Hi friends ~
Since many of you follow me on Facebook, you may know that my mother died last Friday.
She and my sister were visiting me in Madison as we took a little pause from our road trip — the cross-country journey that she considered her long good-bye, since she was dying of cancer.
The day she died, we were supposed to visit my son at his college campus, and then we were headed to Minnesota to visit her Aunt Millie, the widow of her Uncle Bill — her father’s brother — who was also her godfather.
After that, my Mom and sister were going to head from Chicago to El Paso by train. My mother had always wanted to take a long train trip.
On Thursday night, my Mom took a very hard fall. We told her we were calling 911 and she said, “Oh good grief, really?” As if it was no big deal.
By the time we made it to the hospital, my mother had lost consciousness, and the neurosurgeon told us that it was, basically, an unsurvivable injury.
My sister and I spent the night with her, and indeed, she never recovered.
There is grace in all things, and one of the small mercies we’ve found in this sudden death is that my sister and I were together in the end, something that was never guaranteed. Also, my mother hated being a bother to anyone, and was already starting to feel like a burden. Like it was taking too much time and energy for us to take care of her. (We didn’t feel that way, of course.)
And finally, my mother was facing a painful year in front of her, dealing with an excruciating form of cancer. And while my sister and I would have wanted ten thousand more days with her—a hundred thousand—we wouldn’t have wanted her to suffer through one of them.
Many of you have reached out to us — through email, phone calls and Facebook comments and messages. We are grateful for your kindness to us, and to those of you who knew my mother personally, thank you for the many messages of love, affection and fond memories you have shared.
If you knew my mother at all, you knew a few things about her.
I put in my Facebook announcement that Mom was a lovely spirit, a dedicated teacher, and a wonderful friend.
She was also a kind-hearted, compassionate woman who opened her heart and home to friends when they needed a place to stay, especially when they were suffering from abuse from others, or had hit a difficult time emotionally or financially.
She loved books, music, art and theater. She was a true renaissance soul, who mentored hundreds of middle school, high school and college kids. She read voraciously, and sat for hours with the people she loved over bottomless cups of coffee, talking about her world and the world, great and small, vast and intimate.
She was an intellectually curious, lifelong learner. She loved people, and she treated everyone she met with grace and respect.
As I mentioned in my blog post last week, Mom was an avid reader, and to honor both my mother, and this space that celebrates books, I asked the women mom loved and visited recently to share some of their favorite authors.
In Olathe, we visited my mother’s cousin Gwen and friend Karen, both of whom were lifelong friends and companions.
Gwen loves John Grisham and Jan Karon.
Good timing because Karon has a new book coming out at the end of this month, BATHED IN PRAYER: Father Tim's Prayers, Sermons, and Reflections from the Mitford Series. Full of advice and inspiration from the characters that fans have followed for years, this beautifully designed compilation will soon become a staple for any Mitford reader.
Karen recommends Susan Mallery (who was a Mary Kay customer of hers years ago, apparently — isn’t it a small world?!) whom she loves for pure romance. Also, Laura Hillenbrand, Lisa Wingate, Jeanette Walls and Kristin Hannah. “No particular order,” she says, “just books I’ve read in the past year or so.”
Susan Mallery’s most recent Happily Inc. title, WHY NOT TONIGHT, came out a few weeks ago (review here) and a visit to Happily Inc. is always a fun, romantic escape.
In Ohio, we visited our dear friend Yoly (a close friend of mine and my sister’s from high school, who was one of those people my mom sheltered at various times). Mom hadn’t seen Yoly in over a decade, so we were so glad we were able to see her on our trip.
Yoly recommends Celeste Ng.
She says, “Celeste Ng's books are quiet lightning rods. They quietly weave stories about interracial adoption, thoughts on suicide, isolation, depression, and what it means to not be like everyone else around you. First the story unfolds, then the depth of the subject matter rolls in afterwards. It feels like an afterthought that doesn't go away as fast as you think it should.” What a great way to put it! I’ve read both of Ng’s books too, and I agree they’re powerhouse reads. (If you’re interested, this is my commentary on Little Fires Everywhere. It received a Kirkus starred review.)
On Tuesday, my sister and I traveled to Minnesota to visit Aunt Millie, since we felt it was the right thing to do and was another way to honor Mom.
I always love visiting people’s homes and seeing that they’re reading books by authors I know and love. My husband and I visited Millie last year and she was reading A BRIDGE ACROSS THE OCEAN by Susan Meissner, which she really liked. This week, in her living room, I discovered AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie, which she just started. (Romance readers may know that LK writes romance under Laura Kaye.)
Interestingly, when I asked Mille to recommend authors or books she loved, she mentioned that she’d received tickets to Hamilton for her birthday and that had led her to read I, ELIZA HAMILTON by Susan Holloway Scott, which she enjoyed. So I of course told her that if she likes America’s First Daughter, she might also want to pick up MY DEAR HAMILTON: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, also by Dray & Kamoie (review here).
Finally, later in conversation, as we were poring over old photographs and sharing memories of Mom and her family, somehow it came up that Millie was fascinated by the 1918 flu epidemic, so I told her she also needed to read Susan Meissner’s AS BRIGHT AS HEAVEN, which was fascinating (review here — and I wrote about the book here).
I feel so blessed that Mom was a great reader, and that so many great conversations among her friends, and among my friends, have revolved around books.
I’m grateful that it turns out that her loved ones love many of the authors I love.
That so many people important to her, and important to me, are book lovers, and that, at the worst times and in the most graceful ways, books sustain us.
Always have, always will.
I expect (I hope!) most of you have had a better week than I have, but may I suggest that you hug the ones you love, and maybe contact people you haven’t seen in a while but think of fondly?
You never know what might happen. We knew we were going to lose Mom soon, but not this soon. The last few weeks of visits and check-ins have been such a comfort to us, and my chance to check in again about books has been yet another blessing.