You Remember How People Make You Feel

Like one of the commenters on one of my recent posts, I’m admittedly attempting to lean in hard to grief. If I lean in, it will go away faster, right? Maybe, maybe not. But much like I pored over reading ovarian cancer research studies, reading about each chemo we tried, each surgery she had, and then, in the end, the signs of death, now I can’t stop reading about grief.

Someone made the suggestion to look into Claire Bidwell Smith’s work. For those of you not familiar with her, she is a grief therapist who lost both of her parents by age 25 and writes extensively on the grief process. I’ve started reading her book After This, which is about her attempts to figure out the existential question of just what is after this life. 

One of the most important points I’ve read so far (I’m about 1/3 in) is that we don’t remember people by their clothes or what car they drove — although her Titanic-inspired dress circa 1998 is beyond memorable, her clunky ole Lincoln wasn’t — but rather by the stories they left behind, the influence they had on people.

I’ll get back to writing about fitness at some point — I am training for the NYC Marathon again, after all — but this has also largely been a blog about my life, and this loss is the biggest thing in my life right now.

preppy runner mom

[This photo just because it’s also in DC, though ~5 years after this story takes place.]

And so I wanted to tell a story that epitomizes the selflessness of my mom. [An editor’s note: I’m having a really hard time with verb tenses around this. Neither past nor present seem right right now…]

In the days leading up to her death, and in the days surrounding that whirlwind of emotions of her death, wake and funeral, so many beautiful, emotional stories were told about her. One of the words that was used over and over again was “selfless” and the following story was often repeated:

“Remember the time Carol got on the train late at night to go to Washington because Theodora was sick?”

It was either late 2007 or early 2008, I can’t remember, but I had come down with a rough case of bronchitis, was overwhelmed at work and Bailey was just a little pup. I was just having a shitty day, and I called my mom in tears, frustrated. “Do you want me to come down to Washington?” I resisted at first, but finally, through tears, choked out a yes.

It must have been at least 7 or 8 pm when we talked, but that didn’t matter to my mom, who asked my dad to drive her down to Metro Park in NJ to get on the 9pm train to DC.

“Theodora, why is everyone in the car giving me a dirty look when I’m on the phone?”

“Mom, are you in the quiet car?”

“Oh, maybe. But I’m being quiet?”

By the time she arrived at my apartment, after midnight, she walked in and told me how there was a man with a gun on the train; they had to stop the train in Wilmington, DE to get the police on board to check out the situation.

Her cab driver, she said, was drunk. I lived just four or five blocks from Union Station but this sheltered NJ lady wasn’t walking late at night with her suitcase. “Theodora, we could basically see your apartment and he still got so confused getting there and getting my suitcase out of the back. Does this ever happen to you here????”

Um, no, Mom.

But not a gunman nor a drunk cab driver nor a late night could stand between her and coming to take care of her little girl, and I have to believe that this pesky little death thing won’t stand in the way of her watching over me and taking care of me, either. 

10 comments on “You Remember How People Make You Feel

  1. Allie

    I’m not sure if I told you this before but my mom died of ovarian cancer when I was just 17 years old. I’m now 42 and I think about her every single day, multiple times a day. Life with grief is HARD. Losing your mom is possibly the worst thing that can happen to a daughter but, I can tell you I see signs of her watching over me and my boys ALL THE TIME! My aunts (her sisters) and I are very close and often get together. One of our favorite things is to tell each other how my mom “spoke” to us because there are numerous occasions and not just when you think you need her most.
    I know we barely know each other but this is something I unfortunately know too much about and have been living with through my wedding, my kids being born, countless marathons and so may other life milestones, with the void of my mom not being there. If you ever want to talk or just cry…give me a call… xoxoxo

  2. Abby Weiss

    I’m glad your leaning in hard to the grief and welcome the posts about your mom. I’m also glad you’re training for NY, Maybe your training will be a good place to channel your grief, pay tribute to your mom, uplift you in a time of sadness. I’m moved by your journey and appreciate that this is a place to read about real life and not the Nordstrom sale. Thank you.

  3. Lily

    Oh, Theodora. What a sweet story about your mom! My heart goes out to you, and I’m glad you can find some happiness in remembering your wonderful, loving mother. She sounds like a treasure. For what it’s worth, regarding the verb tenses: my best friend’s father died suddenly when we were in 10th grade. She, her mother and older sister continued to speak about him using present tense for most of a year (intentionally), I think, as they navigated their grief.

  4. Angela

    Beautiful story. And yes, this pesky little death thing will most definitely not get in her way of looking over you and still taking care of you in the ways she can. It seems like she was damn good at being a mom – and there’s not a chance she plans to stop mothering just because she isn’t here physically. <3

  5. Stephanie

    Lovely story about your mom. I lost my brother last year and for weeks all I could do was read books(and cry lol). I wasn’t really into the self-help/explore your grief kinda books, but I did find a few that I loved:

    Patrimony by Phillip Roth
    The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
    Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
    H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

    Hugs from a stranger. <3

  6. Lisa

    I lost my dad in March after a 13 year battle with Parkinson’s disease. It’s so very hard and I miss him greatly. One thing that has helped us is we like to believe his spirit is living on, and has come back to us in the form of a hawk. There was one perched on our fence the day after he passed, and we had never seen one near our house before. Now whenever I see a hawk I know he’s watching over me. It may be silly, but it has really helped.

  7. Tracy

    Ohh, Theodora I am glad you are leaning into grief. It took me a while but once I did, I was able to catch my breath a little more each day. I read Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed and it was good. I would recommend that book as well.

    What a wonderful story. No matter what you write here I and I am sure many of your readers will keep coming back. This is your process.

    Hugs to you.

  8. Kate

    Your mom was awfully devoted, I’m sure she’ll stay present in your thoughts always. I lost my mom 9 months ago now and it still hits me hard from time to time. Mostly it is just a dull sadness of not having her there to turn to, share my feelings and just chat. But, you seem to be doing well. And please know that sharing your journey here makes sense and is a good way to reach lots of folks that know the journey.

  9. หนังจีน

    I can tell you I see signs of her watching over me and my boys ALL THE TIME! My aunts (her sisters) and I are very close and often get together. One of our favorite things is to tell each other how my mom “spoke” to us because there are numerous occasions and not just when you think you need her most.

  10. cathryn

    Don’t ever feel bad for writing about your mum and your grief here…people don’t care if this is a ‘running’ blog, people care so much about you and your dad right now. And you choose whichever tenses you want to choose.


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