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Monday, April 14, 2014

My Mom and the Truth: Adoption and Otherwise

My mom, Susan Perry, passed away on Monday, April 7th, 2014. Words fall short as to how much we all miss her. I will continue to guest post on this site. We are still hoping that Governor Christie will sign S873/A1259 (The Adoptees Birthright Bill) into law in New Jersey, and that other states will pass similar legislation as well. For now, I am sharing what I said at my mom's service on Friday April 11th (my uncle, my sister, my dad and I all spoke), which is more about her than about the advocacy, though I talk about how my mom always spoke the truth (adoption or otherwise). I cannot express how strongly I feel about the need for reform and justice for adoptees everywhere. My mom might still be here if it were not for the outdated and antiquated laws in NJ (please see her past post as to why the intermediary system doesn't work). But more on that later. For now, my mom:


Mom
I love this picture of my mom with my niece Emma, taken this summer in LBI the weekend after her diagnosois. My mom's t-shirt reads "Life is good."


In addition to thanking my mom for everything that my sister Kate just spoke of, and for thanking all of you for being here today, I would like to thank her for one more thing as well: her commitment to telling the truth, always.

One of those truths was how she really felt about cooking, exemplified by her “I Hate to Cook Cookbook,” given to her by her mother. That cookbook is still on my mom’s shelf, the “Chilly-night Chili” recipe marked with a bookmark and her unmistakable handwriting. I ate that chili many times, along with a few other trademark recipes that my mom had mastered. Still, I loved cooking with my mom when I was younger, even if it was a birthday cake made from the box. I especially remember baking carrot cake with cream cheese frosting with her many times when I was a little girl. And when my sister committed to eating healthier in high school, my mom subscribed to the magazine “Cooking Light” and prepared many of its complicated recipes for us. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. Yet over the last 8 months, as we were able to reflect with my mom about her life, my sister and I thanked her often for what a wonderful mom she had been to us. Once, we reminded her about how much we had both loved the tradition of bringing up the card table from the basement each year to roll out the homemade dough for Christmas cookies. It was a process that took hours. Without missing a beat my mom replied, “Yes, and now that you’re older and know better, you can see what a sacrifice of love that was!” We all burst out laughing. Yes, I can see.

Another, related truth my mom told, however, was that eating good food, especially with loved ones, is one of the great pleasures of life. “I love when you cook,” she would tell me or Kate or my dad, or perhaps Kate’s brother in law Rod, but most often my husband Anthony or Kate’s husband Ed, “so I’ll clean up after you cook. I’m happy to clean up so I don’t need to cook.” Then she would rave so much about the meal, with every bite, that any effort would be well worth it. We spent almost every one of her birthdays for the last 15 years like that, enjoying seafood feasts at the shore. 

Another truth my mom  passed on to all of us is that heated competition is one of life’s great activities, especially when you win, but even when you don’t. But especially when you win.  Now, my Uncle Ken does tell a story about how he stopped by one time when Kate and I were young and he was concerned because we were playing “The Whale Game,” a game with no winners or losers designed to foster cooperative play, a game apparently so boring that when I mentioned it to Kate she didn’t even remember playing (she did remember jumping on the Parcheesi board and smashing it when she was losing once, though -- an action that, despite my mom’s love of competition, was quickly addressed. She cared about sportsmanship). The whale game phase was a quick one though, and my mom soon moved on to coaching our softball teams to victory and teaching us the delights of Pictionary, Parcheesi, and Sorry. As Kate spoke about, my mom was competitive in the best way in her own life, too. When I was little our basement was lined with trophies from when my parents won the married couples tennis tournament at the Field Club. The few times they lost they did so in a tie breaker, and it was my dad’s fault, and I know this because my mom told my dad, often. Usually, she told my dad the next year, while they were playing, as in, “Ok, this year, don’t blow it.” 

My mom loved skiing, swimming, body surfing, sailing, and maybe even playing golf (though she claimed not to, we all knew when she had a great round). When she was little, she and her brother had such heated wrestling competitions, setting up in separate corners of the bed as though they were in a real ring,  that they often broke the bed, much to my grandmother’s chagrin.


And my mom passed this love of competition on to her grandchildren. She loved watching them play, and came to nearly every one of my daughter Grace’s travel soccer games this fall, and many of her travel basketball games this winter, despite how she was feeling. Just two months ago she was at a heated basketball game of Grace’s, as both of the teams were undefeated coming into it. The other team was extremely rough, and a little obnoxious, and the ref wasn’t calling anything. Finally, when the ref didn’t call perhaps the 5th time that a girl on the other team blatantly pushed down one of Grace’s teammates, my mom couldn’t hold it in any longer: “Come on ref!” she screamed, “Call the foul!” Later, we would laugh about this moment (Grace confirmed, "Nana, you were loud!”) but at the time she just couldn’t be silent. As I said, she loved to win, but she was ok if she lost -- the game just had to be fair.

Speaking of fairness, another truth my mom spoke was the truth about adoption. Even as she spoke of the deep love of her adoptive family, including her brother Doug, and her wonderful childhood, and the sweetness of her reunion with Carol and Jo, she was never quiet, and she never backed down, when faced with powerful interests who bent the truth. Her calm, clear voice was, and is, more powerful than those interests. Eventually, I know, it will prevail.

My mom spoke the truth about cancer, saying that it was not something she had needed to better appreciate her life -- she already appreciated her life -- and that it was difficult, and that it made her mad, as her body failed, and that it was tough, some days, to be hopeful ... But at the same time she squeezed out every bit of possible life since last July, body surfing with all of us that first weekend after the diagnosis, paddle boarding with her friends, walking, and then, as the treatment and the cancer took their toll, enjoying music, and movies, and learning how to draw - I love thinking of her sitting down with my daughter Genevieve to draw the  birds at the feeder out her living room window, and finally, in these last two months,  talking,  laughing, then only smiling. Honest and funny to the end, just last week as my Dad and sister and I helped her with one of the indignities that cancer brings upon you, and she said, “I’m so sorry,” to us, my sister answered, “Mom, you are NOT allowed to apologize. We are so happy just to be here with you.” Mom again didn’t miss a beat: “I highly doubt that,” she said, and again, we all laughed, even when it felt that laughter wasn’t possible. That’s what my mom did for us, and for so many who loved her.

My mom spoke the truth about love, telling me when I was younger that flowers and candles were nice but what was really nice was when you could marry your best friend, as she had. At the time, I thought that was so unromantic, but as I’ve grown older I’ve seen the beauty and romance of my parents' relationship, and marriage. My mom also told me that I wouldn’t understand how much she loved me until I had children of my own, and she was right. And when her mother, my Nana, died, she told me how much she would miss her. “Nobody loves you like your mom,” she said. That is so true. I know that I will miss that love the rest of my life.

Finally, there is one truth that I have learned that I would share with my mom if she were here today, and that I want to share with all of you. It involves a story that my mom and I have told and retold for years, laughing every time. We were at the beach one hot August day when I was about 7 years old, and the waves were huge. Though I was no stranger to the ocean, my mom wouldn’t let me in unless I held her hand. Sure enough, a huge wave broke not too far out and I braced myself for its impact, as did my mom. She must have been a bit in front of me because it knocked her down first, and under we went, still holding hands, not knowing which way was up and which way was down. Still, she never let go. Our hands clasped, we finally emerged from the wave, hair in our faces, sand in our suits, salt in our throats. Later, we would laugh and talk about here she was trying to protect me and she pulled me under, but now, thinking about that story, I see it its bare truth: nothing can break that bond of love. The ocean may send its fiercest wave, but love wins in the end. Love emerges. And though now I feel pulled down, and tossed around, and lost without her, I know that once the wave passes, what remains is love.





10 comments:

  1. Jenn, this is one of the most beautiful, moving tributes to a mom that I have read in my entire life. Thank-you for sharing all these wonderful stories about your mom's love for life, and her love for her family. The love she gave you will always be held in your hand. Sincerely, Karen Caffrey

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    1. Thank you, Karen, and thanks for reading. It feels good to share stories about my mom. She was a great mom and a great friend, and we miss her so much. Again, thanks.

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  2. "love wins in the end." <3 Yes, it absolutely does!

    Jenn.....thank you for this post. Many tears shed. I feel your loss as I've lost a parent as well. My dad was my rock and I'm sure you felt the same way about your mom. <3

    Susan.....we in the adoptee community will miss you more than you will ever realize. <3

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    1. Thank you, Kim. I know my mom would be so moved by how many people from the adoption community have reached out to say what she meant to them. We, her family, are greatly moved as well. I'm so sorry that you lost your dad. I now understand this in a way I never did before.

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  3. I am so glad that the voice here will continue to show up in my feed reader.

    Lovely tribute, such a meaningful vignette at the end.

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    1. Thanks, Lori. My mom asked me if I was willing to consider continuing this blog as though it were a burden to me, but it is a pleasure, and a good way to focus my energy right now. All the best to you ...

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  4. Jenn, I was stunned and saddened to read this post today. I am so very sorry for your family's loss. Although I never knew your mother in person, I always considered her an online friend. She will always be remembered for the love she had for her family, adoptive as well as biological, and how she always made it clear that their is no conflict between deeply loving one's adoptive family while needing to know one's genetic roots. I, and I sure I can speak for many other members of the adoptee rights community as well, thank her from the bottom of my heart for her eloquent, passionate and persuasive arguments in support of adoptee rights.

    Sending you and your entire family my heartfelt condolences.

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    1. Hi Robin, and thank you for your comments and condolences. I know that my mom considered many of her "online adoption friends" friends in the true sense of the word. All of you were so helpful to her over the last 8 months with your support and love.

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  5. Hello, I'm a first mom and teacher who always enjoyed reading your mother's blog. She presented herself through her writing as a warm, loving, caring and compassionate person. Had I known her outside of the blogging world, I bet we would have been friends. Thank you for sharing more of her with your stories and memories. She will be missed by many.

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  6. Jenn, Kate, your mom seems to have been a wonderful person and I am very sorry for your loss.

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