On the death of my mom

Aboard the Explorer of the Seas, August 2, 2004
Marilyn June Wymer aboard the Explorer of the Seas, August 2, 2004

Marilyn Lucas, Nov. 27, 1934 – July 4, 2007

I had the privilege of speaking at the memorial for my mother last week. It was held at Arlington Forest United Methodist Church, 4701 Arlington Blvd., Arlington, VA 22203 on Saturday, August 4, 2007 at 1:00 PM. It took me a month to put my thoughts together, but this is, more or less, what I came up with. I wanted to share it with you.

I guess this is the time when I’m supposed to say a few words about my mom.

But I cannot.

There is no way for me to say just a few words about my mom.

And if I were to say just a few words, I would have to use big ones. I would have to say that my mom was meticulous, righteous, deferential, gentle, responsible, selfless, hardworking, frugal, self-effacing, persistent, patient, creative, dedicated, loyal, gracious, graceful, sacrificial, honest, faithful, godly, persuasive, undaunted. But I’m not a big fan of eulogizing people, so I’d rather not go on like that.

In my world, sometimes people will say, “He’s a good man,” meaning, “Underneath all the rough and ugly, he’s basically a good person.” Often that kind of statement is more of a defense of the person’s badness than a show of admiration for his goodness. That was not my mom. She was, in a very simple and potent way, the kind of person many of us aspire to be. That is to say, I could describe her as a good cook, a good mother, a good wife, a good citizen, a good worker–I could describe her as a good woman in every way that matters, and if you knew her, you would not disagree with me, even a bit, nor would you be tempted to “balance out the story” with details of “Marilyn’s wild side.”

But my mom was not an open book, either. She was more of a mystery to me than I would have liked. I knew her as well as any son could know his mother, and yet I knew very little about her. The details of her past and present both stayed well hidden from my view all the way to her dying day, and that I do regret.

Still, my mom is not the sort of thing you can say just a few words about. If you want to be fair to her, you have to use a lot of words. Some of the best would be quite small, like kind, fair, and wise. Then you would have to add those big ones.

But it would take a lot more words than we can say here in this place to do right by my mom. It would take a real big lot. And we do not have time for all the words I want to say about my mom, not here at least.

So what I will do is say just a little bit more, and then let you take it from there. That little bit more is my bittersweet wish list.

What do I wish?

I wish Mom had told me more about herself. I still don’t know why she moved to Washington, why she never went to college, or why she had only three kids. I don’t really know what her trip to Florida with Grandmother Wymer was like. I never even saw the pictures till last week.

I wish I had heard about it when she learned she would need to have a hip replaced. I wish I had heard about it when they replaced it. I wish I had heard about it when she had a stroke. I wish I had been one of her trusted confidants.

I wish I had seen her without her dentures, just once, before she got pneumonia. I wish I had told her more than I did how beautiful she was.

I wish I had gone on more trips with her.

I wish we had gone to more Wymer family reunions, because I’m pretty sure my mom was at every single one that has taken place since I was born. And if I’m wrong, I wish I knew what could have been so important to have trumped her pilgrimage to that event.

I wish I had taken my kids to see her more often. I wish we had not lived 800 miles away. I wish we ALL had gone on more trips with her.

I wish I had more pictures of her playing with my kids. I wish I had more shots of her making gingerbread houses, and of decorating the house for Christmas. I wish I could relive one day in our house at Christmastime the way Mom made it feel when I was little.

I wish I could have given her someplace to go in retirement.

I wish I had her knack for cooking. I wish I could tell her that she made ordinary dishes taste so good I always felt superior to people who thought you have to eat rich to eat well. I wish I could eat just one more meal made by my mom.

I wish I had Mom’s recipe for cranberry relish, zucchini bread, carrot cake, and potato salad. Those were awesome.

I wish I had thanked her for sending me to Seven Springs, Pennsylvania in 1980-something with a bag full of candy and other snacks, because I still remember looking into that bag and thinking, “Dang, that woman sure loves me! There’s enough good stuff in there to make me fat!”

I wish I knew who her childhood friends were, where they played, what games they liked to play, where they liked to play, what they did with their spare time, and what they did with their spare time when it was too warm to skate on the pond. I wish I knew where that pond was. I wish I had seen her skate more. I wish she had gotten to skate as a pro.

I wish I knew who her first boyfriend was, and whether it was Dad, and if not, what that was like.

I wish I had taken her to another Redskins game, or even better, gotten her to meet Joe Gibbs.

I wish I had given her a surprise birthday party–just once.

I wish I could tell you more about her. I wish she could tell you more about me.

I wish we had just one more day.