the greatest love…

If memory serves me correctly, the Bible teaches that…”There is no greater love than that a man lay down his life for another.”

As Father’s Day approaches I can’t help but think of the men who have done just that for their loved ones…lay down their lives…in the process of providing for their families.

Cover of

Cover of Father’s Day

Women get much of the credit for raising our youngsters to be exemplary human beings. We dote upon them endlessly, instilling them with manners, compassion, self-confidence, skills for success. We are there to transport them…to volunteer on their behalf…to play hostess to their friends…to console or to celebrate, depending upon the circumstances.  

Mothering is hard work, for sure. However the rewards we reap are priceless, beginning with…an endless supply of hugs….and “I love you’s.” We don’t have to wait for a special occasion, like Mother’s Day.

My daughter and I begin and end our phone calls with “I love you.” And as though that weren’t enough…we manage to incorporate a few more into our conversation. When I’m searching for something else to say, I fill the void with…”I love you.”

By comparison, fathers often miss the small moments in their children’s lives. They’re on hand for the big occasions…birthdays, graduations, weddings. Fathers are lucky if they make the ball games, the recitals, the swim meets, opening nights. It’s more than likely when their jobs beckon…dads are off and running…whether they like it or not.

As a seasoned travel industry employee my husband hasn’t had the luxury of witnessing the minutiae of our daughter’s life. When she began focusing upon a dance career at age 14, their time together was  further impacted.  

When our daughter was 16, she and I relocated 3,000 miles from home so that she could train with a professional company. My husband remained behind working to support the venture on top of his other responsibilities.

As you can well imagine, parenting took on a whole, new twist. I was pretty much single-parenting a teenage-wannabe- ballerina in a strange environment…with dad a phone call and a plane ride…away.

I can’t say which of us fared better…or worse. The day my husband flew home after helping my daughter and me settle into our new lives…I shed a few tears. My best friend and soul mate was leaving .

We both had to hold up our end of the deal. Mom had to help make the dance dream come true…dad had to pay for it.

Like all fathers who love their children very much, my husband continues to give as completely of himself as he is physically able. Between his job and his duty to family, there is no gap…no doing just for himself.  His love for my daughter and me is…that great.

Since my father died when I was one, I cherish the relationship between my husband and my daughter. She and I agree…her dad’s the best.

every day’s father’s day…in our home…Imported Photos 00345

………hugmamma.

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…if i’d had a dad…

My dad died when I was one. I don’t remember anything about him. I have one photograph of his image. I’ve had to make do with that. As a result, I’m open to stories about fathers, preferably ones that leave me feeling warm and fuzzy inside. Tales of unconditional love that ended in a happily ever after. Not that everything went the way of a fairy tale, but that good prevailed. I’d like to share just such a story that ran in our local newspaper.

Superman

Superman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Superman wears a father’s cape”
by Sebastian Moraga

   This is my first fatherless Father’s Day. He died in March.
   Now, if you fear this will turn into a weepfest, rest assured, it won’t. My dad is the reason why.
   My dad had a tough life. The heart trouble that killed him at 69 started in grade school. His father died in his arms; his only marriage ended in divorce. And though he trained as an accountant, he turned 50 working as a fisherman in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, miles away from an IRS office.
   But he never stopped believing that he was close to his next great day. To my dad, the past mattered little and today’s troubles would be overcome tomorrow. Girl break your heart? You’ll find a better one. You watch. His arthritic knees hurt? So what, they hurt yesterday, too. Now how about those Mariners?
   That optimism bathed almost all of his actions. It made you feel safe and certain that things would improve. Even if they didn’t, he made you feel like he was on your side and that might just be enough to weather the storms.
   While the winds blew, he might tell you a story or two.
   Like the time a man entered the kitchen of the restaurant where he worked, greeting everybody. My dad just nodded at him and went about his business, leaving the man to walk out feeling a little perplexed. Then a waitress zoomed into the kitchen and asked my dad. “Wasn’t that exciting? Tony Bennett in our kitchen.”
   Or like the time a coworker of his left a newspaper in the lunchroom fridge. When quizzed about why, the man could not formulate an answer before my dad chimed in with, “It’s ’cause he likes his news fresh.”
   Or like the time in the 1940s when he, his mom and his three siblings boarded a bus and the driver referred to my grandma as “Miss.” My dad, at most 8 years old at the time, snapped, “Mrs. Not ‘Miss.’ Can’t you see her four cherubs?”
   Then when the storm passed, he would cook you something and ask your opinion of Ichiro.
   So this Father’s Day, I will skip remembering there’s one phone call that won’t happen, and instead remember the good times–the Mariners, the gigantic meals, the banana milkshakes. How he persevered until he found the job he loved, how he told everyone for 33 years that things would turn out all right for me.
   It’s what he would have liked me to do, because he loved me and wanted me to be happy.
   Besides, it’s not like I won’t miss him June 18. The storms of life keep brewing, and now I can’t hear his stories or the sound of his casino chips as he bets them all on me.
   He was my John Wayne, my Superman, my RoadRunner. Everything that is invincible in this world, I saw it in him. Let a squadron of Wile E.s take their shots–we all know who wins.
   All that is gone, and yet reasons to rejoice abound.
   His knees don’t hurt anymore, his heart doesn’t trouble him anymore and he’s buried next to his older brother, whom he loved. When it came time to die, he died in his bed, still aware, still looking forward to tomorrow and more than 7,000 miles away from Dutch Harbor.
   For the tough life he had, that is a bouquet of blessings.
   So this Sunday, when the blues come calling, instead of mourning him, I will thank him. Thank him for a life well lived, for the sweet example he set of how to be a good dad, and for the thousand and one stories I wish I could share with you.
   Like the time we went to a Mariner’s game and I yelled at the batter to drive a run in. “C’mon, dude, take him home.”
   Behind me, I heard a familiar voice whisper, “Country roaaads…”
   Rest easy, my Superman.

 A flesh and blood father, not a comic book character…but definitely a superhero! Like my father-in-law whose loving spirit hovers close by. Just in case…

happy father’s day…dad…

………hugmamma.

creation of the world according…to sylvia

Here’s a springtime fable from my good friend Sylvia. It’s probably one of the better ones out there, so be sure to pass it along. It should be the one we hand down from generation to generation as it’s so worth retelling. I’m sure the women of humankind will agree that it’s “the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help us God.” Especially since it was She who created us all, the best among us in her image.

A little girl asked her Mom, “How did the human race appear?”
The Mom answered, “God made Adam and Eve and they had children,
and so was all mankind made..”

 Domenico Zampieri, Adam and Eve (1623-25) (Wikipedia)

 

Two days later the girl asked her Dad the same question.
The Dad answered,
“Many years ago there were monkeys from which the human race evolved.”

 


The confused girl returned to her mother and said,
“Mom, how is it possible that you told me the human race was created by God,
and Dad said they developed from monkeys?”
The mother answered,
“Well, Dear, it’s very simple. I told you about my side of the family
and your father told you about his..”

need we say more…except…amen, amen, amen…hugmamma.

“living la vida gay,” ricky martin

In his “heyday” Ricky Martin was hot, hot, hot! Then he disappeared. What was that all about? Years passed, and I forgot all about him. Seems he had a lot to figure out in his personal life. He’s gay. Now I understand. “Living la vida loca,” with guys might not sell records to straight audiences, or so he thought. It might have made me think “aw shucks,” but a singer who’s got great vocals and a ripped body, and moves as Martin does, needn’t have worried about me liking him as an entertainer. I move to the beat, regardless of someone’s sexual preference.

Upset that Barbara Walters asked if he was gay on national television the night of the Academy Awards, Ricky Martin sidestepped the question. He wasn’t “ready” to deal with the unrelenting attention the mass media would heap upon him if he “came out.” He chose to pick the moment, when he was ready to reveal the truth. Martin was still evolving into the gay man he has proudly proclaimed himself to be, today. When his mom hugged him after only taking a minute to digest his news, he knew it was time to tell everyonelse. So he wrote his memoirs.

“Ricky Martin: ME” was the platform from which Oprah interviewed him on her talk show today. In his autobiography, he told all, including his having been bisexual before determining that, in fact, he was gay. He’d had passionate romances with women, but one serious relationship with a man, for whom he would have sacrificed everything, convinced him he was gay. Older, perhaps wiser, the man refused to let Martin give up what he was obviously meant to do, entertain crowds who loved him. The singer decided his partner was not as enamored of him, as he was of the man. At the time Martin was 22.

His new love these days? Actually there are two. A surrogate was engaged to give Ricky Martin children, twin boys, as it turned out. Watching him parent the youngsters on a video, probably had women in the audience, and viewers on TV, wishing he were straight. There was no mistaking that Martin is an awesome, “hands-on” father. He changed diapers, he played “pat-a-cake,” he served up breakfast, he rode a bike, carting the twins behind in a special contraption, and he’s teaching his boys to speak Spanish. The luckiest woman in Martin’s world right now? His mom, for she’s got his heart, and the hearts of 2 precious grandsons.

Evidently, Ricky Martin’s celebrity status was a powerful catalyst in moving ordinary men to “own” their gay-ness. A man flown in by Oprah to be part of the audience, explained how the revelation convinced his own Hispanic mom to ask her son questions about his lifestyle, something she hadn’t done when first learning that he was gay. Standing at his side, for all the world to see, she shared a hug, and kiss on the cheek with her son.

While Martin is a proponent of gays professing themselves to the public in their own time, Oprah supports all gays stepping out together in a powerful show of support for one another. Admirable of her to suggest it, another thing for those affected, to do so, and face retaliation, each on his own turf, in his home, in his school, in his office, in his church, in the military, in sports, among his friends, in society.

What do you think?

hugs for ricky martin…still hot!…hugmamma.

creative passion, “fountain of youth”

I’m living proof of AARP’s recent article GENIUS! Not that I’m a genius, but I can vouch for the fact that “our creative horizons need not narrow with age” as the article states. Gay Hanna, head of the National Center for Creative Aging says “We never lose the potential to learn new things as we grow older…In fact, we can master new skills and be creative all our lives.” So the old adage IS true “You CAN teach an old dog new tricks.” Contributing to the discussion is David Shenk, author of The Genius in All of Us, “Genes impact our lives,…but our lives also impact our genes–the brain changes shape according to the experiences it has. …Most of us don’t understand that our true inner potential is quite extraordinary. Not just at age 20 or 40 but well into our elder years. The main reason people stagnate is that they limit themselves through their mind-set or habits. Or they simply set their sights too low.”

Sixty-five-year old Mack Orr had been a cotton picker in Mississippi in the 50’s, as well as a heavy-equipment operator when he moved to Memphis in 1965. Along the way he became a husband, father of 4, and the owner of Mack’s Auto Repair. At 45 he “…was listening to the radio in my auto-repair shop,…They were playing an Albert King song–‘Walkin’ the Back Streets and Cryin’–and it sounded real good. …I went down to the pawn shop, got me a guitar and amp, …And I carried that guitar everywhere I went. If I went to work, I carried it with me. If I went fishing, I carried it. I stayed on it day and night.” Within 3 years his hard work got him gigs as a blues guitarist around Memphis. Daddy Mack, as he is known to friends and fans, has since jammed with Keith Richards and Ron Wood of The Rolling Stones, performed at festivals across America and Europe, and recorded 4 CDs–including Bluesfinger, his latest. Daddy Mack confesses “I never dreamed I’d go to the places I’ve been…”

In the 60’s and 70’s, Judithe Hernandez was known in Los Angeles for her murals. Resettling in Chicago in 1984, marriage, motherhood and a position as a university art instructor sidelined her artwork. Her creative passion took a back seat but she continued to draw, though infrequently, she “…had all these ideas stored away in file drawers–and in my head. And I never let go of the dream that someday I’d come back to it.” At 62, with the end of her marriage and her only child off to college, Hernandez returned to L.A. and resumed her artistic career with renderings of symbol-rich pastel drawings. Evidently she made the right move for in January 2011, Chicago’s National Museum of Mexican Art will feature her as a solo artist. Hernandez compares herself to an artist years younger “It’s the difference between a sauce you make in five minutes and one that you reduce and reduce and the flavor gets more intense and deeper. You’re left with a smaller amount, but the flavor is amazing.”

Painting literally saved 54-year-old, abstract painter Audrey Phillips. Losing her mother to a brutal murder traumatized Phillips so that in the years that followed she lost her job, her faith, her second marriage. In 2000, a friend with whom she was visiting in New Mexico urged Phillips to start drawing, since she’d been a student of graphic design. “Abruptly, the pictures tumbled forth. The subject: the killer’s face–one version after another in wild, furious, almost brutal renditions. ‘I had been thinking about it a long time,…And it came out with such energy–I probably had 30 pieces of art when I was done. I was like, ‘Thank God that’s out on the page and not inside me anymore!’ ” Phillips, an award-winning abstract artist, living in New Smyrna Beach, Florida confirms that “Painting catapulted me through my final phase of grieving and loss…It basically saved my life.”

According to the article “Of all the qualities that distinguish older artists, perseverance may be the most vital.” In her 9th decade, author Eugenia Lovett West had her first novel, Without Warning, published in 2007 and its sequel, Overkill, came out in 2009. Two more books are in the works. West hopes her story “…inspires older writers to persevere. It’s a blessing to wake up in the morning with the urge to create.”

So here I sit at 12:31 a.m. still typing away at the keyboard, husband snoring in his favorite recliner, with the TV “watching” him, and pets slumbering comfortably nearby. Will I too be allowed to rest, or am I doomed to give voice to the “genius” of my old age without let up?

 “fountain of youth,” may be the death of me yet…hugmamma.

surrogate fathers

Reflecting back to my fatherless childhood, I was one when my father died, I probably pined for a male figure to parent me alongside my mom. But I don’t remember obsessing about it, although there were times when certain individuals were present in my life who I wished were my father.

My earliest recognition of just such a man was Uncle Lot. I adored him even though he was not really an uncle; “calabash” relatives were commonplace in extended Hawaiian families. Bronzed by the sun, silver white hair framing a handsome face, I imagined he loved me like a precious daughter. He and our Aunt Miriam, spinster brother and sister,  lived next door to the first home I ever knew, conveniently located across the road from the beach. When not frolicking on the sand or swimming in the warm waters, we’d be playing with Melabee, a German Shepherd belonging to auntie and uncle. We were always invited into their antique-filled home where we snacked on little sandwiches or small, scrumptious desserts. I always loved curling up in Uncle Lot’s lap, burrowing my sleepy head into his chest heavily scented with cologne. I’d rest there while he, auntie and my mom chatted amiably among themselves. I never wanted to leave when it was time to return to our house.  Their home was so much grander, filled with beautiful things, and food more delicious than was our usual fare. As a child I never understood aunty and uncle’s relationship. They were related, but they seemed so comfortable in each other’s shadow, like husband and wife. But they weren’t married, so I wanted Uncle Lot to marry my mom. Of course it was a child’s fantasy, and there it remained.

As a kindergartener I remember we were in a different home, one that I would live in until I moved away to college. Our Chinese landlord lived next door. At first it was “Popo” (grandmother) to whom we paid rent, but upon her death, her son Ah Sing assumed the responsibility. I became long-lasting, best friends with his daughter, an only child for many years. A brother was born into the family when my friend was in high school.

Ah Sing took pity upon my situation, a fatherless child with a mother struggling to support her young family. He would include me on outings with his daughter. One vivid memory is of a visit onboard a navy submarine docked  in the harbor. I still have a small, black and white photograph somewhere, of me perched on a metal seat on an outer deck, long, black hair caught up in the breeze, a furtive smile on my lips, a shy glance directed at the camera. My girlfriend’s mom was not as receptive toward me however, perhaps because I wasn’t a fit companion, being poor. No matter, I became a fixture at their home because I was like a sibling my friend wanted, and another daughter Ah Sing cherished.

The only physician I recall visiting as a child was Dr. James Fleming. His shoulders seemed broad, as though he could carry the weight of the world on them, well… at least that of the sick who visited his office. His hair was a sandy blonde, he wore spectacles and he always had a smile on his face. His bedside manner was comforting, especially to a child who rarely saw a doctor because it was an expense my mom couldn’t regularly afford. But like other generous people in our lives, Dr. Fleming discounted  our fees and never pressured my mom for payment. Receiving a lollipop or large, orange gumdrop was one reason I behaved during an appointment, but more importantly, Dr. Fleming felt like a father if only for the time I spent with him. When I was much older, my mom told me that he had offered to adopt me since he had no daughters, only 3 sons. You can imagine how elated I felt, and disappointed, that I never got to live the fairy-tale life of the Lahaina Flemings. But more than anything, I would have liked to have felt the love of a father like Dr. Fleming wash over me.

My father-in-law, now deceased some 20 years or so, treated me like a daughter. When I first spent time with my husband’s family, I thought my father-in-law didn’t like me. I always seemed the butt of his ribbing. Teasing was something I grew up with as the youngest, and I wasn’t particularly fond of it. I never had the wherewithal to fight back, and felt I must not be loved, or liked. Increasingly, as I was around him more, it became obvious that I was a favorite of my father-in-law’s. I guess I was a combination, pretty Hawaiian girl like his wife, Catholic raised and educated, attending college, with lofty ambitions that might rub off on his eldest son. But best of all I could out-talk the “Portugees,” as he would love to tell me, himself being Portuguese. We could banter back and forth endlessly. My father-in-law, looking much like and behaving very much like my husband, was the closest I ever came to having a father. So it saddened me to see his body, and spirit, deteriorate through the 8 years he survived after a massive heart attack which destroyed 50% of his heart.

And then there’s my husband. A Catholic seminarian a week prior to our first meeting, he had changed his mind about being called to the priesthood. Having left home after completion of 8th grade, he had spent the next 4 1/2 years studying theology. I’ve often joked that God was preparing him for an even greater task than leading the faithful, and that was keeping me on the “straight and narrow,” which he has successfully done for 40 years.

Because I was fatherless as a child, it was imminent that my daughter bond with her dad immediately. So I didn’t look to either my mom or mother-in-law for help when our baby was born. I wanted my husband, myself and our daughter to forge a strong and loving union which would survive the ups and downs of whatever lay ahead. And to this day, our strength as a family continues to thrive upon the foundation upon which it was built. We enable one another to follow our passions, knowing that our love and support is always available 24/7.

So while I may not have had a father of my own to nurture and guide me, there were those to whom I could look for the wonderful qualities that I would one day find in a husband. So I thank my “fathers”, of whom only Ah Sing survives, on my lovely, island, childhood home of Maui.

 very fortunate to have had surrogate fathers, love me…hugmamma.

facing death, and living

A thin paperback, only 237 pages, Elizabeth Edwards’ “Resilience” was not a book I could breeze through easily. It was written as though she were talking to me, but not seeing me. I might have been a tape recorder capturing her innermost thoughts and feelings, as if their release might ease her chronic pain, more emotional and mental than physical.

Chapters 1 through 6 explored the anguish she endured from the loss of her 16-year-old son Wade to a car accident, whose cause might have been considered “an act of God.” “Wade was driving to the beach when he died. The invisible wind crossed the eastern North Carolina fields and pushed his car off the road, and he could not right it and it flipped and, crushed, it fell in upon Wade, and he died. The invisible wind. The hand of God? The hand of Satan that God has loosened on Job? Is his death a response to his or our failings, or is it a test of God? How can I lean on a God who had taken this righteous boy, or even on one who had allowed him to be taken?” After much soul-searching, Edwards decides that the God about whom she was taught is not the God of whom she has now gained a better understanding.

“God…does not promise us protection and intervention. He promises only salvation and enlightenment. This is our world, a gift from God, and we make it what it is. If it is unjust, we have made it so. If there is boundless misery, we have permitted it. If there is suffering, it came from man’s own action or inaction. Cain killed Abel; God did not. Wade’s death didn’t belong to God. It belonged to this earth. I could still pray for Wade’s eternal soul because I no longer had to blame that same God to whom I prayed unsuccessfully for his return to life.”  

While she continues to reference her son’s death through the remainder of the book, Edwards also speaks at length of her bout with incurable breast cancer. In the midst of John Edwards 2004 vice presidential campaign, Elizabeth learned she had breast cancer. It seemed that in 2005 she’d been cured. But 2007 saw its return. Among other things, she discusses her struggle in coming to terms with death. On one hand it is not totally unacceptable, for “Death looks different to someone who has placed a child in the ground. It is not as frightening. In fact, it is in some way buried deep within you almost a relief. The splendid author Mark Helprin wrote, in the introduction to “Almost Spring” by Gordon Livingston, ‘If you were on a ship battered by immense waves (and, believe me you are) that swept your child from your arms would you not (given that you had no others for whom to remain) throw yourself into the deep, hoping for the chance that in the vast black ocean you might grab onto him? Comforted just to know that you would suffer the same fate? And if you had to remain, to protect others, would you not dream all your life of the day when, your responsibilities over, you would finally get to the sea?’ It is not a death wish. It is an appreciation that there might be in death some relief that life itself could never offer.” But Edwards concludes that her son’s death is a reminder not to take the gift of life for granted.

“I knew that I have to get ready to die. There is still no prognosis on which I can rely. All I know is that it will be at my door more quickly than I want. I don’t think, as it comes, I will have my father’s grace. Now, despite my words that I have a reason why death would not be so terrible, I want to live. I admit that I spend a great deal of time pretending that I would be fantastically lucky to live a decade, that I would be happy to have another decade when I know I want much more. But just as there is more than a decade, there is also less. There are moments when I believe death is only a whisper away. I try to get the teeter-totter to balance somewhere in the middle; it is rarely possible. When my mind teeters to death, I push off as hard as I can, trying to land on life. Mostly I can do that.”

Elizabeth Edwards comes to terms with her life, as it is. She has adopted lines from “Anthem,” a song by Leonard Cohen, as her anthem. She has had them inscribed high up on her kitchen wall as “…a reminder that the pain, the loneliness, the fear are all part of the living. There is no such thing as perfection, and we have a choice about how we integrate the imperfect into our lives.” Her anthem reads “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

A stranger who happened to be in the audience during Edward’s speech at the Cleveland City Club in March, 2007, inspired her to work harder in her efforts to bring affordable health care to the unlucky among us who go without. After the luncheon speech, the stranger whispered in Elizabeth’s ear “…I am afraid for my children. I have a lump in my breast, but I cannot get it checked. I have no insurance.” When she went in search of someone who could help, the stranger disappeared into the crowd. And so it was that Elizabeth felt the woman believed “…that we live in a country where things can change if we just whisper in the right person’s ear.”

I share “Resilience” with you because there might be a lesson in it for all of us, for we begin to die the minute we are born. Facing imminent death, Elizabeth Edward focuses on living…

a new day always dawns…hugmamma.

who i am

Girls become women; boys become men. In the beginning it seems to just happen. Females emulate their mothers; males, their fathers. Their traits become ours, seemingly by osmosis. As children we don’t stop to differentiate between good and bad characteristics. What we see becomes what we are and what we do. As we grow older and experience life outside our family, we begin to compare ourselves with others, our lives with theirs. We see what we like and don’t like about us, about them.

I think only in older age, especially if we have children, do we understand those who walked in “our shoes”, before we did, our parents. My father died when I was one, so I never knew him. My mom was my world, in good times and bad. Throughout my 50’s I gradually became aware of the legacy she left behind.

Widowed at 30, nine children to raise, my mom managed with the help of Maryknoll nuns who ran the orphanage where she worked. She was laundress, part-time cook, and part-time chaperone. She never missed a day on the job, driving an hour from our home in the city, to the orphanage in the country. As a toddler, I accompanied her, my days spent rolling around in huge crates filled with freshly laundered clothing and linens. The youngest orphans were my playmates; the older ones my babysitters. They were my family, since most of my siblings had long since left home.

My mom’s car was our “bread and butter,” as she would repeatedly remind us. It was essential to our subsistence, getting her to and from work.  There was no AAA in those days, or if there was, we were too poor to subscribe. My mom changed her own flat tires, tinkered under the hood, and faithfully had the car serviced. With a sergeant’s precision she showed us how to wash and wax the car.

We would drag out the bucket, the hose, the detergent and lots of “elbow grease.” Along with two siblings, a brother and sister who were still in school, we cleaned every inch of our two-toned blue, Dodge sedan, until it glistened under the bright, tropical sun. We often looked like wet fish, having pelted each other with water from the hose or soapy water scooped from the bucket. When we were seized by fits of laughter, my mom’s eyes would twinkle and a huge grin would emerge to temporarily smooth away the frown lines deeply imbedded above her brows.

Active in our church community, my mom served as president of 2 women’s groups. She allowed me to invite foreign students to live with us for several days or weeks, giving them an opportunity to experience life in our country. It wasn’t unusual for my mom to invite total strangers into our home, like a young, handsome, Chinese man who was selling Life magazine subscriptions. We couldn’t afford it, but my mom felt sorry and subscribed anyway. To thank her, the nice man returned with an ice cream cake, which we happily devoured. One particular Jehovah Witness was a regular visitor on Sundays. A devout Catholic, my mom still listened when others spoke of their faiths. I’m ashamed to say we children hid, hoping they would go away. My mom suffered painful arthritis as far back as I can remember. At 3 a.m. when I’d head to the kitchen for a drink of water, my mom would be pacing the floor, attempting to walk off the unrelenting ache in her knees. She’d moan heavily, sometimes crying. I was too young to be of much comfort. My mom sat in the bleachers, watching with pride as I led the crowds in cheers for our team. She sewed one-of-a-kind clothing, some “hit the mark”, others not so much. Strumming the ukulele, she’d harmonize old Hawaiian songs with me, a favorite being “Ke Kali Ne Au.”

Without realizing it, my mom was bestowing me with her strengths. A single parent, she forged a life for herself and her children as best she could. She wasn’t above accepting help, nor did she shy away from helping herself and others. While raising us, I can’t recall my mom investing in much time bemoaning her plight. She was a handsome woman who prided herself on how she styled her hair, and how she wore her makeshift dresses.

I may not mimic my mom in every way, but like her I’m a strong woman with a soft underbelly. She has instilled me with her graciousness toward others, her “funny bone,” her songbird’s voice, her sense of style, and her gourmet sensibilities. And like my mom, I have faults. While she didn’t apologize for them, I’m certain she asked God to forgive her trespasses. Like her, I pray to be pardoned for my transgressions. 

Foremost among the lessons I have gleaned from my mom’s life  is compassion, for myself and others. Because her journey was fraught with more “lows” than “highs,” it’s a wonder she lived well into her 80’s. She was plagued by health issues, family discord, and personal demons. Besides which, my mom never remarried, remaining a widow until the end. For 50+ years, she shouldered her burdens without the love and companionship of a soul mate. So if she floundered, who could stand in judgement? “For unless you have walked in someonelse’s shoes…”

who I am is owing in part, to her…hugmamma.

a godsend, so cherish

Our daughter was born after my husband and I were married for 16 years. She was our “miracle baby” for we thought we’d never be parents. Had she not happened, we might have adopted. I did not want to endure testing to learn why we were not blest with a child before her, nor did I want to subject myself to methodical, medical procedures to become pregnant. Before she was born, I can remember sitting in our tiny, 100-year-old, New England, church during a Mass where 8 year olds made their First Holy Communion as Catholics. Tears welled in my eyes for I wished one day that my child would be among the communicants. From my lips to God’s ears, for my prayer was answered. I have always felt that our daughter was a gift that He placed in our care. She is ours to nurture and love, but she is not our possession, she is God’s gift. And “what he giveth, he can taketh away.” So I cherish our daughter more than life itself, and I never take one day with her for granted.

“Resilience” is written by Elizabeth Edwards, infamously known as the woman with incurable breast cancer, whose husband had an affair during his bid for the 2008 presidential campaign. They are now divorced since efforts to heal their marriage were unsuccessful. Elizabeth has borne these crosses publicly, but she has carried another in the privacy of her own heart, the untimely death of her teenage son. How can any mother, or parent, recover from such loss? Elizabeth shares her thoughts, on her own journey towards rebound.

Wade was 16 when he died. On April 4th, 1996, the wind blew across a North Carolina field and pushed his car slightly off the road. Slightly but not enough. When he tried to bring it back on, the car flipped. The air bag came out, the seat belt held, but the roof collapsed on him. The other boy walked away. Some dishes he was taking to the beach for us were unbroken. Our boy was killed instantly. It wasn’t speed, it wasn’t inattention, it was a straight road on a clear afternoon, and it simply was.

And what that wind took at Easter was a cherished boy, a remarkable child with the character of a man. I try to find, in this narrow place, a way to explain his virtues. He was a loving son and brother; holding our hands, hugging us, no matter who was around to see. He was a loyal friend, always there when his friends needed him, but never succumbing to peer pressure. He never drank or smoked. When a parent who came on the accident asked if drinking was involved, the boys there all answered, “Wade Edwards? No way.” He usually drove home those who did drink. He was intelligent and determined. His conversation in the car that day was about how he wanted to be a lawyer; but he didn’t want to take anything from his parents, he wanted to do it all himself, like his father had. He was humble and shunned the spotlight. During the week before he died, his English class studied “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by Ernest Hemingway. He participated in four days of discussion but never mentioned once that he had climbed Kilimanjaro with his father the previous summer. How many among us could have sat quietly? He went to Washington as one of ten national winners of an essay contest two weeks before he died. He did not even tell his closest friends, who only later saw him on television. He was fair-minded. When asked on Martin Luther King Day how we could make the world a better place, he answered, “Look at the inside of people, not the outside.” He was seven years old when he wrote that. Though he had many gifts, he never thought of himself as the tiniest bit better than anyone else. And he chastised those who treated others poorly.

I have tried to think about the nature of the bond between us. I guess the fact of “bond” assumes we are two people, such as would need a bond to hold them together. And I never really felt that degree of separateness that lets you describe the existence of a bond between two different things. His joys were my joys, his pains were multiplied to be my pains. I woke to him and slept only after his lips grazed mine. As private as he held some details of his life, protecting those he cared about from my judgment, his broader life was open, bare before me. I was the witness to all things he valued, most of which were intangible. His weakness, his strength, his vulnerability (which had worried me so), his sense of who he was and what this living business was all about, he laid that open. The truth of life, I would have guessed, could not be found out in sixteen years, and we would be fortunate to have a glimpse in sixty. Somehow, this child knew. Knew that we all fought too much over foolishness, that our vanity and our insecurities kept us from truly helping one another, that true love and friendship were marked by humility and loyalty that disregarded self-interest. And he more than knew these things, he lived his way. His mark will endure, because only these truths of life do endure. The good we do really is eternal, as we had told him, and now that axiom is a charge to us–not just to keep his memory, but to live his life message.

We know that we can never make sense of his loss. He had done it all right. Of all he wanted, he wanted most to be a father someday. And what an unbelievable father he could have been with his compassion, his warmth, his patience. He was a rare gift.

He wrote in a journal during Outward Bound when he was 15:  “More than any other goal that I have set for myself I want to show my love and appreciation to my family for all that they have done for me. I know that I don’t deserve all that I get but I hope that I will someday be able to say that I deserve it. I really want to do something great with my life. I want to start a family when I grow up. I am going to be as good a parent to my kids as my parents are to me. But more than anything, when I die, I want to be able to say that I had a great life. So far I have had a wonderful life and I hope it keeps up.” Well, it didn’t keep up as long as it should have, but we are thankful for what he left us. And he left everyone he touched the better for knowing him. We stand a little straighter in his shadow.

Our daughter has blessed our lives in EXACTLY the same way that Wade blessed the lives of the Edwards family. She has always been singular in her demeanor. She leads, without pressure. She’s seen, without being showy. She’s considerate of others, without their knowing. She gives, without expectations. She laughs, cries, worries, endures pain, gets sick, has self doubts. She is, as a choreographer recently told her, “genuine.” Our daughter is that, on and off the stage. Who you see is exactly who you get. She is a melding of my husband and I, but there’s a quality, an innate God-given sense that she is but an instrument of his handiwork. While proud of her accomplishments for one so young, our daughter is humbled when she sees others as accomplished as her. She easily relinquishes “center stage”, professionally and personally, giving others their moment in the “spotlight.” She has never been about herself, she has always been about others, even as a child.

I am a better person for knowing her…hugmamma