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Me and Mom

Thank you all so much for coming out to honor my mother. Whether you called her Mom, Liz, Elizabeth, Betty Ann, Aunt Betty, Miss Betty or “Toots”, like my dad, you are all here because she touched you in some way.

People often talk about my strength and I am quick to tell them, “Well, if you were in my shoes you would do the same thing, too. You do what you have to in order to survive.” In all honesty, though, I’m not sure if that is entirely true.  a huge part of the reason I am the way I am is because of my mother.

Mommy tried to shield Chrissy and me from the crappy stuff that was going on at home when we were very small. She was a mama bear with her cubs and we were her first priority, no matter how traumatic her own situation was, whether it be the collapse of her first marriage or her first serious bout with cancer when I was just an infant.

My mom knew when we were hurting and needed extra TLC. It was okay to cuddle in her bed to watch Rocky on the little black and white television. Bed times were not a priority – making sure we felt loved and secure was. It was also important to her that we loved each other with all our hearts. Anyone who knows us knows that we are referred to as NicoleandChrissy, as if it is one word. We are as close as two sisters can be. Mom taught us to stick together, and we have all of these years.

My mom picked a stepfather that treated us as though we were her children, every bit as much as his own. Poor Daddy, a single man suddenly had not only a wife but, two ready-made children who, as I mentioned earlier, had been through a lot and were a little lacking in the strict discipline department. He is our dad. We love him as though he is a our natural father. She picked a good man, a solid man and she loved him. That would be my father, Bob. When it didn’t look like Mommy was going to make it, Daddy as assuring her that he would look after his girls, all three of them. He loves us all the same. His heart is breaking for us and ours for him. Daddy and Mommy were soul mates. They just fit, like two pieces of a puzzle. Daddy would go to the moon if he had to get her a soda or a pack of butts. He would do anything in the world for her.

In addition to giving us a wonderful father, together they gave us a beautiful baby sister – go ahead and ask her – she’ll tell you how beautiful she is. We adored her! With her shock of black hair and adorable little smile, always making us laugh, always making us smile. Lori got older. Chrissy and I unclasped our hands for a moment and took hers. Since then, we’ve been a circle of three.

We had a fun mom We were allowed to mess up the house to build forts. We were allowed to pull up the basement rug to roller skate. our kitchen became a Lego Land, with no less than a thousand Legos in every corner of the room. We could make a mess painting. We could have friends over at the house whenever we wanted, and my mom made everyone feel welcome. We certainly didn’t have the biggest house but, there were always kids there. It was a warm and welcoming place.

We would spend lots and lots of time together with mom. And, she was PRESENT.  During the times that she was struggling to get by as a single mother, worrying about things we had no concept of, she was LISTENING when we talked, PAYING attention when we put on our plays and CONCENTRATING when she read to us for hours. Again, she was not just there but PRESENT. I can’t stress how important this was.

My mom always had an awesome ability to make the best out of every situation. Chrissy and I loved to watch her get ready to go out with friends while she blasted her Donna Summer music in the house. I remember how pretty she was with her dancing clothes on. I was so proud that I Had a mother that didn’t just sit and cry in a corner when she got divorced. She refused to settle for the fact that she was going to be sad for the rest of her life. She was young, she was beautiful and she was entitled to be happy. What a wonderful thing to show your little girls. What a beautiful example to set.

My mom was also fair. When we messed up, we paid for it but , she picked her battles wisely. She was, after all, so wise. She really tried to think about how whatever we were going through was affecting us and cut us slack accordingly. I always felt like she had our backs. We came first, no matter what.

My mom also taught us to have a wonderful work ethic. I can’t remember a time when she wasn’t working hard to make sure that her family was provided for. I remember helping her address envelopes at the kitchen table when I was just a kid. She would get us ready for school, work all day, help us with our homework, get dinner made and everything prepared for the next day. After that, she would take all of her paperwork out and work at the kitchen table until all hours of the night. I was truly in awe of her. She seemed to never tire. She worked her way up from the mail room to a professional position due to sheer will, hard work and determination.

Anyone who knows my mom, all of you here, knows she was a true patriot. WE would make fun of her because almost everything she owned had some sort of flag or red, white and blue on it. Her dad served at Iwo Jima and she had a special affinity for the Marines. She was especially proud of my husband, Al, who followed in my grandpa’s footsteps. She loved all of her son-in-laws deeply. She loved to sit on the front deck that Jay built her and enjoy the beautiful trees that Al planted for her. Chris and Mommy loved their talks about finances (LOL) and their trips to Mohegan Sun. She treated them as if they were her own, and she loved them all very much.

My parents sacrificed so that we could have. I found out as I got older, and by accident, things that they had done that I hadn’t even known about so that I could have something I wanted, so that I coud go to the college I wanted to, to that we always felt financially secure. They sacrificed and did for us . And not only did they not expect anything in return except for our best efforts, they never even let us know the sacrifices they made. They truly were an awesome team and wonderful parents.

My mom taught me strength. The first time she was sick, I was too little to understand how bad it was. We were so blessed that she survived and that she was able to be there for me and my sisters. The second time she got sick, I was in college and just devastated. We all were. Despite the fact that it was happening to her, she comforted us. Now I know. I know how scared she was, how she probably felt like screaming and yelling and crying and railing at God but, she stayed calm, and she comforted us. And, then, when she recurred right after I was diagnosed, she took care of me. She was in so much pain but, she cleaned my house and she watched my babies and she talked to me and loved me. She handled the loss of her own parents with grace and class. I hope that I can do the same now.

My mother was selfless. She would give you her last dime if you needed it. She was a wonderful grandparent to her grandkids. She would think nothing of breaking out into a full clog dance in the middle of a store, singing a song at the top of her lungs, if it would make one of her beloved grandchildren laugh. My oldest son told me just the other day that he will have his kids in his twenties just so that his kids can know his “Mimi”. They love her so much. It’s palpable when she is in a room with them. I am so sorry for him that his wish will not come true.

As much as she loved us, her grandchildren were the real loves of her life. She was so proud of all of them and each of them had their own special relationship with her Michael was her first grandson. They loved to talk about anything and everything under the son. They had such a special bond. Jack she called her “comfort baby”. He was the only thing that could make her happy when I was sick. And Gavin, her baby. She taught him everything. She used to say that the kids were so smart because of their Mimi. None of us had anything to do with it.

I always think “What would my mother do?” when I am faced with a situation where I am unsure. It’s a true gift.

My mother’s story of strength and courage has helped to make the lives of other people who were diagnosed with cancer a little easier. She gave them hope and courage. She was a tremendous example of how to live life with a serious disease. For mom, it was not about just going through the motions. My mommy lived, as you all know.

Mom used to say that Chrissy, Lori and I were so different and that each of us had some of her in us. WE have every intention of sticking together and hope that together we can be half the woman she was on her own.

IN addition to her trials and tribulations, she was blessed with a wonderful family, a loving husband, children who adored her and grandchildren that idolized her. I am not sure how we will navigate through this life without her, but I am confident that the strength and courage she has passed to us will not end with the physical loss of her on this earth but, will live on in us through her spirit.

IN the end, Mommy didn’t suffer. She was at peace. I have no doubt that we will meet again. She will be as beautiful and loving as always. Until then, I am saying goodbye to her from Daddy, Al and me, Michael and Jack, Chrissy and Jay, Lori and Chris and Gavin. And, of course, from Hope, Barkley and Brody.

We love you, Mimi, and we always will.

I’m unsure of the author of this poem, but my cousin Cathy sent it to me today, and I think it will bring us all a little comfort:

“I am standing upon the seashore.

A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts

For the blue ocean.

She is an object of beauty and strength.

I stand and watch her until at length

She hangs like a speck of white cloud

Just where the sea and sky come

To mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says:

“There, she is gone!”

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all.

She is just as large in mast and hull

And spar as she was when she left my side

And she is just as able to bear  her

Load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

And just at the moment when someone

At my side says, “There, she is gone!”

There are other eyes watching her coming

And other voices ready to take up the glad

Shout;

“Here she comes!”

And that is dying.

Mommy, go in pace. Your parents, your friends, cousins and everyone that you have loved who have gone before you are waiting. They will keep you until we meet again.

My mom’s favorite expression was “county your blessings”. She certainly did. To honor her memory, I ask that you all go home tonight and do just that.

I love you, Mommy. And I always will.

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