“What a Wonderful World” is a now famous song that was written by Bob Thiele in 1968 and made famous by Louis Armstrong. The song’s purpose was, “Intended as an antidote for the increasingly racially and politically charged climate of everyday life in the United States, the song also has a hopeful, optimistic tone with regard to the future, with reference to babies being born into the world and having much to look forward to.” (source) It was also my Mom’s favorite song.
The “optimistic tone” is something that was a part of who my Mom was. It was something she made clear to everyone she met. This attitude is something my Mom instilled in me that I did not fully grasp until she was gone, but I am so appreciative that she did. And as time goes on, I’m realizing more and more how much she will always be a part of me.
To pessimist, my Mom’s life was doomed. At age nine, she was diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes and continued to struggle with the disease her entire life. Despite her illness, she was a nationally ranked tennis player as a teenager and a pro in her early adulthood. The sport lead her to meet my Dad, who was a pro racquetball player. My Mom dreamed of being a Mother and was determined to have children. After seven years, five miscarriages and losing a baby girl my parents had a healthy baby, me.
To me, my Mom was not someone who was “sick,” despite many health problems. After her struggles to have children my Mom became legally blind. (although she always joked that she was legally blonde instead) When I was in fourth grade my Mom suffered a brain hemorrhage and fought through the recovery unshaken. Over the years she suffered with several auto-immune diseases, limitations of not being able to drive and the daily task of controlling her diabetes. However, despite all this, she never let her responsibilities as an amazing role model suffer.
In May of 2009, my Mom was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure which was a complication of lifelong diabetes. I remember sitting at my desk at work getting the call that my Mom was going into open heart surgery and my Uncle had volunteered to drive me to Michigan to be with my family. I walked into my bosses office, calmly told her the situation and was on my way to the hospital. That day, my Mom fought through.
And after a summer full of treatments, the doctors deemed that they were unable to do anything else. In November, I got a call that my Mom was not going to make it through the night. Rich, my boyfriend of four months or so, without question told me he would drive me to Michigan. We drove through the night and around 3:00am arrived in Michigan. He met my Dad, my Mom and several members of my extended family in a matter of five minutes. After three weeks in the hospital and many more treatments, my mom fought through again.
The last year of my Mom’s life was one of the most lively I had ever seen her. She had always been optimistic, but the last year of her life she literally lived like she was dying. She went to almost every Michigan game with my Dad, even though she had no interest in the decades of seasons that came before. Every Tuesday, her amazing friends “The Loonies” came over to spend time with her. Even without a voice (a complication caused by pulling out her own tracheostomy tube during one of her hospital stays), she reached out to everyone she cared for and made sure they knew how much they were loved. And our amazing support group of family and friends stayed by our side and made the year her most amazing ever.
I remember vividly my last weekend at home before my Mom passed away. It was Thanksgiving and my Mom was able to be home to spend time with my Dad and I. We had a typical Thanksgiving dinner that we picked up from the grocery store because it was too difficult for us to find time to cook. It was nice and three of us spent time together just like always. On Friday, my Mom and I spent the day together shopping, her in her wheelchair and me pushing behind her. I could see how tired she was, but I could tell how much she wanted to spend time with me so I kept shopping. (she was too stubborn to let me stop anyway)
When we got home from the mall, my Mom went into the backseat of the car and lifted her own wheelchair out of the car and carried it into the house. When I got in, she was breathing heavy sitting at our kitchen table crying uncontrollably. I could tell she was in pain, but she told me that it was not the pain but thinking about all the things she was going to miss in my future. It was then that I realized this was one of my Mom’s last. I told her that she would always be with me. And I meant it.
That night, her and I watched the movie Knocked Up, which stars Seth Rogen who is a dead ringer for Rich. My Mom could not stop laughing thinking about Rich as a Dad. I think that day she always knew what was in store for me. I enjoyed the movie, but more so spent that night soaking in every last minute of time with my Mom.
I returned to Chicago and a week later, on a Thursday night my Mom had a heart attack. I went to work the next day not knowing what the plan was. My Dad and I decided that there had been too many scares, so I decided to stay in Chicago. On the Saturday, Rich and I had plans to spend time with his parents. We woke up and walked outside to beautiful, untouched snow. We went to Moody’s Pub for a burger, which was a place his parents’ frequented when they were first married. After lunch, Rich and his Dad went to a Loyola basketball game. His Mom and I hit up the antique shops in search of a mirror for Rich’s bathroom that he had just refinished.
After a few hours, we found the perfect mirror! We were so excited and immediately called the men to let them know where we were. As we were at the checkout, I got the call that my Mom was not going to make it much longer. In a flurry of purchasing a mirror and finding out the news, I remember my Dad calling Rich and telling him so he could tell me. When I heard the news, I had no idea what to do. I ran across four lanes of traffic to our car with Rich running after me carrying the mirror. We said goodbye to his parents and drove back to my apartment.
As we drove down Lakeshore Drive, there were fireworks going off. It was somewhat random for a November day, but we took a minute to appreciate them. When we got back to my apartment we sat waiting for my Dad to call and only minutes later to tell us the news that she had passed. I had spent over year contemplating what my reaction would be and my reaction surprised me. When we heard the news, I did not immediately feel sad. Instead, I felt a sense of calm. A sense that this is how things were supposed to have happened.
Since it was already late evening, Rich and I decided to stay in Chicago and drive back to Michigan in the morning. We had a Groupon that was going to expire, so we went out for Italian. I don’t remember much of that meal, but I do remember the rush of phone calls and text messages from my friends and family. I felt so loved that night.
Looking back at that day and that time in my life, I choose to remember the love that surrounded me, not the hardships. Even during that time, I chose to look at the beauty that surrounded me. Spending time with my now future in-laws was a perfect reminder of the future I had to look forward to. The little things, like the fireworks and the first snow that remind me to take time to notice the things that add happiness to my life. And the fact that my Mom had spent her life preparing me to have this attitude.
Every day, I look in the mirror that I purchased with Rich’s Mom and sometimes I stop and think about that day. Some may think of it as ironic that the day my Mom passed we purchased that mirror, but, I see it as reminder to remember what a wonderful world we live in. To appreciate the little things, to live with a positive attitude and to remember all the good around me. And to remember my Mom is always with me.