Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Diet Soda, Popcorn and Candy Bars

To sum up another person's life upon request has to be one of the greatest challenges ever presented. How do you answer a woman dying of cancer when she asks: "What will you remember about me?" It doesn't seem like it would be that difficult.

Of course you should recount to her all of her greatest characteristics, successes, achievements. Certainly you should reply that she is beautiful in spirit and appearance. There is no doubt she needs to feel that you nor anyone else that claims to love her would ever forget her or cease to appreciate her.

So what would you say, what would you think if the answer she received, the only words that came from your mouth were: diet soda, popcorn and candy bars? How would you feel when she looked at you in response to that answer with great disappointment in her eyes?

I cannot profess that my mother and I ever truly saw eye to eye. I don't believe either of us could honestly say we truly understood the other or completely knew one another. I'm not sure we valued the same things, or aspired for similar goals in life. When your mother dies before you've reached full adulthood, before you've fully formed decisions about life, and before you can fully appreciate your parents as adults or friends rather than only as parents, there are many questions that remain unanswered. Questions that never fully formed or that didn't exist before that fatal day.

I know now that my mother wanted me to say that I thought that she was the most beautiful mom in all the world, or some other blanket proclamation declaring her attributes to be unparalleled. But I didn't. Or so she thought. And feeling hurt she made a blanket comment declaring my coldness, inattentiveness or something to that effect. Being young and full of pride, I didn't try to correct her nor defend my answer. In typical teenage fashion, I said nothing.

When you're young and you face the tragedy of cancer, you don't always know how to deal with the situation - it's not easy saying all of the things you'll wish you could say, that most people often do realize, admit or confess to their parents after years of learning over a lifetime of experiences. When you're young as I was, just bearing the sight of a mother weakened, shriveled and suffering from a horrible disease is difficult enough to endure. The phases of disbelief, denial, hope, denial, acceptance and surrender are time consuming enough. Hindsight is so disturbing when you don't have the opportunity to benefit from it.

If I could go back, would I have explained what I meant by those words. Would I have expanded on that short, non-descript answer? If she were still here, would I have explained it to her today? Probably not. But I could hope? I don't know how our relationship would have evolved, but I have hope that it would have blossomed, that we both would have appreciated each other better. I can still believe that we would have been the best of friends.

You see, to me, saying "diet cola, popcorn and candy bars" was my way of telling her that I thought of her as my friend. As a parent myself now, I would accept that now as the greatest of compliments from my daughter. I will always remember renting the movie Steel Magnolia's and the way my mother cried over her popcorn. Or how talking late one night she laughed so hard she spit out her root beer at the A&W. And how she loved Diet P*psi and always carried a candy bar in her purse.

The memories and thoughts that I treasure most about my mother where those that we spent in our pajamas, like two teenagers at a slumber party. In each memory I have of every board game, walk by the lake, vacation, movie night and shopping trip, a diet cola, popcorn or candy bar is vividly present. I associate those snack items with the times when we laughed the most together. Those times together and the happiness we shared made me believe she was the most beautiful of people, despite any shortcomings she may have had, as any of us have. Those things made me feel she wasn't just my parent, she was a true and real person that I wanted to emulate.

Throughout these memories of mine I can recall intimate talks, talks that were leading to a genuine respect and appreciation for the other as adults and true friends. For me, the truest quality of a friend is trustworthiness. There is no one I trusted more than my mother. There is no question that I could have asked, no favor I could have requested, no confession that I could have made that would have changed the way she felt about me - all qualities of the truest friend.

Each time I drink a diet soda, pop a bag of popcorn or indulge in a candy bar, I will always remember my mom and the fun that we had. Those items will always remind me of the joy that she brought to my life during our short time together. And, I miss her. I will miss her and regret that we never had the opportunity to understand each other fully or to become as inseparable as we could have been.

Each time I share a bowl of popcorn with my daughter, I can only pray that God will grant us that opportunity.

In memory of my mother who passed away on a Monday, September 22, 1997.

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