October 16 … Birthday Tribute to Winnie

Joan kissing Winnie.JPG

My mother was born on October 16, 1923. She died less than a year ago, on December 2, 2018, and would have been 96 today.   Her name, Winnie (Winifred Marion), was so endearing to me, I lovingly, whimsically called her that as often as I said, Mom. (In later years, she’d often introduce herself to new people, saying, I’m Winnie, as in Winnie the Pooh. So, I think she came to feel the giggle and pleasure of her name, too.)

So, here we are … on her birthday (how has a year gone by?), and I’m feeling the need to honor her in more than thought. Hence, this blog post.

At her funeral, my brother asked his two children – Winnie’s beloved grandchildren who always called her Winnie-Mom — to speak in her memory. He suggested that he and I let them speak so we wouldn’t have to battle tears in front of an audience. I was exhausted and sorrowed by her final days – though only grateful to have been present. So, gladly accepting my brother’s generous proposal, I listened to my nephew and niece with deep gratitude and love as they struggled through their tears. They were brave when I wasn’t, and I hope they know how grateful their dad and I were to them on that melancholy day. Their eulogies were heartfelt … moving … filled with their love for her.

In the few days between her death and the funeral, I stumbled about Winnie’s apartment in that odd state of emotional incomprehension that tends to protect us in the first hours and days of loss. Grief for Philip (who died three and half years earlier) reemerged, bundling itself up with Winnie’s death and leaving me weary to the bone.

But then, I found, tucked away in a zippered compartment in Winnie’s handbag, the Mother’s Day card I’d sent her seven months earlier.  That she’d been carrying it with her since May brought on yet another bout of tears along with the grateful tenderness that had deepened between us in the final years of caring for her in her weakening body while she continued to care for my grieving soul.

Ultimately, I tucked the card in the zippered compartment of my purse, not sure but thinking I could possibly read it at the funeral. However, when the time came, my mouth stopped working, my body felt leaden and nailed to the pew, and, well … it didn’t happen.

In honor of this birth date, therefore, I want to share the words that she’d secreted away and carried with her in her final months of life.

*****

May 2018

Dear Mom,

Thanks … for all you are … and all you do!

Happy Mother’s Day

I want to thank you for …

  • Encouraging me to write (handing me a blank journal as early as elementary school).
  • Showing me the wonder of books and how they invite us into so many new worlds.
  • Teaching me the value of kindness.
  • Sharing your love of art, music, and theater.
  • Giving me a safe and happy home, a secure ground from which to venture out.
  • Being there when I was hurting.
  • Being there when I was happy.
  • Teaching me to be tolerant, open-minded, and fiercely fair.
  • Supporting my dreams.
  • Teaching me how to dress tastefully 😊.
  • Loving and tolerating Philip … in all his Impossible-ness.
  • Your generosity beyond measure.
  • Your love that never faltered.     

Wishing you so much love and ease on Mother’s Day and always. Ever yours, joan

*****

Some of you know I’m currently working on a second book based on the three years (2009-2012) Philip and I spent in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) where I taught at a women’s college and felt as though I’d stepped onto the wildest, no-exit roller-coaster ride I couldn’t have imagined. Some also know the content for this book was another gift from Winnie. After writing to her nearly weekly (to appease some of the guilt I felt for leaving her on the other side of the world), upon our return, she showed me the boxes holding all my letters. “You have a book to write,” she said with both glee and gravitas.

I’ve been slowly making my way through letters, postcards, and photos over the past months. Transcribing the large basket filled with those that were hand-written, and finding, copying, and pasting those I’d saved in an, unfortunately, less than orderly fashion on my laptop. Ultimately, there will have to be an enormous culling, but for now, I’ve spent the past months being awed and entertained by the adventures and misadventures Philip and I had in Abu Dhabi, as well as on our trips to England and Europe during summer and winter breaks.

If Winnie hadn’t thought to save the letters, my memory could never have reproduced so many of the details of those three richly challenging years. But more surprising perhaps than being reminded of the many little and big incidents I’d lost to time are the many instances in which I found solace in confiding in her. The letters were therapy and Winnie the therapist/confidant. With her as my audience, I regained equilibrium and perspective because that’s who she was and what she’d always given me.

I hope it won’t take yet another three years to get to the bottom of the basket and create something resembling a book. But, for now, and on her birthday, I want to express my heartfelt appreciation for the person I was so graced to have beside me and behind me for 66 years of my life.  I couldn’t have asked for a more loving or loveable mother.

Happy Birthday, 2019, Winnie. With all my love and gratitude. Always.

IMG_1213
Winnie’s last visit to her beloved Nassau County Museum where she volunteered for 17 years.

20 thoughts on “October 16 … Birthday Tribute to Winnie

  1. Joan, that’s a beautiful tribute for Winnie. I’ll never forget how her warmth and authenticity gave her the ability to make a friend through cards and notes without even meeting in person. She was indeed a unique and loving presence.

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  2. The Perfect Remembrance. A tribute to your wonderful mother (reading this, I wish that I had met her) and to your relationship. She obviously adored you and I had to smile when you wrote that she handed you the box of your letters and told you that there was “…a book to be written!!!..”. An excellent example of the loving support that a parent can gift their beloved child. Thank you for sharing this beautiful, personal and heartfelt piece.

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    1. Thanks so much for reading and responding. I can so easily see her sitting with us at lunch yesterday … laughing, pondering, and enjoying the company of such lovely, intelligent, and creative women. Thank you for so warmly taking me in. Please, consider signing up for my blog posts. They don’t come often (I’m not great at this), but I’d love to go on sharing them with you if you’d like. Looking forward to seeing you at the first Second Sunday Salon :).

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  3. Joan – here I thought my tears were long gone after almost a year since Winnie left us. Your beautiful and emotional words brought tears to my eyes today. We were lucky to have Mom in our lives for as many years as we did. I have a note she sent me in her wobbly handwriting about 6 months before she died. She said how lucky she was to have us in her life, but it is us who are the lucky ones.

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    1. Yeah … so fortunate. Feeling a bit ashamed of having given her such a hard time in my teens and twenties. No matter what I did, she was rock solid behind me. I’m off to light my candle :).

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  4. Joan, what a lovely tribute to your mother. And how glad you must be that you sent her that wonderful Mother’s Day note to thank her for all she had done over the years.

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    1. Thank you, Margot. Yes, glad I sent the card … and even gladder to have re-found it. I really was fortunate. How did I manage to be such a bratty teenager??

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    1. Yes. This was the book she really wanted me to write. The memoir had to come first for my sanity. But now, I’m slowly getting there.

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  5. Marvelous to know she was always there for you, always in your corner. Love like that doesn’t fade! I hope to read this book when you’re ready to share it. How did I never see that you would share your gift of writing in more than simply letters to me? I always looked forward to them. Much love to you on this day!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I was more fortunate than I understood in my 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. Thanks so much for continuing to read and respond. It means a lot to me.

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  6. Oh Joan, what a beautiful tribute to such a beautiful woman/mother.
    In my believe system, Winnie has seen this and is so moved and grateful.
    I am remembering her today along with you. I will share with some of the women on the MUSEUM trip who appreciated her along with me.
    Much love,
    Audrey

    Sent from my iPhone

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for this heartfelt, beautiful tribute! So many times a day I think about her. So often I pick up my phone to call her only to realize I cannot. Words don’t truly illuminate my gratitude for Winniemom, but yours do a pretty darn good job of it! I love you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I, too, reach for my phone … Stop to take a photo … Think about telling her something good, or funny, or sad that’s happened. Then, I realize that — as with Philip — she’s here, inside me. So I talk or photograph to that part of me that reflects all that I loved and learned from her. Love to you.

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  8. Thanks so much, Audrey. Are there any of the same people still going? I’m sure they’d like to remember her (and maybe her crazy daughter in Abu Dhabi!). love.

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  9. I, too, grieve on October 16 as it is the anniversary of our wedding. So I was already feeling the tenderness that you so beautifully articulated in your love letter to your mother. As you know, I also am navigating life with an aging parent, and I so appreciate your glimpses of light as you walk the road ahead of me. Thank you for expressing your experience.

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    1. Thank you for responding to the post so thoughtfully. It does seem that we are walking similar roads … with me just a few steps ahead. If anything I say brings any ease or reflection to you, I am gratified and honored. I continue to be so grateful that we found each other.

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