Mom’s Jingles

I come from a musical family. Simple, home grown kind of musical, nothing professional. Mom also grew up surrounded by music. She, her three siblings, and her parents all have beautiful singing voices. My parents and I used to sing a lot during road trips to pass the time: lots of Sound of Music, John Denver, My Fair Lady, and church hymns. Three family favorites were Getting to Know You, High Hopes, and Today

Mommy had song coming out of her pores. Sometimes I felt like she thought in music. She used to make up little jingles and sing them throughout the day. Here are a few I remember (of course it would be more interesting if you could hear the melody. Maybe one day I’ll record them):

Joomi Joomi koko bop Joomi Joomi bop…

Let’s go, let’s go, let’s, really go! Let’s go, let’s go, let’s, really go! (this one was more like a chant)

It’s time to get up, its time to get up, its time to get up this mooorning! (I think she thought she was easing the blow of getting me up by singing a happy little tune, but this used to drive me crazy! ☺️)

Focus, focus, and no hocus pocus, hey! Focus, focus… (I think she got this from her high school cheerleading squad or something)

I burst into song a lot, too. Singing makes me feel alive. And I’ve totally been making up my own funny jingles as I stroll along this path of raising my silly little snickerdoodles.

Miss your pretty voice, Mama! I feel you when I sing. I love that I exude song like you did. I’m just like you! 😊


Blueridge Mountains. Taken during one of our trips to North Carolina. (We used to love Country Roads too!)

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Two Years

On November 26th, two years had officially passed since mom died. A group of friends and family went to her gravesite and had a small ceremony- sang, prayed, read devotional. We brought her some beautiful flowers and her favorite foods. (You’re the only person I’ll ever bring myself to make liver and onions for, mama!)

Mom was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2003, when I was 14. She underwent her prescribed chemotherapy and had a hysterectomy, and was later considered in remission. I was not a good daughter that year – too consumed in my own selfish desires and concerns. I remember feeling lost at 14 for many reasons, not knowing clearly what was up and what was down, and what I really wanted. Deep down, I’m sure I wanted to help my mom and be close to her, especially when she was suffering so much, but I felt so detached and disconnected from her – emotionally, for sure, but almost to the point of feeling physically detached. She was getting thinner every day, throwing up constantly, but I generally helped her get to the bathroom or brought her what she needed quickly, and then went about my business, often alone in my room. I do remember going with her to shop for wigs a couple times. There was one instance when her hair was growing back, but she couldn’t tell it was her hair. Her natural hair is red (them Irish genes!), but after chemo, when it started to slowly grow back, it was more brown (mixed with some white and gray). She had been scrubbing her head over and over and she finally said to me in exasperation, “I can’t get my head clean!”. I looked at her head closely and said, “That’s hair, mom.” My heart hurt for her in that moment. I should have been warmer, more tender. Given her a hug and told her she was so strong, I was so proud of her, and everything was going to be ok. But it was too awkward and unnatural; I just didn’t talk to my mom like that. It wasn’t until several years later that I became open and genuine and loving with her. Thank God I finally did, though!

Looking back, my parents and I should have all been more diligent about getting regular checkups after her initial treatment and “clearance” so to speak. At the beginning of 2014, she complained of a cough that never went away no matter how much cough medicine she took. After much persistence and several second opinions, they finally had her take CAT scans. Sure enough. Lung cancer. I asked my mom the year she passed, when she was going back to the hospital and getting opinions from doctors about what to do for her Stage IV cancer, “How did we not catch this earlier?” Apparently, in 2010, she did see a doctor who told her to go back through chemo, but she was hesitant (who knows what planet I was on) and swept it under the rug until she forgot. How could she just forget? Believe me, it’s possible. More on Huntington’s Disease later.

I cried a lot that weekend, even into last week. It’s just a lot to take in sometimes. I mean it’s a simple thing; it’s a death. But with death comes so many layers of emotions you never even knew you had.

C called me on November 26th. Of course she did. She left the kindest, most poignant voicemail. All the simple things I needed to hear. I would expect no less from her. I got back in touch with her a few days later and something she said really touched me. I was explaining that it’s still hard living day to day without my mom and I think about her and miss her often, but overall, in my every day life, I feel a sense of calm and joy and appreciation. Like everything’s going to be ok. I just think about what I have (and who I have) and I feel so incredibly grateful, which naturally leads to a serenity and a happiness that just bubbles out of me. I asked her if that was a good thing or a bad thing. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure. I mean I don’t want to be this idealistic, head in the clouds person (I KNOW I have issues. My husband and I, we have our struggles. We have our shadows). What C said to me gave me a warm hug right through the phone. She said “That is an AMAZING attitude. Don’t ever change that.” Leave it to C to just know me to my core and know with such confidence that I’m a good person.

A lot of what keeps me so happy is little (or big) meetups with good friends! I’m getting ready for my first cookie exchange tomorrow! So excited! Not really gunning for any of the prizes as I’m a totally amateur cookie maker, but just looking forward to mingling with all the girls!

Mama, I know you’ll be there in spirit! I think you’re part of why I feel ok. I think you’re embracing me. I think you watch over me and the kids more than we remember. While you were here, I was the one constantly telling you everything was going to be ok. You had a lot of doubt and fear. I don’t think you have that anymore. And I think you want me to know that. That you’re free and happy and you’re here for me. And that everything really is going to be ok.

Year and a Half Point

We had a little memorial service for our loved ones at our Manhattan church last Sunday. About 30 people came and stood at the front of the chapel and shared briefly their memories about their parent, spouse, sibling, grandparent, or child who’d passed.

I would say I was about 12th or 13th in line. I was the first one who cried (leave it to me!) I can’t seem to get through much public speaking without tearing up (I speak mostly for youth services at my church in Queens). Something about hearing my voice saying the words out loud? Who knows.

It’s funny how I forget just how fragile I am. How I keep going through the motions of every day and I forget that I still have a lot of pain juuust beneath the surface. I’ve been brought to tears by a whole list of random topics, but most times, it’s when I start talking about God or my mom.

It’s been a year and 29 weeks and I still feel so raw.

It’s not just mom. There are other things that have been chipping away at my emotional armor over time. I guess my mom passing away just brought out a lot of the emotions I got so good at hiding.

Sometimes I feel selfish. Or ashamed. Because people have gone through way worse than I have.

I really miss her though. I find myself wanting to go back to places we’ve been together as if somehow my presence in those places might bring her back to me. As if somehow memories of her are floating around in those places and perhaps I can catch a glimpse of her in the form of a gentle breeze brushing across my cheek or a warm ray of sunshine on my shoulder.

flower-fields-7.jpg

I lie awake some nights just confused. What do I feel? What do I want out of life? (Dramatic much?!) It’s funny to think about who you really are. Do you really know? And people are always changing right? So if you change, are you still you? I guess that’s the beauty of being human.

Welp! That ends my philosophical discussion for tonight! I’ll leave you to ponder these existential questions into the wee hours of the morning…

Mom and the Simple Things

I haven’t written as much about my mom here as I had originally hoped. Probably mostly because when I write about my mom, I want to take a lot of time, effort and deliberation, so as to make my writing worthy of her. To do her justice; to make her proud. Maybe also because part of me still subconsciously blocks out her memory so as to avoid the pain. A defense mechanism. I’m kind of an expert on blocking out pain, actually.

But a woman as special as her deserves to be remembered. I took some time over the past few weeks to jot down things I remember about her. Just everyday, simple little tidbits. Character traits, mannerisms, habits of hers.

Mommy always wanted to take family pictures. It used to get on my dad’s nerves a lot (maybe he felt like we were drawing too much attention to ourselves). The constant asking friends (or strangers) to take our picture embarrassed me once in a while, too, but I normally just humored her. And now, each picture I have of the three of us together is infinitely precious to me. I appreciate them all. In fact, sometimes I wish she had pestered us to take even more. She is glowing in each of them, obviously thrilled to be (wherever, whenever) with my dad and I. She was very photogenic. Her sweet, childlike smile came completely naturally.

Mom loved chocolate (THAT’S where I got it! Mystery solved!). She could hardly ever pass this one particular ice cream shop near her house without buying a chocolate cone. She was always eager to share, though, especially with me. She would hand the whole thing over if I so much as half glanced at it. Sometimes, she would offer to buy me a second. She was like that with many things.

Mama always wanted me to eat. She was worried about me being so skinny (I just have a fast metabolism. It’s in my genes!). She would ask me about twelve times a day if I was hungry. She wasn’t really an adventurous cook, but she had a few staple dishes she liked to make: meatloaf, baked potatoes and corn, tuna sandwiches, deviled eggs, chicken soup, beef stew, beef stroganoff, Asian style fish and steak, chili, salads. And we always had rice in the rice cooker of course (no Asian – or half Asian – house is complete without it!)

Grandma loved her grandbabies. She spent a lot of time over at our place watching T during the first year or so. Taking walks, reading stories, singing songs, laughing, hugging, rocking him to sleep. When Y was born, Grandma was essentially bedridden, and she couldn’t get up and play with her. At least she got to smile at her, touch her cheeks, tell her she loved her, lay next to her, take a nap with her.

I still regret not spending just a few more days per week with Grandma. Maybe even every day. If I had known exactly when the end would be, I would have packed my bags and stayed by her side until then. I remember one night thinking about the future and what would be the best arrangement for her. I considered asking my husband if she could move in with us. We barely had time to give that a second thought. Too little, too late, as they say. Sometimes, I wonder if she felt like she was a burden to us. That maybe we would just breathe easier if we didn’t have to worry about her. I wonder if she felt that maybe the most considerate thing she could do was to let go. I tried to encourage her, support her, love her up as much as I could, but I could always have done more.

I believe in an afterlife. I always have. It just doesn’t make sense to me that people would go for so long learning, growing, loving, and bonding; building these beautiful relationships over time, just to have them ultimately disappear into nothingness; blown to smithereens for eternity. If God is our loving and intelligent Parent and Creator, which I believe that He is, he would never intend for things to just end.

So, this is my redemption. This is why I have hope. I’ll see my mother again. And when I do, I’ll tell her all the things I wish I had said, do all the things with her I wish I had done, and make a million new memories. Pure, powerful, blissful, fearless memories.

Mommy

When I was little, I called my mom Mommy. At some point, I decided Mommy didn’t sound cool enough and I needed to graduate to calling her Mom. I don’t think I was the only one out there that thought this was a rite of passage. With my newfound coolness came an aloofness. I was uncomfortable being seen with my mom too much, I shuddered when she called me her “baby”, and I quite disrespectfully pushed her away (physically and emotionally) when she told me to put more clothes on.

Thankfully, this phase didn’t last long and I came back around. And, of course, there she was, patiently waiting with open arms (both figuratively and literally). A mother’s love is so unconditional; no matter how cruelly her children may treat her at times, she retains nothing but love. (I dread the day my own daughter will yell at me from across the room, “I hate you!”, but I know the day will come. I remember doing this impulsively out of desperation, of course not really meaning it and instantly regretting it every time, but too proud to retract anything.)

One of many little memories.

I’ve been playing memories on repeat recently. Just random ones, whichever ones I can gather. The saddest part of grief, for me, is the feeling that my mother is slipping away. Obviously, her physical body has already slipped away, but I so wish that I could hold onto her memory completely and absolutely. When she died, I wanted to freeze for eternity everything I remembered and everything I felt about her. The way I knew her then, I wanted to know her forever. But that’s just not how brains work, is it? It’s been 15 months and my memories are already fading. I feel like I’m squinting at the blackboard at the front of a huge classroom. Maybe I’m just being dramatic (That happens from time to time). It’s not that I’m forgetting everything. I remember almost everything…vaguely. Some memories are clearer than others. Bits and pieces are crystal clear.

I have found myself on occasion straining to remember what her voice sounds like. Then desperately clicking through old videos to remind myself.

One night, in particular, I remember. Someone had asked me that day what my favorite flower was. It used to be irises; now it’s roses. I’m fickle. And then my thoughts wandered to my mother, as they often do, and it dawned on me that I didn’t know what her favorite flower was. It stabbed me in the heart like a knife that I couldn’t ask her.

I suppose I’ll have to write that one down on my list of questions to ask her in a hundred years.

That Song Reminds Me of My Mom

There’s a lovely little song that comes on on our baby swing.

It hasn’t a name that I know of. To me, it’s just “My Favorite Baby Swing Song”. It’s childish, unsophisticated, and about 30 seconds long. It plays in that familiar, tinkling music box kind of a way.

Songs have a way of engraving certain memories on our hearts. Imprinting specific experiences in our minds. This little lullaby brings me back to when I was a first time mom. The first few blissful, yet frightening months. Ecstatic to have a beautiful new blessing in my life, yet constantly worried about what I may be doing wrong. That time period is all a bit fuzzy in my mind, mainly because I was half asleep for most of it.

I do, however, remember clearly something beautiful my mother did then. She packed her bags and stayed at our apartment for a few weeks to help me take care of the baby (as perhaps many other mothers and mothers in law out there do). She happily giggled and cooed with him. She readily woke up to comfort him, so that I could sleep. What made this time truly beautiful, though, is the way she so obviously trusted in my ability as a mother. The way she never second guessed anything I said about myself or my baby. The way she quietly, gracefully supported me.

My mother wasn’t much of a “talker”. She said what needed to be said, but she didn’t go on for very long. I spent a lot of time in silence with her. This is one thing that stands out in my mind about her. The way I felt comforted, encouraged, and loved throughout the silence. She made it clear throughout the years how much she adored me and how in her eyes, I could do no wrong. Certain things changed about her as she started showing more signs of Huntington’s Disease, but in the moments in which she had complete clarity and her true self could shine through, I felt the same unconditional love and support. I held on for dear life to the real her, as I know she was doing.

It wasn’t Huntington’s Disease that took her life in the end. It was an even crueler being: Cancer. That’s a story for another day.

Every time I hear this playful, gentle lullaby, bittersweet nostalgia envelops me. I’ll have to record it somewhere so that I can listen to it after our baby swing days are gone. My mother left a void in my heart and in my life, but I refuse to let it taint my faith, my hope and my happiness and excitement for the future. She may not be around physically anymore, but she lives on through me. Now, when I hold my second blessing, my little girl, I hold her not just for myself, but also for my mama.

Let the Blogging Begin

Way back when, life was simple. I didn’t have a worry in the world. All I needed was my mom, my dolls and a handful of gummy bears. And I was good. I was happy. And so that must have meant everyone was happy. Of course, being 5 years old, the spectrum of my mind didn’t reach all that far, so as far as I was concerned, all was well in the world. Ah, those were the days.

And then there was that first summer I spent out of the country. South Korea to be exact. A retreat of sorts. Recovering from my very first heartbreak, yet surprisingly and refreshingly hopeful. I met such a variety of people and they were all wonderful. I remember the spontaneous birthday party and outburst of song, and the random showering of simple gifts throughout the day. And meeting R! The most genuine, most hilarious girl I had ever met up until that point. How we sang and we laughed and we cried. Aw man, THOSE were the days.

And who could forget those couple of years I lived with the 8 people who became my best friends of all time? The most accepting, caring, and exciting bunch I’ve ever known. The house was always noisy and bustling – so different from my household growing up. Never before or since then have I ever felt more comfortable in my own skin and so fully free to express myself. And the best part was: every day was just downright FUN! Gosh, those were REALLY the days!!

It’s easy for us to look back on times in our lives that we remember as happier/easier/less stressful/more fun. Andy Bernard said in The Office, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in “The Good Ol’ Days” before you’ve actually left them.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Maybe THESE are the days, the ones we’ll miss. Maybe in 2 years, 5 years or 10 years, we’ll look back on these very days that we are in the midst of with that same longing in our hearts.

So, for that reason, I start this blog. This blog is a reminder to myself and my way of saying to the world that I am grateful for now. I vow to appreciate the here and now, though it’s not always easy. A couple of sub-reasons, if you will, are: 1- to give myself something to do to decompress after a long day of running around after 2 toddlers, and 2- to honor my Mother who passed away exactly one year ago, today. How exactly is this honoring my mother? Simply because I dedicate this entire blog to her and for that reason, every time I write, I will think of her. And if someone along the way is moved or tickled by something I write, I will take comfort in knowing that it is all in her name. I foresee this blog consisting of a good balance of humor (cause Lord knows we mamas need a sense of humor to keep up going) and depth (should I have any profound inspirations to share). Anyone who decides to come along for the ride, I am so happy to have you.

*EDIT* Mom passed away one year ago yesterday, November 26th. When I published this, I hadn’t yet figured out the proper time zone setting.