I Didn’t Die, My Mom Did

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It’s not like I didn’t know it was coming.

I didn’t lose my mom to a sudden accident. She’d been sick for months, but at first we just weren’t really sure what it was, because amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is sometimes difficult to diagnose. The symptoms resemble those of many other disorders, including multiple sclerosis and even Lyme disease. By December 2008, however, she had a definite diagnosis of ALS, which was slowly robbing her of the ability to do everyday things. Life didn’t change only for my mom; it changed for all of us. My dad quickly went to work researching what lay in store for our little family of three. He found resources and organizations that offered many tools to help with what was going to come next. I wasn’t really sure what my place was anymore. I quickly became something my mother never wanted me to become, her caregiver. Given how expensive everything was, we didn’t really have much of a choice–and don’t even get me started talking about what insurance doesn’t cover.

Everyday experiences that we had normally taken for granted now seemed doubly precious. I will never forget the moment when my mom lost the ability to swallow her own spit. My dad got her a saliva suction machine just like the kind you would see in the dentist’s office, and every few minutes she would need someone to remove the spit from her mouth. The hardest part was when she lost the ability to speak, but instead of dwelling on what was happening, we lay in bed, eating donuts, and I made her laugh. We laughed a lot. I did my very best Snow White impression, singing “I’m wishing,” and read her some of our favorite children’s books, including Dance Little Pookie, the book that contained the pet name she had given me when I was little. Even through all of these difficult changes, my mom not only never complained, but somehow, she still managed to put me first–even making sure that my favorite dessert was waiting for me when I came to stay for the weekend. Although she was a naturally positive person, I still don’t know how she managed to remain so happy as her health declined.

Throughout that difficult time, I was uplifted by memories of my mom, ones I’ll always remember: every day she would tell me that all she ever dreamed of was being a mommy to a little girl named Jennifer. I grew up thinking she was magic–she could make stuffed animals move and even talk! She could fix anything, and she could find anything. She loved dressing up as different characters, especially Elvis; in fact, she once showed up in my tenth-grade English class, dressed as Elvis to sing me “Happy Birthday.” An actress at heart, she was even an extra in a few movies and acted in several plays. During most of my childhood, my mom worked at a bank, starting as a teller and working her way up to loan officer. As I discovered, everyone loved her: no matter what part of the bank we were in, she always had a friend to joke around with. One time she and I rolled around the whole bank in her office chair, with me on her lap giggling uncontrollably, to the point that our laughter filled the entire bank!

When my mom did die–just a few months before what would have been her 50th birthday–I found myself wishing that I had asked her so many questions, especially those that pertain to being a mother. How had she stayed so happy all the time? I wished I could ask her if William is anything like the baby I was. How the hell did she potty train me? I wanted to ask her if she was ever lonely and whether she ever had trouble breastfeeding me–or was I bottle fed? I also wished I could ask her what I ate when I was little. Did she ever have problems in her relationship with my dad, and how did she solve them? How did she keep her marriage so strong? How had she kept her faith through all of the bad things that had happened to her? Most of all, I wanted to ask her to stay.

Although I will never be able to ask her how to be the best mom I can be, I have vivid memories of what a wonderful mom she was to me. So I will continue to focus on the way she related to me, and I’ll strive to be that kind of mom for my own little boy. By being my mom, she taught me much about being a mom. So these are my promises to my sweet boy: if there is a photo booth, you better believe we’ll be getting in it and taking pictures–just as my mom and I did! We will be happy living in the moment, not letting little things wreck our day. We will appear in pictures together, no matter what I look like. You will never have to ask where I was at a particular moment, because right there in the picture, you’ll see me standing next to you.

No matter where we are, I will tuck you into bed every night. You will get as many books and kisses as you want–even if I am super tired. I’ll willingly read the same book to you again and again, and each time will be like the first time. I will tickle you before bed. I will tell you I love you not once, not twice, but a gazillion times! On Christmas Eve we will have our own tradition: it will be our special day, just you and me. You will come to work with me, and I will give you “important jobs” to do. We will share a special lunch and just be silly together. We will try to tie cherry stems in knots with our mouths. We will eat gigantic pieces of cake.

Remembering how well my mom treated me, I will never tell you what to do. Instead, I’ll listen to your questions and help guide you to find the answers on your own. I will be there for you whenever you need me, no questions asked. You will make mistakes (we both will), but we will learn together–just as my mom and I did all those years ago, when I was little.

A former preschool teacher, Jennifer Beamer married an Army guy in 2007 and is now a SAHM to a sweet and lively two-year-old boy. Born and raised in Florida, she loves the beach and anything water-related. When she isn’t chasing her rambunctious toddler, Jennifer is facilitating the Jacksonville Moms Blog sponsored Neighborhood Play Groups. She loves a good mystery, meeting new people and getting fit with the awesome ladies of Jax Stroller Strength!

1 COMMENT

  1. This was beautifully sad. Your mom sounds amazing and my heart hurts that your son won’t grow up with her in human form. God bless you, your family and your mother angel!!

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