked and skied and paddled and swam and pedalled and golfed and tennised and... well, she never stopped. And when things got tough, she just got tougher. Suzanne, you see, could take care of herself. Even the way she skied... although her technique was far from conventional, the inimitable power-stem-cum-parallel turn she'd mastered over the years had seen her safely down slopes from the Alps to the Rockies. The lady was fearless.
But more importantly (at least for us), was that she was always there at the end of the day, when the playing was over and we were all tired and hungry. While we lounged about and shared war stories about the day's adventures — and waxed impatient about the upcoming victuals — there would be Suzanne, hunched over the kitchen range or the campfire grill, or even the family's battered Coleman stove, making sure that her brood was properly fed and watered before attending to her own needs.
No wonder she got snarky from time to time...
The pride Suzanne felt for her boys was legendary. But she never indulged that pride within the family circle. With us, it was tough love all the way. As in: "Get over yourself ducky. You're not the only hero on the planet."
My friend Cathy Jewett — herself a formidable mom — put it best. "Your mother was one feisty lady." For sure. Gutsy. Spirited. Energetic. Aggressive even. Suzanne was all that. And more. She was like a grizzly-bear mom. You didn't want to cross her when she was on a mission. But then, how could she have survived otherwise?
I can still remember the Saturday morning equipment check. Goggles, gloves, hat, lift pass, skis, poles, lunches... times four. Mom would laboriously go through the list with each of us before we'd get in the car. "Does everyone have everything? I'm not coming back this time," she would warn. But it didn't matter. Invariably — invariably! — we'd be halfway to the hill and one of my brothers — never me! — would admit (often in tears) that he'd forgotten a vital bit of gear back at the ranch. "Please mom. Just this once. It'll never happen again, Pleaaaaaase..." Rolling of eyes. Grumble, grumble. Even a curse or two. Still. Each time, my mother would turn that ol' station wagon around and head back for the missing item. Berating the forgetful one all the way, of course. Making sure we'd all remember just how painful the process had been. But that was fine. It was a price my brothers were all willing to pay.
And somehow — I never figured it out — we were never late for our ski school classes or our gate-training sessions or just meeting up with buds at the base lodge. She was the best that way. Totally committed. Entirely engaged. But she wasn't alone.