Losing My Mom–With a Second Chance

As she lay dying, I spoke to her on the phone. I told her that it was okay to go. That she would live on through me and Fi.

I told my mom’s sister how much Fia loves sautéed spinach.“Your mom loved that growing up. We’d call her Popeye,” she said. I cringed. Dear lord, please give Fia the good genes from her. Like love of spinach and not crack.

It’s not that my mom didn’t have some amazing traits. In her early years she was smart and beautiful. Kind and colorful. But that was then. In her darkest days her childhood friends would shake their heads and tell me, “Everyone in high school wanted to be Suzy Newlon. Such a shame.” We’d all look down and mumble awkwardly in agreement.

My Mom

My Mom

Five decades of alcohol and drug abuse—including picking up a crack habit when she was 62-years-old—a few suicide attempts and a clear-cut diagnosis of bipolar—didn’t really give her a fighting chance.

One recent Christmas she went around her Florida condo complex with a 20-foot ladder. She climbed up the trees and spray-painted the coconuts red.  It was an instant hit. On another Christmas she tried to kill herself by jumping off a parking garage.

I truly believe some people are born to conquer addiction while others are just born to stay addicts.

Last year at 64, her life had become desperately depressing and tragic. I rarely spoke to her. Neither did my siblings. But then a miracle occurred.

She had an intestinal rupture and went septic. Almost died. Ended up on life support. And while her health slowly deteriorated, her life got surprisingly better.

For the next 11 months she was mostly confined to a hospital bed. She had psychiatrists who tweaked and tweaked her mental meds. She had hot meals and an entire staff at her beck and call. She was the queen bee and basked in her royal treatment.

“I love it here. I can order a milkshake at 3 in the afternoon,” she’d tell me in her southern drawl.

The next day she would complain that the chicken was dry.

“Mom, this is a hospital, not the Four Seasons,” I’d remind her on the phone.

“I know that, but how hard is it to cook chicken right?”

I’d roll my eyes; secretly glad she was even complaining. In the past, depressive days meant curling up “in the ball” on her couch and refusing to speak to anyone.

At least now we knew where she was and that she was safe. It was also finally safe to bring Fi down to meet her. A hospital—germs and all– is far more sterile than her living conditions had become over the years.  And I knew what I was getting: glimpses of the mom I had in childhood; when she was a superstar. Cool, fun, unconditionally loving.

Over this past year almost every trip down she was alert and attentive. She couldn’t get enough of Fi. This is a woman who had missed so much of my life. My wedding, my pregnancy, the birth of my daughter. We were both getting a second chance.

She would tell me how much Fia reminded her of me when I was little. I’d relish the stories. And feel relief that (so far) it seems Fia has much more of me in her genes than her grandmother.  I can only pray the ones she does have from either of us are the good ones.

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  1. by Nancy J

    On July 12, 2011 at 10:40 am

    Thank you for sharing your story. Happy to hear you had the opportunity to reunite and that new life could bring you together again. Touching!

  2. by Stephanie

    On July 12, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    How brave you are to share you and your mothers story. Really beautiful.

  3. by TaJuana

    On July 25, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story. It brought tears to my eyes. You and Fia are so blessed to have had time with your mom. I lost my mom in 1997, a year before her first grandchild was born. My mom now has 5 grandchildren – 4 girls and 1 boy. She herself was the mother of 2 girls and 1 boy. She would have loved her grandchildren and smothered them with love, kisses, hugs and tons of good food. I have 2 girls, 1 and 3 and long for my mom daily. For her advice, for her to give me hugs when I need a mommy hug, to love on my girls the way she loved on me. My girls have their paternal grandmother, but it’s not the same..I miss my mom and wish our children could have known the woman we adored.

    To those who may be losing a loved one. Sit down with that person and write a journal for your kids, your nieces/nephews from that person. Things that person wants the kids to know, what the kids should call them, things they will miss, take videos or record their voice. I wish I had done that…it’s hard for kids to know someone when they aren’t there and won’t be there. Thanks again!

  4. by Jill Cordes

    On August 1, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    TaJuana, I think your idea is excellent. We did some voice recordings, took lots of pictures and did some Flip videos. Everyone should know where they came from–good or bad. Appreciate you reading. Best, Jill Cordes

  5. by Randy

    On August 2, 2011 at 11:38 am

    A great example of how Christ brings it all together in the end.
    Bless you and your child, for seeing the good n your mother no matter what.

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  7. by Georgia

    On August 5, 2011 at 8:59 am

    Oh, what a bittersweet story…..so very touching but I am saddened and concerned about the impact of the 50 years when your Mom was MIA. Although unconditional love was likely always there, that is the no-brainer aspect of motherhood. Unconditional love is so natural and effortless for a Mom. Making self-sacrifices for your children, instilling important ethics and values, and serving as a role model are what requires the really hard work, commitment and sense of responsibility. Truly blessed are those children who have at least one parent–and hopefully both–who rise to that standard. I want Fia to experience that standard of parenting and that is not pre-determined by genes. Thank you so much for sharing. God bless and good luck on your journey.

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