February 24, 1939 is one of the most important days that I know. Why? February 24, 1939 is my mom’s birthday. What is the saddest day of my life? Not only do I know the day, I know the time: 9:27pm. January 31, 2019 at 9:27pm my mom passed away. Today, February 4, 2019, I took the day-off from my high school music teaching job. I am glad I did. With the passing of my mom, I feel very weird / strange. I want to share with you what I remember of my mom and how weird / strange I feel.
Mom had a tough life. No tougher than anyone else. She had two arms / two hands / two legs / ten toes. She never needed to worry about life-threatening cancer. I think she may have had a “spot” or two on her skin. Yet, she had demons: alcohol; food; pills.
Mom was a “classic” alcoholic. When mom’s dad was killed on the USS INDIANAPOLIS on July 30, 1945, she was six years-old. In 1945, no one really knew PTSD. People understood that those coming back home from war or losing family members from the war led to some troubling behavior / actions. My grandmother, whom I never met, was extremely distraught by the death of her husband. Commander Flynn was loved by many people, including the men on the USS INDIANAPOLIS. To lose such an honorable / compassionate / charismatic man would hurt any wife and their family! Our grandmother would ease her pain through smoking and alcohol.
Back then, officers in the military were treated quite well. They had a lovely home, in this case, on Mare Island. Mom told us they had some sort of maid / caretaker in the home. Ate fantastic meals. It was a good life. Well, as soon as you are not connected to the military for whatever reason, all of that is gone within the first six-months of the person being out of the military.
My grandmother could not recover from the pain – losing both the husband she loved and the support of the United States government. She would need to have support from her sister, Ruth, and Ruth’s husband, Rear Admiral W.P. Schoeni. The relationship between my grandmother and great-aunt Ruth was a classic codependency relationship. If it was not for the support from my great-aunt Ruth and her husband, my mom, her sister and their mother would have been even more of a disaster.
Due to the loss of her father at the age of six years-old, I believe played a critical role in my mom’s life. A role that would lead her to be an alcoholic like her mom, as well as, her being dependent on her sister – my aunt. When mom and dad divorced in the early 1970s, our aunt took us into her 900 square-foot, one bedroom, and one-bathroom home in Carmel. Like my great-aunt Ruth, my aunt Anne would “save” her sister, Carleen, and her three children. By the way, the house grew like a human habit-trail! Five bedrooms and three baths. Our aunt did a fantastic job managing her funds to add on to her home. VERY IMPRESSIVE.
How bad an alcoholic was mom? BAD! I found empty alcohol bottles under my bed. Her favorite drink? TAB AND VODKA. A wicked combination. How do I know? Well, like many young children, soda was a treat. I would sneak a sip of that wicked combination and my mom would FREAK! I remember it tasting awful and burning my throat. She was caught drunk at work. When she was crossing the “street” – not just any street…Highway ONE, she was hit by a CHP patrol car. She would later admit she was drunk and being hit by the CHP patrol car happened in the morning. Mom was in a “detox” center for one month. That was a bad experience. Some forty-years later, I still remember we (three children and our aunt) going to a “therapy” session. The “alcoholics” were sitting in a circle. We had to stand behind our “alcoholic” and share with the group how much his / her alcoholism hurt our family. AWFUL EXPERIENCE!
Since 1984 – the year I graduated from high school, mom would proudly be sober. But, an addict will find another addiction.
Mom battled her weight through much of her life. She was a WEIGHT WATCHERS “LIFER.” She would join. Leave. Join. There was a great time when mom lost over 100 pounds thanks to Weight Watchers. She was getting her crap together and we were enjoying that “version” of our mom. But, then all of the sudden, she would gain almost all of the weight back. Little self-discipline.
Vicodin was her choice of pills. Mom experienced much pain in her life and the Vicodin helped ease that pain. The pain was physical, but it would also be emotional / psychological. She did not do what she needed to do to completely recover by being hit by the CHP patrol car. In 2000, mom nearly died from SEPSIS! She was never able to walk on her own. Now, if she had the self-discipline she could have “fully” recovered from having Sepsis. But, again, for whatever reason, mom did not work hard enough to “fully” recover.
Now, I gave you the “evils” of mom. ALL OF US HAVE EVIL. ALL OF US HAVE SIN. ALL OF US CAST A SHADOW. But, there is no other mom who worked as hard to raise three children.
I will share with you what mom did for me and KNOW FOR SURE, she did as much for my two sisters.
Mom was a “Den Mother.” She did a great job with some “raucous” little Cub Scouts. She took her “job” very seriously. Had snacks organized and planned. Did a great job helping all the boys be prepared for their next step: Webelo. Great job getting creative arts planned and enjoyed.
Mom loved giving BIRTHDAY parties! When I saw my friend Craig at his WONDERFUL RESTAURANT: First Awakenings; right across the street from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. HIGHLY RECOMMEND First Awakenings. Craig told me he still remembers the “Start Trek” birthday party.
Our mom had a friend’s (Kim) mom make some amazing “themed” cakes for each birthday.
Little League Baseball. Mom would attend every game possible. She volunteered to work at the snack shack. We didn’t have a car. So, to and from games and / or practices, we would take transit bus or do the two-point-five-mile walk. Occasionally, we would get a ride. Mom played catch with me. Help me with batting practice.
Her love for Disneyland. I believe as a family we went to Disneyland at least three times. When I was an adult we took mom to Disneyland with the Tokay High School band trip as a chaperone!
Music! Oh, my goodness! Talk about the consummate BAND MOM. Mom was it. From third grade until end of college, mom would attend my concerts. In 1982, I was selected for “America’s Youth in Concert.” A national group that would tour Europe. I was a sophomore in high school. Would be my first time… FIRST TIME … spending the night away from home. Yes. First time spending the night away from home was a three-week-tour! Mom busted her ASS in raising the $3,000. My mom worked as a waitress and then was a secretary for a local high school. WE DIDN’T HAVE $3,000. So there is mom and my two sisters doing bake sales. Mom writing solicitation letters for contributions.
Then, when I was accepted to the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA, mom would get on a Greyhound Bus in Monterey and go to Stockton for concerts / visits. The Greyhound Bus trip would be around four hours…including all the tops!
When, I had my first job at Tokay High School, mom was helping prepare meals for our band camp at Carmel High School. She would come up to Lodi for concerts.
When, I was at The York School in Monterey, there was mom again attending concerts. Beaming with pride.
And mom would keep-up that beautiful support until she succumbed to Sepsis, which would make it’s occasional appearance.
So, mom was a FANTASTIC / AWESOME / WONDERFUL mom. Her positives really outweighed the negatives. Yes. As I gave you, the negatives were ROUGH. Do not want to “gloss” over them, but my goodness … the love she gave her three children – NO ONE COULD GIVE MORE.
As a mother-in-law, mom showed her love to Lee and my wife, Diana. Christmas cards. Birthday cards. Always wanted to give Lee and Diana the “perfect gift.” She disdained the idea of gift cards. So, she would ask me, “What does Diana want for Christmas?” Or, “What does Diana want for her birthday?” She did her best to not be the “interfering” mother-in-law.
And as a grandmother?!? Just as FANTASTIC / AWESOME / WONDERFUL. My mom has two grandsons and two granddaughters. Mom did all she could to show “balanced” love for all four grandchildren. Something very important to her. She did the same thing with her three children. She did her best and did it well to make sure all four grandchildren were treated EQUALLY special. Lots of hugs. Lots of kisses. “Perfect” gifts. Going to events whenever possible.
Today is day five since mom passed away. What is sinking in is, “I am no longer a son.” What a strange feeling to not be a son any longer. I am living long enough to “lose” roles. I loved being mom’s son. I loved to make mom smile. I loved making her proud. I loved to surprise here with a card / a visit / a meal. Now, no more of those opportunities and what a strange feeling. As goes the saying, “you don’t know what you have until you have it no more.”
Mom … I love you. I appreciated everything you did for me. You made tremendous sacrifices for us to have some sort of positive memories from our childhood. You taught me that being interdependent is more important than being independent. As humans / as animals, we need other people! We cannot be great by ourselves. Others are needed to help us be great and mom, you taught me that important ethic.
I will miss you physically here. What I will not miss is every opportunity to continue to make you proud of mom. Mom, I do believe you will be watching me from afar. You did a great job mom and you can see that in how your daughters rallied around you at the end of your life and how all of us supported one another to get through your passing. To Live. To Learn. To Leave A Legacy. You were able to do all three. Thank you.