Things usually work out the way they are supposed to – This is something my mother said to me often, possibly at the top of the list of “Jeanie Rules” I have come to live by. Others include the requirement to always shower before getting into clean sheets and the necessity to rid your closet of an equal number of items purchased following a shopping trip – this one is easy for me because I rarely shop and love to purge (except for that shirt, I’ll probably wear that one this year). She was a minimalist in a house and in a world of excess. All she ever wanted out of life was me and my sister (her words) and she was a supremely happy person despite living in constant pain with everyone around her needing her as much as we did. The older I get, the more in awe of that ability I become. I find myself struggling to be all the things I have positioned myself to be and I don’t even have children to parent. Society has always asked too much of women and an impossible amount from mothers, add to that chronic pain followed by the most unfair of diagnoses and I don’t know how one continues to smile, continues to be grateful. But she did.
This time of year is not my favorite. I have a Protestant preference for celebrating life rather than mourning death and I am delighted by each of the Jeanie Days I’ve been able to enjoy every May. Come early September, I usually don’t have a strong emotional response. I like to light a candle for her on 9/10 as is Jewish tradition but other than that, the day typically comes and goes without much notice. Maybe this can be attributed to my Irish inclination to bury bad feelings but who can tell? Who knows where those are kept? In any event, I find myself caught off guard this year by how fragile I feel leading up to this 10th anniversary of Jeanie’s final moments with us, her final moments with me. The course of my life was forever changed because of the time I was able to spend with her in the last few years of her life on Earth – the magnitude of this impact continues to grow the older I get and, for it, I will always be grateful. On the day she passed, I was meant to go out for the afternoon but my instincts told me I needed to be home. Similar to many, Jeanie spent most of her last days sleeping. However, a day or two earlier she had a burst of energy (common in the days immediately preceding death), during which she asked me to tell Linda Miller Raff to start practicing Way Over Yonder by Carole King, which she had agreed to sing at Jeanie’s memorial. I said, “I won’t be doing that because it’s a wildly inappropriate request.” She shrugged and responded, “Well you better figure something out, because in a few days I’m out of here.” And she went back to sleep.
I think I don’t like to reflect on this time of year because it’s hard to ignore how rotten the deal Jeanie got dealt was and how unfair it was that she had so little control over the way she died. But this flashbulb memory of her directing me to prepare the troops, as it were, for her memorial service felt like a beautiful act of defiance and today that makes me smile. It’s a smile through tears but the best ones always are. The opportunity to be with someone, and I mean really be right in there with them, while they are dying is a gift. It’s something we will all likely have the chance to do if we are able to take advantage. It’s undeniably sad that my mom had to die when I was 23 but the last 10 years of my life have been ones in which I have seized the fucking day. As often as humanly possible. She’s the reason I’ve said yes to travel, yes to risk, yes to love. She’s the reason I always shower before getting into clean sheets, make sure my closet stays one in/one out and the reason I know deep down, even when it’s hard, that things usually work out the way they are supposed to.