Thursday, December 11, 2014

20 Years Ago Today

TigerBlog can remember pretty much every detail from Dec. 11, 1994, 20 years ago today.

It's a hard day for him to forget. It's the day his mother died, 20 years ago today.

Dec. 11, 1994, was a Sunday. TigerBlog's day began in Champaign, Ill., where he was with the Princeton men's basketball team. He'd been there since Friday, as Princeton played in the Ilini Classic, beating Eastern Illinois in the first round and then playing an awful game and losing to Illinois in the final.

MotherBlog - her real name was Gail - was just 55 years old when she died, struck down by lung cancer. She had been a heavy smoker who had quit a few years before she got sick, too late to undo the damage.

If anyone you were close to has ever died from cancer, then you know what MotherBlog went through.

She fought the disease hard, with an unflinching attitude and determination. At first, it was "okay, how do I beat this?" Then it was "the treatment is bad, but it can't break me." Then it was "I am doing fine."

Even at the end, there was no quit. No give up. Not ever.

TigerBlog has a plastic container filled with cards he received - many from people he never met - after his mother's death. He keeps one in his desk drawer, the one from someone who knew MotherBlog in the last year of her life, one that says "she was the most courageous person I ever met."

Maybe she was courageous. Maybe she was just forced to be, given the alternative. It doesn't matter. Her truest nature was revealed in her illness.

TigerBlog also has with him the eulogy he wrote for her funeral. He likened her to Lou Gehrig when he said he considered himself "the luckiest man on the face of the Earth," shortly before his own death. That's how MotherBlog was, to the very, untimely, end.

MotherBlog was a woman of great character and spirit. She stood barely 5-3, and most of it was her big heart.

TB assumes that it would be normal to make more out of someone's memory than they were in real life, especially when 20 years have passed by and when it was a parent.

In his case, though, he's pretty sure he remembers his mother exactly how she was. Great character. Great spirit.

She loved life. She loved people. She loved to buy nice clothes and great meals. She loved Steve McQueen and the Washington Redskins and debating politics and died thinking Walter Mondale would have been a great President.

She respected everyone as an individual and was critical only of those who judged others. She was genuine. What you saw was what she was.

There is nothing about MotherBlog that has faded through the years for her younger son. He can still see her face, hear her voice, feel her hugs, remember her words.

TB was recently asked a simple question - what would his mother have said to him in a specific situation? He didn't even have to flinch, because he knew exactly what she would have said.

She would have encouraged. She would have demanded more. She would have laughed with him, and advised him and made it crystal clear that she was disappointed in him had that been the case.

That's how she was. No B.S. No time for that.

She was about accountability, but she also understood the human element involved. She knew people weren't perfect and that everyone had flaws, her included. It's just that she expected you to know what your flaws were and work to improve in those areas, not try to con her into thinking otherwise.

She spoke directly. She did not believe in sugar-coating. She often punctuated it with, uh, saltier language. Hey, she's the one who taught TB that there are way worse things in the world than cursing.

She was a registered nurse who then got a bachelor's degree in politics. She spent much of her life working for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, as a teacher of long-term care for M.S. patients and as a lobbyist. Upon her death, she wanted her ashes scattered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building, which was done on Mothers' Day 1995.

MotherBog lived in Atlanta in her final years, though it was more of a home base than anything else. Mostly she traveled the country, teaching, advocating. Most of the cards in the box are from those she touched along the way.

TigerBlog saw her on Friday morning, having gone to Atlanta on Thursday before then flying on to Cleveland and Chicago before driving to Champaign. The doctors at that point had suggested that she was stable and had a few more weeks left.

On Sunday morning, he called Atlanta and got no answer, but he figured his brother and uncle (who was also there) had gone to breakfast or something and that his mother was asleep.

He flew to Cleveland and then to Newark and then drove home. It was only when he got there that he heard all of the messages on his answering machine, imploring him to get back to Atlanta ASAP.

Of course, this was before cell phones, email and texting. Otherwise, he never would have gone to Newark.

He was able to get on the last flight out of Philadelphia that night on his way to Atlanta. It was a Delta 767, a huge plane that was almost empty. At one point, TB decided to use the phone on the plane - the only time in his life he has ever done this - to call the hospital and see what was up.

BrotherBlog answered the phone, and TB knew immediately she was gone. He didn't have to say a word. As it turned out, TigerBlog called less than a minute after she had passed away.

Now it's 20 years later. MotherBlog got cheated out of so much in life. She never got to retire. She never got to meet her two grandchildren.

TB is not too far away from the age his mother was when she died and nearly 40% of his life has been lived since she died. He hopes he has decades and decades left, but he has no way of knowing.

He tries to give up understanding why some die early and others live a long time. FatherBlog is nearly 80 and still going strong. MotherBlog died at 55. Ann Bates died at 43. Bob Callahan fights ever day to keep going.

Why some and not others? There's no way to know. It's not fair, TB knows that.

Her 75th birthday would have been last month. He wonders what she would have been like at age 75. He wonders what kind of grandmother she would have been.

He wonders what his relationship with her would be like and what kind of influence she would have over the person he has been for the last 20 years. He wonders what she would have thought of him as a parent.

TigerBlog has seen his children grow to be teenagers. They never knew their grandmother. He's tried to teach them about her, tell them what she was like. He sees parts of her in both of his kids.

How great would it have been to all be together for her 75th birthday? How great would have it have been to see her with TigerBlog Jr. and Miss TigerBlog, knowing how much about life they had to learn from her.

Sadly, that was never to be.

TigerBlog has thought a lot about his mother lately. He's tried to imagine that she was still here with him. He hears songs he knows she loved and imagines that she is still around to sing them. He sees pictures of her and immediately is taken back to the moments when they were taken.

That's all he has, though. His mother exists now only in his memories. And it's been like that for a long time, exactly 20 years, in fact.

He'd love for all that to be different, but it can't be. He'd love one more chance to thank her for everything she ever said and did, for every laugh, for every moment they had together. He'd love one more chance just to send her a card for her birthday or Mothers' Day or to call and say hi and say he loves her.

Or maybe even just one time to tell her he misses her.

And that she doesn't have to worry.

Twenty years to the day. Forty years to the day. A hundred years to the day.

He'll never forget what a great woman his mother was.

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