I imagine what life might have been like had Mom been here today.
Perhaps she’d have visited often, sharing an Amaretto rocks and dishing about Hollywood’s leading men, the latest R&B tracks or how my work is going.
“It Will Be” by Jakatta
She would have been a retired hospital supervisor by now, maxing out life as she always did.
She and my dad had loved to travel; their two most storied vacations were month-long cross-country excursions in which they motored out to California by Cadillac.
Mom was a free spirit. Many a home movie shows her mugging for the camera, making some silly face, or perhaps grooving in that typical way of hers that could humble any Dancing with the Stars contestant. She was also a total rocker, as she dyed her hair blond and wore an all-leather black number to meet the Beatles in 1964.
A journal entry describes her brainstorming a way to meet them after their Atlantic City show by presenting Paul McCartney with a guitar-shaped birthday cake.
I still have the newspaper clippings and the autographed souvenirs, one of which is a pack of Peter Stuyvesant cigs, discarded by Paul but cleverly retrieved by my mother. She then requested that he autograph the pack.
She was an attentive, creative and engaging parent. From early childhood education through college, I had a wonderful sense of love and guidance because of all she did.
She decided to pursue a nursing career when I was in grade school, earning her R.N.
It was around that time when she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, and had a radical mastectomy. I was 10 years old; she was just 38.
The disease was never declared to be in remission.
She worked at a local pediatrics practice as well as at the St. Peter’s NICU. In fighting for her life, she craved sharing the joy of new babies, so through sheer determination, earned her Lamaze certification.
She, in her own words, “got to act out all my show-biz fantasies.” Having performed with Connie Francis, a fellow student at Arts High in Newark, she was no stranger to the stage.
Mom’s signature now included “R.N., A.C.C.E” (ASPO Certified Childbirth Educator). ASPO was an acronym for American Society for Psychoprophylaxis in Obstetrics.
She was a dynamic teacher. I got to assist with displays, wearing my own “official” lab coat, during some of her Friday night classes at St. Peter’s Medical Center. Her students, two of whom were “Mr. Nopp” (gym/health teacher at EBHS) and his wife, absolutely loved her.
She provided emotional support and sage advice to friends and family who were expecting.
One such example was her creatively writing a series of letters from “Fetus” to his mother (my cousin Nanette) about the progress of his development. Her son Joe (Fetus) eventually had a couple of “Fetuses” himself.
Meanwhile, Mom assumed more responsibilities at church, serving as Elder, Branch President of Aid Association for Lutherans, and adult choir member, as she had a wonderful voice. She also crocheted booties for the sick people at the nursing home.
We would go out and ‘paint the town’, enjoying a Chinese dinner and a movie and indulging in some girl time. Once, she took me out of school to ride the bus into NYC with her friends to see the King Tut exhibit at the Met. I felt very grown-up to be included.
In addition, Mom was always there for my music lessons, Regional and All-State Orchestra experiences, and school events. She cheered at every audition and performance.
She loved being a band parent, often raising a fist as the EBHS Bear Band took the field at halftime, ignoring the pain beneath her cervical collar. She was the best cabin mom at camp. The cancer continued its merciless mission … and she pressed on with life.
Mom was also offered a fantastic Supervisor position at the hospital, but she generously refused. At this point in her illness, she felt the job should go to someone who would be able to enjoy it long-term.
There is no question that her heart sank when I chose a great undergrad music program at a school eight hours away—but she enthusiastically helped me apply and prepare. She was thrilled one snowy day when I received the acceptance from West Virginia University.
Mom and Dad threw me a blowout Grad party because they knew she wouldn’t live to see the ultimate party—my wedding.
Mom delayed a potentially life-extending operation that summer so she could make sure I got settled at WVU. I am awed to realize that this monumental sacrifice afforded me my independence.
She called and sent letters and care packages. She loved to hear about my friends and college experiences. She was in the hospital one Christmas when she saw me shout “Hi Mom!” on TV with the Mountaineer Marching Band at the Bowl game in Houston.
Her health continued to decline. When I was a sophomore at WVU, I recognized Dad’s handwriting in her letters and I knew.
I am grateful that Mom was able to meet John, my boyfriend at the time, while she was still “well” enough. She noted that she was impressed that he could “engage in intelligent conversation”. Mom was quick as a whip and could handily lick any Jeopardy contender.
Mom and Dad yearned to go on one more trip together. She was floored one night in the spring of 1985 when Dad returned home with $1700 in his pocket. He’d hustled some stranger in a black limo with NY plates on the pool table. Their final vacation was a week in Puerto Rico.
Mom’s health sharply deteriorated in early 1986, when the bones in her back collapsed and paralyzed her. I received an emergency call at WVU that she needed me. John canceled his afternoon classes, gassed up his car and whisked me home, driving the entire 400 mile stretch. That evening, in the hospital room, Mom gave John and me her blessing to be married some day.
I was home on summer break when the end came. By that time, my dad was caring for her 24/7 and attending to every medical and physical need. Fortunately, his boss at the trucking company allowed him the time.
While lying in the hospital bed in our living room, Mom spoke with me about my life plans as well as some ideas for the wedding that she would never attend.
It was disorienting and painful to witness this remarkable person of strength and intellect lose the 9-year struggle. On July 24, 1986 we said goodbye.
Today, and every day, my mind wanders back to those times of innocence as a small child before things changed.
I am grateful for her leadership as I prepared to go to college and clear my own path. I am far richer for having had Mom in my life, if only for a brief 19 years.
I fondly remember my wonderful mom Lucille, and will miss her always. Thank you for everything, Mom.
I love you.
Reflections from Mom’s Nursing School Days
Mom took to the college scene like a gazelle to the prairie, making fast friends of her classmates. She grew especially close to those who were of her own generation, and had kids around my age. These friendships lasted through the end of Mom’s life.
Well done, Mom. You will be remembered and loved throughout the lives of all who were touched by your grace, sense of humor, faith, and can-do spirit.