One Year Later

My mom died suddenly on June 13, 2006. It has now been a full year.

When anything significant happened — good or bad — my mom heard about it first. So, during the last year, I found myself frequently asking, "What would Mom think?"

My late younger brother’s wife died. Once of my nieces fell seriously ill and required life-threatening surgery. What would Mom think?

As I sat in a restaurant, a woman approached me and identified herself as a writer of a popular advice column. Because of my mom, I began reading this column nearly every day some 45 years ago. I told the columnist that my mom thought her column offered common sense responses to everyday problems, and encouraged me to learn from it, and now luck allowed me to meet the writer of that very column. What would Mom think?

What would Mom think about how close my brother Kirk and I have become? At 18, Kirk joined the Navy. A little more than two years later, I left the West Coast for the East Coast to attend college. Twenty-five years or so went by before I returned to my hometown to live. That’s a lot of time and distance, and my brother and I, although friendly, never spent that much time together. But he and I worked together on Mom’s funeral, and from that point on, we grew more comfortable in each other’s presence. I also became closer to my sister-in-law. What would Mom think?

What would Mom think about how remarkably independent my 93-year-old dad remains? He refuses to live with either of his sons, preferring to retain his "independence." He still goes for a walk most days, and keeps discovering new channels on his multihundred-channel cable system. Yesterday, I walked in to find the television set turned to blues music, and Dad told me that he’d been running that channel for the last couple of days. "I sure like that music," he said. And nearly every day for the last year, the "gray mafia" — the handful of living-alone seniors on the block
— would call or drop by to check in on each other. What would Mom think?

My mother liked the son of one of my co-workers. She met Adam when he was a small child. Last week, I attended Adam’s high school graduation ceremony. He performed well academically, became proficient with the saxophone and intends to head off to Yale this fall. What would Mom think?

My mother, of course, enjoyed her neighborhood gossip. My dad says last year a woman in our neighborhood shot and wounded her husband. They quarreled, Dad said, and somebody heard the shot, after which the police arrived. "But," I told him, "Just the other day I saw the man walking out of their house." "Yeah, son," said Dad, "they got back together. I guess he forgave her." What would Mom think?

Every week, until she died, I featured my mom on my radio program every Friday. People liked her Southern, no-nonsense straight talk. When she died, I received an avalanche of cards and letters expressing sympathy. Two letters came unexpectedly:

"Dear Larry, I was so very sorry to hear of your mother’s passing, and I send you my sympathy and good wishes. I know from experience that you can never be ready for a moment like this, but hope you’ll be able to find comfort both in the closeness of family and friends and in the memory of your mother’s long — and by all accounts — very rich life. Please know that I am thinking of you during this difficult time. With warm regards, Arnold Schwarzenegger."

And, "Dear Larry, I was so very sorry to hear the news of your mother’s death and wanted to convey my sympathies. I know you were especially close and that you will miss her terribly. Although words fail at such a heartbreaking time, please know that you are in my thoughts and prayers. I hope that, in time, your wonderful memories of her will bring you comfort and strength. Sincerely yours, Nancy Reagan." What would Mom think?

To commemorate the anniversary of my mother’s death, her friends intend to gather at the cemetery to celebrate her life, energy and spirit. People found my mother outgoing, confident and warm, but I think that the depth of affection for her would surprise even Mom.

I think about her words of wisdom nearly every day:

"Nothing is better than a good marriage, nothing is worse than a bad one." "If you took the best qualities from some of my friends’ husbands and put ’em into one man — you’d still come up short." "Don’t think small." "The only place where you start out on top is if you’re digging a hole."

We miss you, Mom.