"i got a story to tell...."--Biggie Smalls
It's odd: I miss my mother every single day, though the pain has no doubt lessened year by year. In laymen's terms, now only sad movies--or let's face it, commercials--tear me up.
My mother was a rare kind of woman they really don't make anymore--and I say that sincerely. She was born in December 1949 and graduated high school at the age of 16. She moved out of her parents' home at 18 to "the city" and took care of herself, working hard, until she met my father ten years later. All she wanted in life was to be married and have children. She was the kind of woman that women today look down on because they don't have any goals outside the home, but when I think of my mom I think of how awesome she was at her job of being a mother. She breathed, ate, and slept it and was phenomenal. She loved God. While she'd been raised Baptist, when I was small child she took an extra interest in the Bible and started taking a ministry class at church for greater understanding. She had great faith. We prayed together every night.
She took such ridiculously good care of my father and I--cooked every meal we ate (and was an amazing cook), meticulously washed and pressed all of our clothes (even the underwear), was the library volunteer parent at my school, my room parent who organized the holiday parties and birthday celebrations, my girl scout troop leader, and in the PTA. She and my father were faithful volunteers with the homeless ministry at church and my mother also with the Border Babies ministry she loved, where a group of women would go hold the abandoned babies at the local hospital while they were waiting for homes to be placed in. She kept our house spotless and beautiful at all times--it was a big joke in our extended family that Bonnie would be up until midnight cleaning her house every night and would start calling people at 11 to entertain her while she cleaned, not caring whether they were sleep or not. She cultivated my love of music by starting my piano lessons at the age of six and making sure I got a gorgeous upright piano. When I went to camp every Summer, my mom would start mailing letters before I left so that I would get letters every single day I was away, including my first day there ("My Dear Ashleigh, you're still here and I miss you already. Your dad is laying here sleep while I write this letter---and has the nerve to be snoring. Loud too!!"). She encouraged me in everything I did and put everything she had inside of me to make sure I had all the opportunities in the world and the confidence to back them up. My mom and I spent most of our waking moments together. We ran errands together, we read at night together, we made tacos together every Saturday night while watching the Golden Girls on the TV in the kitchen. We made Christmas desserts for people on the holidays while playing Nat King Cole. We even took baths together. We made each other laugh and I never, ever doubted that I was the absolute best thing in her life. She was the best thing in mine.
As a last resort in 1990, my mom had a then-highly experimental bone marrow transplant at Duke University about 18 months before she died. She and my father had to move away to North Carolina and leave me with relatives for four months because the surgery and the subsequent process would leave her without much memory, strength, or immunity. She would be in ICU for months afterwards. I begged her not to leave, but I remember my mother bursting into tears in the TCBY parking lot and telling me that she wanted to live to see me get married and to see my children and that's why she had to go. I went to visit them in North Carolina one time, over Christmas. My father was living in an apartment not far from the hospital. They'd let her out of ICU for the holidays on a trial basis. My mother looked like a totally different person--her gorgeous hair was gone again, she was about 10 shades darker from radiation, and she was painfully thin. She went with me to the lounge on her floor and I played the piano for her because that always made her happy at home. When I was done, I turned around and she looked surprised. "You play the piano?" she asked.
My mother died in 1993 after a very long illness that began when I was 18 months old with a mastectomy. The fact that she was able to be the woman, wife, and mother that she was while heavily battling cancer for 9 years is astounding to me. I have tried to put it into words, my feelings about her, many times--through song, poetry, and prose, and I can never quite express just how peerless she was to me. She wasn't perfect. I don't ever want to make her a saint because she *was* super BIC like every other woman in my family--she had a temper, she was dramatic, and she would curse you out on a dime over her family--or on a bad day, over a parking space (in the parking lot at the mall). She habitually lied to my father about her shopping habits and made me lie, too ("don't you tell your dad we were at the mall today"); sneaking out to her trunk to bring in bags after my dad was asleep. She doled out whoopins like candy to her only child who struggled with a major 'backtalk' jones. But, she was my best friend. No one has ever and I don’t think anyone ever will love me like she did.
My father and I were always close, but of course we got much closer after my mother's death. We were a new team with new starting players, and we had to get to know each other without my mother in the middle making everything perfect. But one of the most amazing things my mother ever did was choose my father. Everything from the time she married him to the day she died, she did for me. I consider it the highest blessing that the only things my mother ever wanted that she didn't get was to see me grow up. She had an incredible life filled with love, travel, joy, romance, family, and faith.
And still, I can't wait to properly honor the woman she was. Not just with the family I raise myself, but in the world. This is only a start.