The Last Piece of Pie, a Tribute to Mom
Jeff’s mother passed away in July after a cancer diagnosis. More than 500 people attended her memorial service. She changed every life she touched. JVH
Our worst fears are confirmed. The back pain isn’t back pain. Mom has pancreatic cancer and the punch out date has entered the radar field. How fortunate I have been to have my mother in my life for so many years. She is closing in on 90, and is still as sharp as a tack, well, maybe her tack is a little blunt sometimes, but whose isn’t and how it got blunt is another article for another time.
I’m the youngest of five children, a surprise pregnancy, and I’m the second one to come out of the womb that day, behind my identical twin brother Steve. While Steve was unplanned, I was a complete and total surprise to my parents. The day that they left for the hospital for the birth of Steve, they only planned on returning home with one additional family member, they came home with two, one for each.
I think bucket lists are created by the world and for the world to measure success. The idea is, if I get these items checked off during my lifetime, I’ve achieved, I was relevant. I don’t agree. On my bucket list will be something more like this, and I think Mom would agree.
When I walk into a room, people smile
When I speak, I’m worth listening to
If I wrote a book, people would buy it
I took chances
I never ate the last piece of pie
I didn’t see the Eiffel Tower, but I make a mean grilled cheese sandwich
The Father’s Day card was true
Mom’s list is quite amazing. She raised five children in a time when automatic dishwashers were just beginning to happen. We had a black and white TV with no air conditioning (for a while), no iPhones or tablets to keep the kids quiet. We didn’t have “traveler” shirts; everything needed to be ironed.
She had dinner on the table every night. The rare occasion was a “hoagie” at K-Mart, or a burger at Winkey’s. Mom is loyal, faithful, and loving. She makes us laugh and makes us cry. When we disobeyed or dishonored her, it hurt us more than it hurt her. She got to see Barbra Streisand in person before she nutted out (Barbra, that is). She saw Frank Sinatra and even rode in an elevator with Joe Frazier in Las Vegas, fur coat and all.
Mom didn’t go to college, as it was rare in her day for a woman to do so. Through a variety of outside influences, mom staged an internal personal battle that many of us also suffer and seem challenged to gain victory over. Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t consume her, but it did show up.
It was important for her that we knew that she was intelligent, relevant, and valuable. College doesn’t make a person. Actually, I believe mankind encourages too much identity to come from academics and not enough from true personal character, fairness and general good will of a person.
My father is a brilliant unschooled engineer. My mother is brilliant at whatever she attempts. Financial wealth, publishing a book, being a professor at a notable university, or running a sub four-minute mile, none of these are a litmus test of a person’s value.
Don’t get me wrong, they are amazing accomplishments that should be lauded, but in reality, they are really personal achievements that individuals need to do to complete what they feel is necessary in their life and they are not meant for us to compare our lives to.
Our worth, our true value, comes from how well we love others. If you can’t love others, no worldly achievement will make up for your shortcomings. I want mom to know that she is everything to us and that she loved well.
My mother is made in the exact image of God and is perfectly made. Mom is the “bomb”. She never thought she was pretty, but she carries herself like a Hollywood star. To know her is to love her.
Given a death sentence and choosing not to fight against the evil illness that is in your body is akin to defeating the disease, from my perspective. We are supposed to cower to the capital C. Not mom.
She says, “bring it on!”
Mom lived a full and good life. It wasn’t all happy and it wasn’t all sad. She endured countless pains and struggles, but always seemed to rise to the occasion and make herself available to others in so many unimaginable ways.
I think it is just as I would have expected my mother to do, accept the disease, but not let it kill her spirit. Death and disease are categorically evil, but if we take our blinders off, they can be the true mark of a person.
We talk and talk until we are blue in the face about living through adversity and how it can benefit the human spirit, but until we are face to face with our own mortality, it’s really just conjecture. I’m proud of mom. She is living life to the fullest and facing the end with courage, purpose, and dignity.
I’m going to miss my mother. But I’m also going to be ever so thankful to have been given so many wonderful years with someone who shares and initiated my zest for life. Mom is the DNA explanation for who I am.
How would I handle facing the end of my days if I were in mom’s shoes? I know I wouldn’t go to Disneyland. I think I would just start looking around to see what I need to be grateful for. My wife, Ruth, put an empty book out in our house a few years ago with the title, I’m Grateful For: Then blank spaces and a pen to fill in the blanks. We didn’t take it seriously, the kids and me. I think I’ll go home and pull it back out and add: I’m grateful for Mom! I love you, Mom!