Strange things are afoot at the Purebread Deli.

The Purebread Deli & Cafe is this adorable, dog-themed coffee shop that also has really yummy sandwiches (all of which are named after dogs, naturally).  It’s a local chain, and there’s a location not far from my house. Even so, I don’t go there all that often. But I met an old friend from high school there for coffee a few weeks back, and tonight I was meeting a new friend for a hot beverage.

As I’m walking in – literally, walking in – I run into Ellen, a student from one of my creative writing classes at UD. She tells me that Michael, another student from that class, is parking the car. Then he comes in and it’s like OH HI and suddenly we’re having old home week at the Purebread Deli. He tells me that he and Ellen met in my class and fell in L-O-V-E because of that class. Which is totally adorable. I tell them that this summer, two students who took my class (but not at the same time) got married.

“Go teach a class!” Michael yells to me, as he goes to place his order.

“I make love connections!” I quip back.

So that’s a happy good thing, right? Right.

Later, as I’m lingering over hot beverage with the new friend, Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe” comes on over the sound system, and my own breath catches.

This is the song that I watched Joe’s aunt Brenda sob to at his uncle Tommy’s wedding, about nine months after their father (Joe’s grandfather) passed away.

This is the song I listened to the day I found out that Marian was gone.

This is the song that I played at my mother’s funeral, the one that nearly destroyed me that day.

Tonight, I stopped speaking, mid-sentence. I lost my entire train of thought. It took every ounce of willpower to keep myself from crying. Right there, in the middle of the adorable dog-themed coffee shop.

I kept it together.

But guess what? When the song ended, and the next one began, it was the exact same song. Only, this version was sung by a different artist.

It was a total WTF moment.

I said, “What, are they doing an encore?”

My conversational skills deteriorated after that.

You probably know this song, but in case you don’t, it’s below (lyrics included).

And while I wouldn’t call this a happy good thing – the two versions of “Just Breathe,” how utterly random – I wouldn’t call it a sad bad thing, either. It’s just…a thing.

It reminded me how, at the funeral, our officiant Metty said something that – up until that point – hadn’t clicked for me.

My mom died in her sleep. She stopped breathing. And the song I chose to play?

“Just Breathe.”

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Regrets.

I’m not going to lie: when your mother dies suddenly, 15-20 years before you thought you’d have to deal with this inevitability, it totally sucks.

But anytime I start to wallow in something vaguely resembling self-pity, I think about my aunt, whose mom died suddenly when she was only 13 years old. I think about my husband, whose mom died suddenly when he was only 12.

I tell myself that I had almost 38 years with my mom. That’s roughly three times as many as either of those two got.

Days like today – the one year anniversary of my mom’s passing – I can’t help but think about all the things I should’ve said but didn’t. All the questions I should’ve asked but didn’t. All of the stories I should’ve memorized but didn’t.

I thought I had more time.

My mom wasn’t old. If 50 is the new 40, then 60 is the new 50, and everybody knows 50 isn’t old.

I thought I had a lot more time.

I’ve been writing about my mother a lot, because writing is how I process. People sometimes comment on what a wonderful relationship my mom and I must have had. If you know me – really know me – you know that’s not the case. I mean, yes, I loved my mother. And she loved me, too, fiercely. But ours was a complicated relationship, not without more than its fair share of drama. We fought a lot. Sometimes those fights stretched weeks or even months.

I got my stubbornness from her.

I got a lot of things from her. More than one person has told me that sometimes I use words like knives. So did Nancy. I am haunted by some of the things she said to me in anger. Even though she almost always apologized later, I can’t unhear those things. Just as I’m sure there are quite a few things I said to her that she wished she could unhear, too.

A few years ago, my mom told me that when I was born, her mother told her that the best piece of advice she could give her was to never let me get a big head. Keep her ego in check, Nana told her. Never stop pointing out her flaws.

This was one of those light bulb moments for me. Suddenly, it made sense why my mother praised me to others but spent so many years criticizing me to my face. “I didn’t know any better,” she confessed. “I thought that’s what a good mom did.”

She told me how sorry she was that she followed Nana’s advice, and that now she could see how damaging it had been to my self-esteem.

It made me love her more.

Not only that she apologized, but that she recognized that she had things to apologize for. Not everybody does that. I’ve been waiting for my father to apologize since I was 21. He doesn’t think he has anything to apologize for. So we have no relationship, and probably never will. But that’s another story entirely.

My mother wasn’t a perfect mother, not by a long shot. And I wasn’t a perfect daughter, not by a long shot. But we were there for each other when it mattered the most. I fled to her arms in some of the most horrific moments of my adult life. And in those moments, she made me feel safe. She made me feel loved.

“There’s something about mothers,” my aunt always says. No matter how bad the arguments, or how deep the criticism, or how awful the whatever else – wanting your mother is like this primal instinct. You look to her when you’re seeking that soft place to fall.

I’m an only child, and when Joe and I got together, my mom took it hard. She was jealous of the time I spent with him – the time I didn’t spend with her. She would get jealous of my two best friends, too; she always felt I prioritized everybody over her. It wasn’t true, but to Nancy, it felt true.

We’d always talked about taking a trip to Iceland.

We never made it to the Booths Corner Farmers Market together.

We didn’t go to the theater as much as we should have.

We didn’t play enough card games.

She never made me the crab cakes she’d been promising me since my 36th birthday.

I never got to show her the mother’s album I made her of my wedding. It was supposed to be her Christmas present. I’d actually made it over the summer and debated whether or not to give it to her for her birthday. I decided against it. We’d stopped doing birthday presents years ago.

She never got to see that album. She never got to read the book she was so excited I was writing.

She’ll never read any words I write ever again.

When someone close to us dies, and we’re reminded of how short and unpredictable life can be, we make ourselves all sorts of promises. I won’t take time for granted ever again. I will regret nothing.

I thought these things when my Gram passed, even though she was older and had been declining for years. Why didn’t I visit her more? Call her more?

And when Marian – beautiful, 35-year-old, mother of two gorgeous little children Marian – when she passed away I thought those things again. Don’t hesitate to tell people you love them. Give them your words. Give them your time.

Give them your heart.

All day people have been sending me emails and text messages and, in the case of my amazerful husband, I even got a gorgeous bouquet of sunflowers. His note read, “Sweet, I know you miss your mom. We all do. Here’s something she loved for someone she loved.”

And that’s when whatever veneer of “okay” I’d been holding on to cracked open, and I started to cry.

My mom wasn’t old, and she wasn’t supposed to die at 61, but she did. I can’t change anything that happened or how it happened.

But I can tell Joe how much I love him, each and every day. I can spend more time with the people who make me feel loved, too. I can call my aunt more, and stop putting off…well, anything that I keep putting off.

I can be happy, and I can live the life I know my mom would have wanted me to live.

I can honor her memory that way.

I can live without any more regrets.

How I became a Delicious Dish.

Last winter, I got a phone call from Mary-lou, a woman in my mother’s cooking club, inviting me to their next gathering. They were having a dinner in my mom’s honor, she said, and they wanted me to come so they could “cluck” over me.

My mom had been a member of Delicious Dishes, as the women named themselves, for the better part of a decade, and I’d always envied her participation. The last Thursday of each month, the six (sometimes five, sometimes seven) Dishes would gather to cook a multi-course menu together. They took turns hosting, and each host was responsible for selecting that month’s menu. Each member kicked in money toward groceries, usually $12 to $20 per person.

When it was my mother’s turn to host, she – in typical Nancy fashion – would spend weeks planning her menu. Often she’d bounce ideas off of me, and I’d help her find the perfect recipes for whatever theme she’d decided upon. She had a taste for the elaborate; the first time she hosted, her ambitious menu included oyster bisque, beef tenderloin stuffed with lobster, baked stuffed oranges, asparagus soufflé, apricot tart and Earl Grey ice cream. (The Dishes still crack jokes about this, in part because they didn’t sit down to eat until almost midnight that night.)

Dishes College

In addition to my mother and Mary-lou, the group consisted of Mom’s best friend Amy (who’s been like a second mom to me for years); Evelyn; Jenny; Jeanne; and sometimes Beverly. I’d always thought my mom was a founding member, because I have vivid memories of how and when they voted to call themselves the Delicious Dishes, but it turns out she joined several months into the group’s existence. She loved being a Dish, and I looked forward to hearing her recaps after each month’s get-together.

The truth is, I’d wanted to be a Dish for a long, long time. It just sounded like so much fun. I’d definitely inherited my mom’s love of cooking (and eating), and on more than one occasion I’d casually mentioned the idea of forming our own supper club to some of my friends who also liked to cook. (No one ever bit.)

So when Mary-lou asked me to join them for dinner last February, I was not only touched, I was excited.

Mary-lou picked a vegetarian menu for the evening. I thought it was funny because my mom was so far from a vegetarian. We made borscht, a winter casserole with herb dumplings, braised fennel with tomatoes, and a pear and hazelnut flan for dessert. It’s customary for most Dishes to sip wine while we cooked, and catch up on each other’s lives. I got a lot of questions that first night – about how I was doing, how my stepfather was doing, how Mom’s dogs were doing – but I also got to hang back and listen to the banter. There was a whole twenty-minute stretch of them comparing pre- and post-menopausal symptoms, and through it all I couldn’t stop smiling.

These were my mother’s friends. Her girls. They didn’t just cook together, they laughed together. They listened to one another. They supported each other. When Joe and I decided to throw a wedding together in 33 days, Amy talked me through details I wouldn’t have even thought of. Evelyn came and helped out in the kitchen at the reception. When mom passed away, several of the Dishes provided dessert items for funeral guests. My favorite was Jeanne’s moist chocolate chip bundt cake – which I later found out her daughter called “The Death Cake” because Jeanne only seems to make it for funerals. (We had a good laugh over this. It was REALLY good cake!)

The Dishes talked a lot about my mom that night, sharing stories about outrageous things she’d said or done. Stories that made them cry, not from sadness but from laughter.

It was more than nice.

At the end of the dinner – which truly was delicious, and which my mother would’ve loved despite the lack of animal protein involved – Mary-lou presented me with a three-ring binder full of menus my mom had planned during her time as a Dish. Tucked into the back was a sheet of paper that read “If you would like some motherly advice…” and included all of the Dishes’ contact info. My eyes filled with tears. Everything about that night was exactly what I needed, at exactly the moment I needed it most.

I was invited back to the Dishes the following month. In April, there was no dinner, because Amy was up for a volunteering award (which she won, yay!), the banquet for which fell on the last Thursday of that month. I was invited back again in May, opted out of June (because I’d just gotten back from vacation and was scrambling to get ready for a work trip), returned in July, and have attended every one since.

Delicious Dishes

The Dishes, from left to right: me, Jeanne, Mary-lou, Jenny, Evelyn, Amy

Around May, the Dishes voted to make me a permanent member, instead of a monthly guest. And last Thursday, just three days before my mom’s birthday, I hosted my first Delicious Dishes dinner.

I could’ve done a Halloween menu. Or, I could’ve gone with my first idea, which was to build a menu of copycat restaurant recipes. But at some point, I decided I’d do my own tribute dinner to my mom.

After she passed, my stepfather gave me huge cardboard boxes filled with large envelopes stuffed with recipes. My mother’s recipes. Some were in her own handwriting. Some were printouts photocopies with handwritten notes on them. Some were from her mother, my Nana, and some from my gram on my dad’s side. There were a bajillion columns from Nancy Coale Zippe, longtime food columnist for the News Journal, as well as clippings from PA newspapers stretching back to years before I was born – many from around the time she and my dad got married.

I couldn’t go through the boxes right away, but started to a few weeks after Mom had passed. I pulled out all of the handwritten ones and squirreled them away in an archival safe box. The rest I just marveled at. When I say there are tens of thousands of recipes, it’s no exaggeration. Then I stuffed them into a closet, because I couldn’t bear to part with a single one.

A few weeks back, I started combing through those recipes again. I was determined to create my menu solely from recipes my mom had picked out once upon a time. It was no easy feat, either; nearly 50% of them were recipes for desserts. I found maybe half a dozen salad recipes total, and not many more soups. Finding five recipes that fit the season (not to mention each other!) took me right up until two nights before, when I settled on hot sausage balls (something I remember my mom making a lot growing up), spiced pecans, corn soup with roasted poblano peppers, Texas chili served over spoon bread, and pumpkin custards. The oldest recipe came from 1973; the newest from 1993.

At Trader Joe’s, I picked up a gorgeous fall bouquet with three sunflowers in it. Sunflowers – my mother’s favorite. Her kitchen was in a sunflower motif. She never met a sunflower she didn’t like. Amy arranged the bouquet into a lovely centerpiece. It was like my mom was there with us.

One of the best parts of being a host is that you get to invite your spouse to dine with the Dishes. So they got to meet Joe. They teased us about being “newlyweds,” and cooed over how cute Joe and I were. (It’s true. We’re pretty freaking adorable.) They also cooed over Scout and how cute he is, too.

I’m so grateful to the Dishes, for who they were to my mom and who they now are to me. And I felt so lucky to be able to share that night with them, and to honor my mom’s memory in that way.

I knew she’d approve.

Food Collage

The ‘Year of Firsts’ is coming to a close.

Today would have been my mom’s 62nd birthday. Except, two days after her 61st birthday, she passed away rather unexpectedly.

NLS 25

My mom’s birthday, 2008.

So my Year of Firsts (first ____ without my mom) started right before Thanksgiving. That wasn’t so bad, because we hadn’t spent Thanksgiving together in years. Plus, neither of us particularly loved that holiday, since it tended to be one fraught with Drama (capital D intended). But right after that came Christmas. Anyone who knew my mom knew she was crazy about Christmas. Even people who’d never met my mom might remember an editorial I wrote for The Review, my college newspaper, about my Jewish mother’s obsession with Christmas lights. (That piece got me into some hot water with several members of Hillel, who found it really insulting and disrespectful to their faith.)

After Christmas comes New Year’s, of course; 2014 was the first that my mom would never see. And a few weeks after that, I celebrated my birthday. Nearly every year, my mom would call me at 11:59 a.m. – the exact moment I was born – and sing me her special birthday song:

Happy birdle dadle toodle youdle doodle
Happy birdle dadle toodle youdle doodle
Happy birdle dadle toodle youdle doodle
Happy birdle dadle toodle youdle doodle
Kings and queen and princes too
Wanna wish the best for you
So whaddya say, whaddya say
Happy birthday – to you!
People dying everywhere
Children crying everywhere
So happy birthday – uh
Happy birthday – uh
Granny cut your toenails, you’re ripping the sheets – cha!

(This is how I think the song went, anyway. At least, it’s the best reconstruction that my godmother Jan and I could come up with. They learned the song at Camp Kippewa, where they spent most of their girlhood summers, but Google searches have turned up nothing.)

So my birthday came and went, and nobody sang me the song, but I was in Texas with my best friend for our fourth annual birthday trip and was able to distract myself fairly easily. After that, there was a bit of a lull in the Year of Firsts.

Then, in March, it was our anniversary. I had some anxiety then because of the anniversary cards. At our wedding, we had 25 cards that guests were asked to fill out to wish us a happy anniversary for 25 years to come. Kind of like this, only we made ours ourselves. My friend Marian was in charge of handing out the cards, and I asked her to not tell us who she gave each year to because I wanted it to be a surprise.

My mom didn’t like the first year that Marian assigned her. She got really upset at the wedding, at one point crying because she knew she wouldn’t be around when I opened it. I still don’t know the year, but I’m guessing it was one of the big ones – probably 20 or 25. So Mar ended up giving her a second card to fill out, one with a lower number, because Momma was sure she’d be here for that one.

There’s a card from Marian in the box, too. Marian, who also passed away unexpectedly, in June 2012, and whose death left an enormous hole in so many people’s hearts.

So now I have this box of cards with greetings from ghosts, and I can’t tell if the cards were one of the smartest things I did at the wedding (I’ll get loving messages from people even after they’re gone) or stupidest things (yearly anxiety wondering if this message is going to make me smile or bawl like a baby or both).

Turns out Year 2 belonged to my friend Carolee and her husband Chuck. And I already know Year 3 belongs to Candace, one of my oldest and dearest friends, because she still hasn’t filled it out yet. (She also nabbed a second year, 19 I think, and hasn’t filled that one out either.) So I know I won’t open a message from Mar or my mom for at least another 16 months.

I was in New Orleans for Mother’s Day, at the International Reading Association’s Annual Conference. People kept wishing me a happy Mother’s Day, and each well-intended greeting was like a knife in my heart, for multiple reasons. But I was working, and the work kept me busy and distracted for the most part.

And then…nothing. For the next five and a half month, there were no major Firsts. Just random things that would happen. Like, when my husband and I couldn’t find our orbital sander, we thought we’d loaned it to Wendy. But she didn’t have it. And then I had this image of showing it to my stepfather at Christmas, but he didn’t know what I was talking about. A little bit later, I realized it was my mom who’d borrowed it, just a few weeks before she passed. And this made me sob uncontrollably for hours.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, it hit me that we were coming up on the final two Firsts: her birthday and the one-year anniversary of her death. The double whammy of both being only two days apart started to back up on me last Saturday. We’d gone to the movies with my college roommate Jen and her husband Brian, to see St. Vincent. There was a line in the movie that reminded me of my mom’s eulogy and I started crying and couldn’t stop until the credits rolled.

There have been a lot of crying jags the past several days. Yesterday, inexplicably, I started bawling while listening to the Frozen soundtrack (conceal, don’t feel); later, it was a DVR’d episode of Parenthood that left me sobbing.

Yesterday, I fought to stay awake. Last night, I couldn’t fall asleep. And then, this morning, Facebook reminded me that Nancy Stone had a birthday today. A couple of people left messages on her wall – not heartfelt ones, mind you, but the automatic “happy bday” that a lot of people seem to leave based on the reminders. People who clearly didn’t know my mom was gone, or didn’t care enough to remember.

So I opted to memorialize her account. Basically, it freezes a person’s Facebook page. You can’t log in any more, but nothing disappears. Next year on her birthday, no one will get a reminder from FB. And once the memorialization request is approved, my mom won’t appear in the “People You May Know” boxes, either. People can still leave her messages on her timeline, though, and even send private messages that no one else will ever be able to read.

And that’s that. I’ll be observing my mom’s birthday by having brunch with my stepfather. And then I’ll go home and pay some bills and make a grocery list and life will go on, because that’s what life does.

I still miss my mom every day. Sometimes, I almost forget that she’s dead. It feels more like she’s in Florida with her friend Charlotte, and has been too busy to call.

Those are the worst times – not the feeling like Florida thing but the sharp stab that comes every time I think I will never see her again. Never hug her again. Never make her laugh, not ever again.

Happy birthday, Momma. I love you.

Always.

Six months and counting.

Six months ago today, I got out of a particularly gnarly string of Monday-afternoon meetings to a frantic message from my mother’s neighbor:

Lara, please give me a call ASAP !!! There were 4 ambulances at your moms house and there are still 3 cop cars there !! I have no idea if anyone went in the ambulance or whats going on

My heart stopped for a second, and a chill washed over my skin. Immediately, instinctively, I reached for the phone and called my mom’s house.

No answer.

Next, I dialed her cell phone.

No answer.

Then I dialed my stepfather Mark’s cell phone. It rang for a long time and I thought I was going to get another voice mail message. Instead, he picked up on like the sixth ring.

“Your mother,” he said through obvious tears. “Lara, she passed away.”

“What?” My question came out sharp, loud, panicked.

“She passed away,” he said again. “In her sleep. I’m so sorry.”

Mom necklaceMy mother was 61 years old. She’d celebrated her birthday two days prior. I hadn’t seen her then because she had another one of her colds. She was starting to get better (she was always getting sick, getting better, getting sicker, getting better-er), but I felt like I was coming down with something. I didn’t want to make her sick again, plus she and Mark had been without water at the house for days, something to do with the well pump. When I spoke to my mom on her birthday, she’d been pretty miserable about the situation. No water meant no showers, no way to do dishes, no working toilets. Our last conversation, as I later recounted during the eulogy, got cut short because my mother told me she needed to go poop in a bucket.

I left work and drove myself from Newark to North Wilmington. On the way out to the car, I called my husband who, by some small miracle, had taken the day off. We agreed to meet at my mom’s. Then I called my best friend to tell her what had happened. Then I called my aunt. Each time I told someone what had happened, the words made even less sense.

My mother wasn’t supposed to die for at least another twenty years. At least, that’s what I thought. No, she wasn’t in the best health. She was a lifelong smoker (even though she’d finally traded cigarettes for one of those vapor thingies) with COPD. She’d been in a horrible car accident several years prior, during which she’d inhaled the contents of a malfunctioining airbag. For a while, parts of her lungs were turning granular. She was never the same after that. Lots of inhalers, nebulizers, monthly IVIG therapy. Lots of colds and the flu and generally feeling crappy. But she wasn’t dying.

There were still police at the house when I arrived. Joe, my husband, was there too. He walked with me into the house. He stood by me when I walked into the living room, to say goodbye to my mother. I held her hand, smoothed her hair, kissed her too-cool cheek.

I made calls. Lots and lots of calls. I cried for a couple of short jags, almost like hiccups, but mostly I was in a daze. I told the story over and over: she’d had another cold. Her breathing wasn’t great. She fell asleep on the couch using her nebulizer. She never woke up.

Six months ago today, my mom died. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her, or miss her, or wonder what my life would be like if she were still in it.

There’s so much I want to say about my mom, so much I want to write about her, but every time I try something inside of me starts to close up. I just can’t do it. I’m ashamed to admit that, even though six months has gone by, I still haven’t written the dozens of thank you notes I needed to send to all of the amazing people who stepped in and helped me and my family. I’ve tried so many times, but I can never get through more than one before I shut down again.

Because to be perfectly honest, I don’t want to think about those days surrounding my mother’s death. I don’t want to think about her death, period.

Anyway.

I’ve debated with myself whether or not it would be totally tacky to post the eulogy I wrote my mom in this blog. But here’s the thing: when I sat down to write her eulogy, the first thing I did was Google “eulogy mother.” To see how others had done what to me felt like an impossible task. Besides, my mom always loved it when I wrote about her. So. Here we go.

Exalano Day Momma

Eulogy for My Momma

November 10, 2013

I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to say about my mom until I sat down to write it all out. And that’s when I realized I didn’t even know where to begin, let alone how I was going to encapsulate her life in a thousand words or less. So I’m not even going to try to do that, because I don’t think it can be done.

But what I am going to do is talk about my mother. Here’s what I know about her:

My mom could make friends with just about anyone, anywhere. She was super outgoing and people just adored her.

She had an amazing smile and an even better laugh. I mean, it really was infectious, wasn’t it? And there were, like, a thousand variations—everything from the seal honk to the soundless body-shaking, tears-streaming-down-her-cheeks variety.

My mom had no filter. She said what she thought, even when you wished she wouldn’t, and she didn’t pull any punches.

She loved a good joke, especially a good dirty joke, but she could never deliver the punch line.

My mom was great in a crisis. She was the Olivia Pope of moms. It didn’t matter what it was, when Nancy got involved, it was “handled.”

She was fiercely protective of her family. When it came to Mark and me, she could say whatever she wanted, but if anyone tried to mess with us, it was on. I mean, she would cut you.

Mom at PoolMy mom was a total babe. I have this picture of her from when she was in high school—I tore my house apart looking for it this week—but it’s black and white and she’s wearing this empire waist dress, with her hair parted in the center and flowing down her shoulders like black water. It’s gorgeous. Going through pictures this week I was reminded again and again of how beautiful she was.

She loved playing games, all different kinds of games, and she was so competitive. I totally got that from her.

There were a lot of things I got from my mom. Ask me any other time and I’ll deny it but today I will admit that my mom and I were a lot alike. We’re both really stubborn. We both think we’re right 90% of the time (or, in Mom’s case, more like 97% of the time). We’re overly sensitive and sometimes get our feelings hurt really easily. But that’s partly because we wear our feelings on our sleeves. We both love so fully and completely that it leaves us raw.

I learned a lot from my mom. She taught me how to make the world’s best Thanksgiving turkey. She taught me the value in sending hand-written thank you notes. She taught me how to deal with customer service representatives—and how to get what I want from them almost all of the time. She taught me how to find the best deals on just about anything. You think I’m a good shopper? That was all Nancy.

Silly MommaShe was also a great gift-giver, a very thoughtful gift-giver. I think this is one of the reasons why she loved Christmas so much. And yes, my fully Jewish mother celebrated Christmas—albeit a secular one—every year. She wasn’t happy until the tree was up and engulfed in lights. Our ornaments told the story of our family. Everybody had a tricked-out stocking, even the dogs. And there were certain rules that I still follow—shopping in categories, and using wrapping paper in every possible color, and one person opening one gift at a time, because her favorite part was seeing your reaction.

What else did I get from my mom? She was a total TV junkie—we had that in common. We had a lot bonding moments over TV, too. The night before I left for college, we watched the series finale of The Wonder Years and just bawled ourselves silly.

She shared her love of musicals with me when I was a kid. Bye Bye Birdie, The Music Man, Mary Poppins. Her favorite was Mary Martin’s Peter Pan. She also shared her love of reading. I always say that my mom was the world’s best preschool, because she read books with me and sang songs with me and we made crafts and put on plays and puppet shows. I actually started reading before I turned three. Because of my mom I fell in love with everything from Nancy Drew to Little Women.

My mom loved that I was a writer even before I was a published one. When I was young and she was working as a property manager at Coffee Run Condominiums, I’d spend summers at her office. Mostly at the pool, but when it was raining out she’d set me up in front of an ancient type writer and I would bang out these stories, these knock-off Nancy Drew mysteries (set in Delaware) and Sweet Valley High rip-offs (also set in Delaware).

She was so proud of my career as an author, and so excited that I started writing again this summer. And it’s so stupid but I had to sign a nondisclosure agreement for the book I was working on and I couldn’t tell her anything about it. But I really wish I had and that she’d gotten to read it. It kills me that she’ll never get to read it.

Last night I was talking to my godmother and she said, “I just know someday you’re going to write a book about your mom, and boy, are you going to have a lot of material to draw from.”

NLS 22BSo here’s one my favorite Nancy stories: A few years back, she and Mark were headed out to California for a vacation around Thanksgiving, and my mom was freaking out about how pale she was. So for her birthday that year, I took her to get a spray tan. And my mom had never had one before, and she didn’t know what to expect. So she took some packing tape, lifted her boobs up, and wrapped it around herself like an adhesive bikini. The tanner happened to be a woman in my writing group and I thought she was going to pee her pants when she saw what my mom had done.

My mom had a funny habit of mispronouncing things and mixing up her words. She once talked about putting the skybox on something (although Mark swears she said skybosh)—at any rate, none of us ever puts a kibosh on anything anymore, it’s always a skybox or bosh. She kept talking about this Ron Paul Surf Shop. She called the Mexican restaurant El Tapatio El Tapayshio (making it Italian), she called tiramisu tiramitzu (making it Japanese), and she called bento boxes benito boxes (making them Mexican).

My mom didn’t like getting older. In fact, she hated it, and because of that she started to hate her birthday, too. This year was a really hard birthday for her, not only because she’d been fighting a really bad cold for weeks but also, as many of you know, the well at her house had broken and they’d been without water the whole week prior.

Anyway, the last conversation I had with my mom was on her birthday. I’d called to sing her special “Happy Birdle Dadle Toodle You Dadoodle” song to her, and we talked for a bit, but our conversation got cut short because—and I swear this is the truth—because she said she had to go poop in a bucket.

I am going to miss my mother. She was my favorite person to swap recipes with. She was my go-to whenever I needed advice on home ownership. She was the first person I’d brag to whenever I snagged a crazy-good deal on something and vice-versa. And she could make me laugh until my stomach would literally cramp up.

When someone close to you dies, everyone tells you how sorry they are for your loss. But here’s the thing: I didn’t lose my mom. She is in my head and she is in my heart. She is so much a part of who I am, and of who I will always be. Nothing can take that away from us, not even her death.

Momma and Me