This Woman Who Showed Me the Way~

I don’t write about my mom too often. Not because she wasn’t important to me but because, since Chuck’s death, all I can think about is him, and my life without him.

I’ve always known that I inherited some very clear traits from my mom. She passed along her love of reading to me. Her inability to suffer fools gladly…that she got from her mom. Her sense of humor.

This morning I realized I got a trait from her that I’ve not given much thought to, but one that looms large in my life. The one that has brought me to where I am, 6 years after the death of the man who was my life.

Betty Catharine, my mom, passed along to me the tenacity, the determination, the grit, that has kept me grounded and sane, to the degree that I can claim any sanity at all.

My mom, Betty Catharine, was an active alcoholic for most of my growing up years. There were some rough years, especially in high school.

She got sober, cold turkey, on the day my younger brother Kysa was diagnosed with cancer, and set about making amends (without calling them such) to her eight kids.

How she managed to get sober on her own, without medical intervention, after 30+ years of heavy drinking, I don’t know how she didn’t suffer delirium tremens or anything life threatening, and she never spoke of it, but she did it and stayed sober until she died one and a half years later, of breast cancer. Six months after Kysa died of Hodgkins cancer.

Honestly, as I’ve grown and matured, in the years since mom’s death, I’ve come to know her in more ways than I knew her during her life. As milestones have come and gone in my life that were nothing in degrees to what she’d gone through, I’ve wondered about how she got through the challenges in her life.

She was an Army wife at a time when the military did a bare minimum in supporting families, moving, as she said often, 29 times in 30 years. She had eight children born in 5 states and 3 overseas, and was always either pregnant or had just given birth with many of those moves. My dad frequently reported for duty ahead of her so she’d be in charge of kids, supervising packers/movers, adapting to new homes/countries, knowing nobody, far away from family.

I don’t wonder at all that she took up drinking. The family story is that she went to a doctor for stress (this was in the 50’s) and he told her to have a drink of sherry each evening after the kids were in bed.

She was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister who, in adulthood, converted to Catholicism. She was a nurse. She was the most intelligent, well read person I’ve ever met. She never remembered the punchlines of jokes. She had a droll sense of humor. She adored the royal family and, the older she got, the more like Queen Elizabeth she looked. She left me notes on my pillow as a young teen and called me every morning at 7:30 AM after I left home, cluing me in on political news and encouraging me to call the White House comment line to express my opinion. She’d given me the phone number and I kept it next to my phone on an index card.

She loved me the best she knew how and gave me what she had to give me, in spite of her struggles.

And what she gave me the most of was the grit and tenacity and determination that made her keep standing up when she was knocked down. She never gave in, in spite of what my young eyes saw growing up.

My mom was more than her alcoholism, and it didn’t take me long after her death to realize that.

I’ve no regrets, no blame. Only Love and the heartwarming memory of sitting at the kitchen table with her and my younger sister, Maggie, sharing Hollywood gossip, family stories, politics, everything under the sun, while laughing over our coffee or diet pepsi, in the last year and a half that I had with her, sober and loving and joyful, holding her hand over her mouth when she was doubled over with laughter.

My mom, Betty Catharine, gave me everything I would need as an adult, and it was my privilege to call her mom.

I hope, this Mother’s Day, that, if she is somewhere…and she believed in Heaven so I’ll picture her there…that she has found Chuck, and I hope that they share a hug with each other, from me, the woman who loved them both. Who loves them both so much, still.

I miss you, mom. Thank you for who you were.

What you gave me has helped me continue standing up again and again.

And I always will.

Just like you did~

I’ll Be at my Hotel~

I remember these words from my mom, spoken many years ago at a time when one of my younger brothers was dying.

Family and friends had gathered from around the country to say final goodbyes.  As it happened, he didn’t die until many months later, but it seemed like the end, so…there we were.

There were 8 kids in our family;  our folks were divorced, but we were all there that long ago weekend, and, as is normal at such a time, emotions were running high.  It’s funny to me, really, to think of my mom at that time.  She’d been alcoholic for decades but, as I came to recognize as I grew and matured, that was only one aspect of her personality.  Mom was also an intellectual, wise beyond wise, realistic, and she had a hugely funny cynical sense of humor that I totally loved.  She’d been an Army wife for 20+ years, a demanding lifestyle that took her overseas frequently, and around the USA, oftentimes as she was ready to deliver another child, or having just delivered a child.  The strength that was molded into her bones didn’t come easily or lightly, and there was much to admire about her, in spite of her alcoholism.  In the decades since her death (she died of breast cancer just 6 months after my brother Kysa succumbed to Hodgkins), I’ve come to admire her even more and sometimes wondered, given all that life pushed on her, why she wasn’t also a drug addict. (I say that with a sense of humor, because, really, looking at her life, who wouldn’t want to anesthetize themselves as thoroughly as possible?)

Anyways, back to the topic at hand…my brother dying and all of us gathered together to say goodbye and emotions running rampant, except that mostly it seemed none were being expressed (our family didn’t do emotions well, if at all). Which made for very dicey possibilities, none of which sounded good.

A meeting was called at a sibling’s house, to discuss…shit, I don’t even remember anymore what exactly needed to be discussed. I do recall that there had been a few angry outbursts and there was an air of uncertainty floating about, as if anyone in the area might need to take cover momentarily. Like the  heebie jeebie feeling that I imagine might crawl along one’s spine prior to a major engagement involving weapons (not that any of us were packing).  In any case, my mom, being the smart woman she was after raising 8 kids, beckoned me over to her and in a very calm voice requested that I drive her back to her hotel.  But don’t you want to join us at the meeting?  I naïvely asked.  Mom shot me this deadpan look as if taking my crazy temperature, and said if you think that I’m going to put myself in the middle of whatever is going on, you’ve got another think coming.  I’ll tell you what. You go and then come tell me all about it. I’ll be at the hotel.  Watching TV.

All of this to say, and why I’m telling you this, is that my mom gave the greatest response ever and I think of it whenever I’m with my kids and their spouses and their kids, when emotions are running high and it’s all kind of chaotic and undecided with the almost sure outlook of exploding fireworks and I just want to tell them, seriously,  I already did all this when I was in my 30’s and figuring it out and I don’t need to be part of all of your figuring it out, so thank you anyways, but…

I’ll be at my hotel.

I graciously extend the invitation to all of you, dear readers, to use this response, especially those of you who are parents with adult kids. Especially when the hackles on your neck rise in family situations that are beginning to sound explosive…listen to those hackles.

This is a mighty useful phrase to use at such times.

Thank you to my mom, Betty Catharine Miller~

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