It has been two years since my mom passed away in 2004 after a long battle with emphysema. Two years ago on the Fourth of July, the night before mom died, my wife Tana and I were in our front yard, watching the neighborhood fireworks. The noise and sound were overwhelming.
While we watched the fireworks, I kept thinking about mom, safe in her own home, halfway in this world, and halfway in the next world. The contrast between the loud, bright fireworks and my mom's quiet journey toward death seemed almost too much to bear.
"The Wonder Years" wasn't just a TV show to our family. Thanks to mom, we are living a lifetime of Wonder Years.
Mom did the laundry, made our meals, painted the house, refinished the kitchen cupboards, kept the house clean, kept the yard nice. And mom still had time to listen to our problems whenever we needed her.
Mom got us on the local kiddie TV shows- Heck Harper, Ramblin' Rod, and Romper Room. In fact, one of my prized possessions is my autographed picture of Romper Room's Miss Dorothy, dated March 30, 1962.
When we were young, mom knew how to keep us busy. A favorite trick was to give us a salt shaker and send us into the back yard. She told us if we poured salt on a bird's tail, the bird would let us pet it. We fell for this scam for years.
Even when times were tough, Mom gave us the gift of music. She bought Susie a violin, me a trumpet, and Debbie, well, Debbie had to be different. She wanted to play the drums. When I think of the expense of buying those instruments today, I am in awe of the sacrifices she made for us.
Mom gave us a love of reading. We went to the library often. One summer mom and I got caught up in one UFO book after another, and we literally scared ourselves into believing aliens would kidnap us at any moment. It was the best kind of scared to be, because I knew my mom would be kidnapped with me when the aliens came, and it would be ok.
Mom tried her very best to feed us good meals, but we seldom cooperated. We hid liver in our baked potato skins. We'd fill our mouths with veggies, ask to go to the bathroom, and spit out the offending food.
There were times that mom got fed up with all of us. Once, she pretended she was a robot for three days. Whenever we demanded something from her, she would say, in robot voice, "I am not your mother, I am the perfect robot". Our mom knew how to tweak her kids and have fun at the same time!
When mom was gardening, she'd call us outside to share her discovery of an orange centipede, a really huge slug, or an ant colony.
Mom was the one who rescued our sister Trisha from the furnace room after I locked her inside. Mom was the one who made sure I had the right clothes to wear for band concerts, even when I gave her only an hour's notice.
Mom also introduced my wife Tana to the pleasures of an afternoon martini on their many shopping trips.
The least few years were hard for mom as she was less able to get around. Our family is eternally grateful to my sister Debra for taking such loving care of mom over the last few years. Debra's caring and compassion for mom as she made the transition from her old life to a new life away from pain and suffering will remain with me always.
The loss of a loved one is a difficult burden to bear. It may seem impossible, in our grief, to find understanding or comfort. There is little physical or mental comfort from grief in the short term.
I think the Greek poet Aeschylus said it best over two thousand years ago when he wrote, "He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep, the pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God."
On This Fourth of July, I'll remember the loud, bright and fun Wonder Years that mom gave us. Her fireworks of care, love, music, reading and fun will remain with us forever.