Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Happy Birthday Cheli!

The following is what I wrote for my mom's eulogy.  I told you I'd post it and today is her birthday, so here it is!  I cannot even explain to you how much I am missing her today. 

My Mom has always been larger than life to me, which is why I think I don’t really believe that this is all true yet.  4 weeks later, I still can’t begin to imagine a life without my mom in it.  My mom was interesting, generous, loyal and really, really funny.  What I will miss most about her is her sense of humor.  My mom could deliver a one liner like only one other person I know, my son, Aidan.  I feel very lucky that I have him to remind me of her every day.  He was the light in her life and the closest I’ve ever been to being her favorite.  Erin may be nicer, but I produced the grandchildren!
 I’m sure my mom would have been as important to me with a dad around, but without one, here’s what I know; your mom becomes everything.  She was Mom, Dad, bike fixer, lawn mower, killer of mice, source of food.  You name it, my mom did it on her own, well maybe with an occasional assist from her Dad, but you get the picture.  Until my mom was hospitalized this last time, I had never gone more than a week in my entire life without talking to her and that was only because she wouldn’t let me call her in Europe.  Even when we weren’t getting along I spoke to my mom at least once a day and more likely 5 times.  Just ask anyone who ever worked at St. Paul Federal; I called a lot.  I’m 40, I can still tell you the phone number, 963-7575. 
 My mom and I had what you might call a complicated relationship.  Not all of it was pretty, but all of it was real.  Fights which flared up quickly passed in an instant.  Love, humor and a sense of home never wavered.  My Mom could make a cardboard box feel like a home.  My brother and I never understood why our friend’s bedrooms were so ugly, why were they so plain?  Why didn’t they have a 5 foot Ziggy painted on their wall with matching decoupaged storage or a crystal chandelier and hand-made desk in their rooms?  Well, it turns out it was because Cheli wasn’t their mom, she was ours.  Lucky us.

I think most people would assume that my mom was an extrovert, but a select few of us knew differently.  My Mom was really introverted.  She struggled to feel comfortable in a crowd and I’ve always thought as a coping mechanism she developed this way of just bringing you in so that she wasn’t alone.  Really bringing you in.  You could have a 5 minute conversation with her and know her enough to truly call her a friend.  She just had this open, here’s who I am, take it or stick it quality that drew people to her in droves.  My mom’s heart was huge. 
I was certainly not immune to it.  I have intense memories of just thinking my mom was this magical person, the smartest, the most beautiful, the coolest.  She made the most mundane things exciting.  I remember when I was 5, it was our first St. Patrick’s day in these awful apartments after my parents divorce, I’m pretty sure I wanted a shamrock shake from McDonald’s and I’m fairly certain my mom couldn’t afford one.  My mom poured plain white milk into a glass and up came bright green milk; magic.  She was always doing things like that. To me, my mom was always more magical than Walt Disney and Santa Claus.  She worked a lot, she did it totally on her own with not a penny of child support, so any time we got to spend with her was well worth the wait.
Even at five, I knew my Mom was something special, she always captured the room.  I don’t think my Mom every thought of herself as the prettiest girl in the room, but wow, she had this something that just stopped people in their tracks.  It was amazing to watch. You could literally watch people fall under her spell, it wasn’t always the easiest thing to live up to, but I wouldn’t have given it up for the world.  I’ve never known what to call it, maybe charisma?  Her old love, and really her soul mate, Ron says “allure”;  that’s a good word for it.  Whatever it was, it always felt like magic to be around her.
That same quality is what made her such a good friend; she didn’t care if you agreed with her, or really if you were even interested in what she had to say, she just threw down her whole personality, BAM, you could take it or leave it.  And no one left it. At the same time, she allowed you to throw down your stuff too, encouraged it even, she probably got you to talk about things you didn’t even know you wanted to talk about.  Even if she disagreed, it didn’t matter, you were her friend.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard in the last few weeks things along the lines of “your mom changed my life.”  You don’t have to tell me about it; my entire life is based on either doing exactly what my mom did or exactly what my mom didn’t.  Either way, I wouldn’t be who I am without having had her for a mom.  My Mom adopted people, and when she adopted you, she made you family.  Period.  By the time this is being read to you, you’ve already heard the same thing from at least three other people; there was no one like Cheli, they broke the mold when they made her and they broke our hearts when they took her back. 
Now that I’m a parent, one of the things I really admire about how my mom raised us was that she didn’t do that whole “saying no for the sake of saying no” parent thing.  If she didn’t have a problem with what you wanted to do, she let you do it.  Even if it meant that she had at least twice as many kids as she was supposed to in the house, even if it meant she ended up feeding them all, even if it meant becoming their legal guardian.  If she did have a problem, she let you explain it; if it made sense, if she could see your point, she would change her mind.  If your friend needed a place to stay because things were bad; she said yes.  She said yes because they were important people to Erin and I and that made them important to her. 
That ability to open her heart and just love people is an amazing gift; I’m so grateful that I have it.  There is nothing like the feeling of loving someone and being loved in return.  That is really noticeable during times like this; I can’t tell you how grateful I am for my friends and family.  You have held me up and kept me going and the relationships I have with many of you are a direct result of that quality in my mom.  She didn’t have the easiest life, definitely not the easiest relationships, but she never let that keep her from opening up and loving again, reinventing herself.  That’s really amazing.
Next summer I plan on scattering some of my mom’s ashes at Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills where my best friend Shawna lives.  Some of you know this story, all of you will think it is funny.  I’ll clean the language up and share the story and then I’ll tell you why it’s really funny to me.
Many years ago I was with my mom and she brought up one of the natural wonders of the world; Mount Rushmore.  “Mom,” I said, “Mt. Rushmore isn’t a natural wonder, its man made”  “What?” she said and then quickly recovered with, “well, what the hell is the big deal if someone made it?”  “Mom, someone spent years of their life, and then years of their child’s life to design and carve Mount Rushmore.”  She said, “well, what a ridiculous waste of time.” And then she was done thinking about it, well, at least until I opened my big mouth and blabbed and it became the family joke.  When Leah broke up with her high school boyfriend, a boyfriend who was in on the joke, my mom said, “Now we have a loose cannon out in the world.”  Wherever Mitch is today he should be thanking his lucky stars that my mom didn’t have him whacked.
What you might think is funny about that story is that my mom thought Mount Rushmore just happened that way, like maybe God did it.  Which, don’t get me wrong, is funny, but it’s not what’s really funny to me.  What is truly funny is that if you knew my mom, you knew she never spent 30 seconds thinking about things that were unimportant to her; Mt. Rushmore was barely a blip on her radar. It wasn’t that she thought about Mt. Rushmore and decided it got there on it’s own, she never bothered to think of it at all because it didn’t matter to her.  So basically, she took this ridiculous story about a statue she barely cared about and she made it this fantastic and dramatic tale, which involved threatening my life on at least two occasions, and made it part of her personality.  I will not be the least bit surprised when someday while standing at the foot of Mount Rushmore I overhear total strangers recounting the story of this crazy lady who thought Mt. Rushmore grew that way. 
 Sadly, no one will ever hear the story the way it was meant to be told again, because the only person who could do it justice is gone.  I’m sorry that you had to settle for my version.  I wish for nothing more than my mom to be here to tell it to you herself.  Since she can’t be here to tell that story or so many other amazing stories, or how she felt about any of us; I will say this on her behalf; my mom loved her friends and family more than anything.  We were what kept her going while she was alive.  We are who is left to keep her memory alive now that she is gone.  I wish for all of us a long and accurate memory so that we can tell and re-tell the wonderful stories that she gave us because every time we repeat one and laugh, my mom lives in us.


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