This weekend we flew to Aspen for my mother’s “Celebration of Life.” I forgot to take photographs at the Celebration, but I did take a couple when we arrived or I should say, barely arrived. We were the last flight to get in. When we landed one of the guys unloading the bags said to me, “you are SO lucky!” I thought he was referring to our bags and said, “Really? You mean our bags almost didn’t make the flight?”
“No! Ten more minutes and the plane would have had to turn around and go back.”
Evidently the visibility was deteriorating by the minute. So yeah.
Arriving in Aspen
Herbert Bayer Sculpture outside the Aspen Institute
Surrounded by family and good friends, the Celebration of Life was a beautiful tribute to my mother with an outpouring of love, memories, laughter and sadness. But mostly joy. Joy that I am fortunate enough to have such a big, wonderful family, with lots of siblings, and extended family, all of whom I love and am close to. I was able to spend time with one of my nieces that I haven’t seen in ages, and spend time with cousins, distant cousins, extended family and many, many friends. And then, dancing around the edges of all of that was my mother. My beautiful, smart, complicated, funny mother.
Mom in her 30’s
Prior to flying out west I was feeling a bit grumbly about the whole thing. It’s not easy flying out, it’s expensive, I didn’t want to go, but lurking under all of that grumbling was the feeling that this was the final goodbye. By coming out to where she lived and having this very public “ceremony” we were closing a chapter. And that… that felt far too painful to contemplate, much less really feel and be acutely in touch with. That we also arrived in a snow storm, with flight delays and everything else that comes with traveling with four other people, it seemed to confirm my feelings that all of this should have been done via Zoom. And then something bizarre happened. On the final leg of our trip getting there, I was seated next to a young man who was going through a really, really difficult, as in life transformative, time. He kept apologizing to me for spilling his “guts” and reassured me that he never does this. He poured out his troubles during our 45 minute flight and told me what was going on with him and it made me realize how important rituals are. How ceremonies aren’t for any one person, but more for the collective group, the family, the community and in our recognition and attendance we heal individually, but also together.
My mother dressed in a Tweety Bird Costume during one of her many costume parties that we had up at the ranch.
Mom deadpanning while wearing her polar bear hat one Christmas on the ranch.
As it turned out, one of my brothers was quarantined in Brussels with Covid and so couldn’t get out and another of my brothers was unable to come, but attended via Zoom, as did a number of other people.
We started the ceremony with a pianist playing Mozart and ended with Ragtime, one of her favorite genres. Everyone who spoke, spoke eloquently about my mother and there was laughter and memories and sadness and connection. The following day I fell apart. It was as though I’d been holding things together up until that point, but then couldn’t keep it up. I felt exhausted and completely and utterly overwhelmed with feelings: grief, sadness, love, gratitude and everything in between. Thankfully I was with family. Family my mother was once the matriarch of. She is gone now and yet she resides in all of us. I can just hear her adding, “a dubious distinction…” I’m so, so grateful to her, and to all that she left behind.
During this bizarre time of Covid any gathering has the potential to be a superspreader event and while I am keeping my fingers crossed that this was not one of those events, I have already heard that 6 people who attended have now tested positive. My immediate family has not, at least not yet, but we will continue to monitor ourselves.
But none of these various articles capture the impact my mother had on those she loved. My mother was a force. She was one of those women who was a beautiful blend of fierce intelligence, wit and passion.
My favorite story regarding my mother was when I was pregnant with my first child. I reached out to her asking for advice. She wrote back saying that she had given this a great deal of thought and then wrote, and I’m paraphrasing now, that the best any of us can do as parents is to love our children, tell them, yes, but more importantly show them, daily how much we love them and one day they will forgive us. Fierce, brilliant, funny, passionate, check, check, check and check. And wise. She was so very wise.
During covid my mother sent videos, articles, stories and photographs, often silly, usually funny, always interesting to help cheer her recipients of whom I was one. I often shared the things she sent me on this blog, using the title, Sh*t My Mother Sends Me. Often those posts were among the most popular and that made her, and me, happy.
In July of this year I went with my son to visit her. She was frail, but her fierceness was undiminished. When I arrived, having lost the ability to speak, she typed, “It’s been too long.” I promised her I would not allow that much time to pass again, unaware that it would be the last time I saw her. I told her about my upcoming trip to Africa that my husband and I were about to embark on mid-August to celebrate my 61st birthday. Africa held a special place for both my parents and the art and stories of their travels surrounded us when I was a child.
Richard and I left for Africa on August 13th. Shortly after, I was told she was failing. Complications related to aging and a life well lived, it became increasingly clear that she would not live much longer. I took to calling in the evening and my sister would hold the phone to her ear so that I could tell her of our African adventures. She died August 27th at 5:30am surrounded by love and her children at home, just as she wanted.
Mom, you showed me how to love and live life with courage, humor and compassion. You led by example and did exactly as you instructed me to do, so many years ago, when I sought your parenting advice. I grew up knowing I was loved. You showed and told me how much you loved me and as a result, no matter what challenges I have faced, every day was a little easier because of you.
My son, Nic, who is a teenager and has been painting since he was old enough to pick up a brush, just won an award from Scholastic Art & Writing for one of his pieces. It’s a portrait, done in acrylic on a large piece of wood, of a friend of his. That painting will be hung in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, here in New York City, in an exhibition featuring the award winners. To say that I’m proud of him would be an understatement. I’m beyond ecstatic. Every time I think of him and his beautiful painting I smile. A big, sweeping, all-encompassing smile. A smile that makes my cheeks hurt and my whole body feel as though it were filled with sunlight.
When Nic was little he began painting every day. We have drawers filled with his work. When he was three, a friend of mine wanted to buy one of his paintings, but it was one of my favorites, so I wouldn’t let her purchase it, even though Nic was happy to have her buy it. He sold his first painting to an art collector when he was 8 or maybe he was 9, I can’t remember now. It had a Basquiat feel to it, lots of color, playful and yet there was an undercurrent of something deeper. Nic was thrilled with his first sale and said he was going to save the money so he could buy himself something important, “like college”. He was 8 or maybe 9.
Nic’s always been a collector of sorts and, like both his parents, tends to get obsessed with things that interest him. I see this as an excellent trait. Every member of my immediate family is passionate (another, more accepting, word for obsessed) about their line of work. I say YAY to obsessions! I cannot imagine life without obsessions. This is also something that some people frown upon in the world of disability, particularly autism, where an obsession, having a passion for something, is called, “special interests.” There’s something so condescending about that. Why should a passion be called anything even remotely derogatory? Every human should be so fortunate as to have passions in this life.
Here’s to a life filled with passion and obsessions. And here’s to my son, Nic, his talent and this award! You’re amazing and I’m so proud of you!!!
Nic holding his painting
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