It’s been over a year since I’ve blogged and so much has happened. I hate that this is the next post after my “She Lives” post… Two month ago my mom, Marmee, got her second diagnosis of Pancreatic cancer. She was cancer free for 15 months before it came back, but it came back with a vengeance. This is what I wrote for her Fun-eral today. My husband beautifully and tearfully read it as her eulogy today. I wanted to share it here to…
My Marmee was a remarkable woman.
First, to get something out of the way – Sylvia was always “Marmee” to her daughters and grand daughters. Yes, we stole it from Louisa May Alcott’s book “Little Women”. But like Margaret March, she raised a group of fierce and powerful women all on her own, and there is no more appropriate word to describe her. No matter how tough things were, Marmee was always there for people who needed her. She was present with her fierce love, unending compassion and a whole lot of grace.
Growing up in our early years my mom worked really hard to change the trajectory of our lives. As a single mom with four children (including a set of twins!), and still coping with the aftermath of domestic abuse and a culture that didn’t look favourably on divorced women, she managed to put herself through school. She worked various jobs before she found her career and managed to volunteer time with her church, single mom’s groups and our schools. Despite all her responsibilities none of us kids ever felt like she wasn’t present. No matter how busy she was, she managed to check in with each of us every day and was genuinely interested in our lives. She listened and cared about the mundane parts too. This is one of the things I’m going to miss most. Just knowing that she is there, not to do anything, or to fix anything, just listening and being present.
Because she didn’t want us to make some of the same mistakes she did, Marmee wanted us to be strong and fierce, traits she didn’t see in herself. I think she got more than she bargained for in the powerful women that she raised but it just goes to show what a good job she did. She always taught us to think for ourselves and question everything. Not out of fear, but to make sure our thoughts and opinions were being heard. She wanted us to be the challengers of the norm… and may have been a little too successful at that as well. She went through a lot of grief from us kids because of it. I don’t think she would have changed it for anything though. She wanted to raise some beautifully tough kids.
But it wasn’t enough for Marmee just to raise a family on her own. Our house had an open door policy growing up. She often had five or six kids in the house, sometimes more. On occasion all four of us kids would be gone to various places and she would have one or two of our friends at home with her just visiting. It didn’t matter if it was a big issue, or just a little thing – if someone showed up and needed to talk, Marmee made sure to listen and love on them.
Marmee made a career out of loving people. From a young age she knew she wanted to work with vulnerable people, particularly people with different physical and intellectual abilities. She thrived in her career of working in various day programs and group homes and loved every minute of it. Then, 18 years ago she made the huge and probably scary decision to bring Maggy in to our home and lives. She made a lot of good decisions but this was one of her best. Maggy helped keep us all together through our crazy teen years and was probably the most impactful on Vanessa and I with guiding us to our own careers working with vulnerable people and my own choice to adopt Sofie, my daughter with Down syndrome as well.
My mom and I never had a typical mother-daughter relationship, which we know baffled many of our friends and family, but it worked for us. She was my person and I was hers. We were a little co-dependent, yes, but it was a co-dependency that comes from a place of survival. We survived together and, quite literally, because of each other sometimes. That bond transcends logic. We grounded each other. We built each other up, challenged each other and took care of things when the other needed to fall a little.
When we started talking about moving in with each other again, with my husband and my growing family, we knew many people thought we were crazy. As my husband put it on Facebook recently he “wasn’t necessarily in favor of reducing barriers to (his) wife’s already co-dependent relationship with her mother”. I think we all worried about that a bit, but my mom and I knew it could be great and she never shied away from a challenge, especially if someone told her she shouldn’t do it!
These past 8 years have been some of the best times in all of our lives. She modelled being an incredible mother to me as a child but got to walk along side and with me as I actually became a mother myself. It was also a redemptive experience for her to watch Jon being a loving husband and a caring father, something she had hoped and prayed for for her children and grandchildren.
Sharing a house with her meant she got to love on her grand babies every single day. She secretly enjoyed seeing the look of envy on her friends faces when she would tell them how wonderful it was to have the girls bounce in to her space most mornings to say hi and have a second, or sometimes third, breakfast with her. She loved being their safe place to go when they needed quiet from their sisters or just time away from Mommy and Daddy. I loved it too.
When she got diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer the first time in November 2015 I remember thinking she couldn’t leave because I couldn’t do this without her. I needed my Marmee. We all still needed her too much. Then she beat it! Of course she did… probably mostly out of sheer Schmidt stubbornness. When the second diagnosis came 2 months ago we knew her body was too weak to fight it. We knew this was the end, but we really didn’t think it would be this fast. We also knew that we would be ok because she raised some strong women. It was time for her to stop fighting.
Death is never pretty. It’s not part of any plan. It’s a thief, just like cancer, that separates us from each other. I don’t know what happens after we die. I choose to believe in heaven and a God who restores those relationships through His being, but for now she is gone and it hurts like hell. My mom had fought through a lot in her life. Against many odds and through a lot of hardship. She was a warrior and I’m so proud to call her my mom. I’m also so thankful she doesn’t have to fight anymore, for herself or any of us.
Because of her we will not fall. We will be ok and we will strive to keep her legacy of love, compassion and grace flowing through us. I’m going to quote Ed Sheeran now, much to my husband’s dismay. In a song dedicated to his grandmother, Ed wrote “You were an angel in the shape of my mum. You got to see the person I have become. Spread your wings and I know that when God took you back He said, ‘Hallelujah, you’re home’”