Knows her own mind.
Well, she knows what she wants.
Sue, she’s independent.
She’s determined, you know you can’t stop her once she gets something in her head.
These are phrases and words others use to describe my mother, Sue Nedrow.
I know these people are being very polite or at the very least, diplomatic.
Stubborn, obstinate, Pig-headed MULE!
There. I said it. I feel so much better. I know you were thinking it.
But that was just her way. That was not who she was.
As a daughter, I struggled - like almost every child does - to see my mother as anything other than MY mother.
By the time I was seven, I was acutely aware that my brother and I had to share our mother. She was finishing her paused college degree and our lives were filled with students, study time, baby-sitters, and boyfriends. Our mother was not just OUR mother.
She was part of a grand modern social experiment:
what happens if a middle class wife becomes a divorcée and a single working mother?
She was becoming a person who would build a career in social services, working with drug addicts in a Kentucky prison, overseeing local and national disasters AND services for families of military personnel with the American Red Cross, and providing shelter for women of domestic violence as the Executive Director of Branches.
She was becoming a woman who had a strong connection to friends who became extensions of our family, or perhaps, we became extensions of theirs.
She was becoming a woman who had an insatiable curiosity for new information, learning, and pushing the boundaries of “what if…” and “why not?”.
Her natural curiosity led her to take on painting, pottery, knitting, quilting, and square dancing.
As a child of this grand social experiment, I wondered, “was there any room for me in this busy woman’s life?” I tried not to let it hurt my feelings, buried my bruises, and focused on my own busy life… not making much room for her.
Her curiosity drew her out of her quiet introverted nervous interior world and took her on a journey exploring Austria, Germany, Ireland, and France. With friends on the other side of the pond, she quickly found the courage to explore a much larger world than her hometown.
With each new adventure, Mom would let go a little of her carefully guarded world.
By the time my mother was 58, she had shed her 747’s worth of baggage. She traveled with an appropriately heavy suitcase and carry-on luggage, but not a lifetime of self-doubt, criticism, and reproach. She embraced herself for who she was, and not who she thought she was supposed to be.
And then she began to blossom.
My mother discovered that she had the foundation to build even richer relationships with her lifelong friends. She found it much easier to make new friends, and build new relationships. These new relationships just kept growing - so much so it was often difficult to keep up with who was who and how she knew them.
Again, I was reminded, my mother was more than MY mother. She belonged to many people now. And they belonged to her.
What does a young woman do when she realizes that her mother will never be “June Cleaver” or the perhaps "Mrs. Brady?”
Where was MY mother? Where was MY place in HER life?
The answer came to me one day when I was particularly peeved from working a 60-hour week in Dearborn, MI for the up-teenth week in a row. I recognized, I worked as much as our mother did: non-stop, myopic and relentless.
It was a foggy thought, that took a while to crystalize.
Let her go.
Quit looking for that mother. That mother wasn’t MY mother anyway.
Just stop looking for her.
Look at the woman who is in front of you.
And so, we began a new journey together. Quite literally, we took journeys together.
She went to France and I met her there to show her Paris. We stayed at David’s apartment, who is now my husband. 16-months later, we traveled together to Belize and studied manatees and dolphins with the Oceanic Society on an Elderhostel tour.
And I watched her. This woman who was my mother, who was so much more.
For several years I was suspect of this creature.
She started exploring new possible lives… finally landing in Tucson with a community of greenie-left-wing like-minded folk. She started volunteering with a horse rescue. She joined an open-minded church-like group in Tucson.
And then, came the babies.
I know the origin of her deep desire to help those babies. She felt great self-reproach for not being prepared to be a single working mother for her own children. She knew she could not change the past. So she found a way to change the future for children who did not have much of a future. Her dedication to Lily’s Place filled a gaping wound in her heart. And once that wound was filled, her dedication to these infants being weened off addictive drugs, gave her deep personal satisfaction and selflessness. She found herself.
I looked up from my computer screen and nineteen years had passed. Now we spent every Christmas together, no matter where she or I lived. Now we sent each other small tokens of whimsy to let the other know “I see you.” Now we took down our walls and shared our truths with kindness, and less criticism. Now we solved problems together asking each other for help.
One day, just in the last year, it became clear to me, that our roles were changing. I would be taking care of her. I was terrified. I felt inept and unqualified to take on the care of another person… a person with whom I had so much history that included laughter and tears, joy and anger, regret and forgiveness, hatred and love.
How could I ever take care of someone I loved so much and needed me to do a good job?
I tried to talk her out of moving to Los Angeles. And then I placated her and we looked at senior living places together. We were on a new journey. On this journey, I stretched my imagination to allow HER wants to be MY wants FOR her.
And so, we had a plan.
She would sell her home in Tucson. That task took a terrible toll on her. We did not know how ill she was or that she even had a serious disease beyond COPD. I met her in Tucson, we said our farewells to her beautiful friends, community, and Cousin Julia.
She would spend the summer in Huntington, saying goodbye to all her friends, her brother, and her church family. She would stay through mid-September so she could attend her 60th class reunion - which is this weekend.
And then we would move her to Los Angeles. We had a plan.
Within a week of being in Huntington, I knew she would not make it to Los Angeles. Something was terribly wrong.
After a fall and a trip to the emergency room in July, she was admitted to the hospital. And then she was diagnosed. She had this rare neurological autoimmune disease that disrupts messages from the brain to the muscles. My internet research provided vague and inconclusive information.
Except this information that stuck with me:
One day, if not treated aggressively, she would lose the ability to swallow.
The diaphragm would no longer respond to the brain.
We cancelled Los Angeles.
I thought, “This is good, she will stay at the Woodlands, she is with friends. David and I will spend Christmas in Huntington together.”
One week, she was not herself. At the end of that week, she was in the hospital, preparing for a test to evaluate the Myasthenia Gravis.
And then… well, everything went sideways.
As I held her hand through the night of Friday the 13th with a full moon, I thought, “She won’t like dying on such an iconic day, it’s too cliche.”
The next morning she was still breathing, comforted by the arts of the Hospice staff.
Crystal, her incredible compassionate caretaker, and I sat with her.
She was going on a new journey. She was taking flight with a flurry of angel wings lifting her from our earthly tethers and exploring the universe with the great I AM.
But she would not go quietly… nope, not our stubborn pig-headed mule of a mum. The last breath left her body at 9:35 AM. But she was not done. Her heart kept beating for not one or two minutes, but a solid 10-minutes. And then, she let go. Then, she was ready.
Because, that was her way - defiant and determined to experience each and every moment of life in her own way.
I will miss her.