Vivian Liberto Cash Distin 1934-2005
I’ve been in a fog of sadness and reflection, and disbelief, since the end of May when my Mom died, thinking about her and all she was, and is. I went to the phone two days ago to call her to get my niece’s address, and then stood in shock for a moment, thinking of the vast repository of information my mother represented, and wondering who I would go to from now on when I needed to know someone’s birthday, or address, or the name of their new wife, or when their baby was due, or where exactly in the world any one of my sisters or their children were at that moment.
My friend Larry Kirwan just wrote a beautiful column on his website remembering his own mother, on the fifth anniversary of her death. He says that, ‘even the most searing of events settles into the broad mosaic of a life’. He sent the column to me as a gesture of comfort, and it was good to get that reminder. I know since losing my Dad that you can survive grief, that it gets easier after the first year, and that you start to take on the better qualities of your parents, if you want to.
I would like to take on some of my mother’s better qualities. I have been thinking about her virtues. She was a fierce mother, protective, passionate and proud. She had four daughters, and she would have thrown herself in front of a train for any of us. She was loyal to her children to a fault, and her belief in our inherent goodness and in our potential as productive and creative members of society never wavered.
She created an exceptionally warm home. There was always food and flowers and friends in her house. She made an art of being a friend. She showed up if you were sick or in the hospital, or sad or lonely, or needed any little thing, and she was rewarded with a breathtaking amount of return loyalty and respect. On her last birthday, she got nearly 50 birthday cards—from close friends. She had friends of all ages, all walks of life, all income brackets and all personalities. She maintained friendships with several of my old friends from high school, some of whom I myself lost touch with, but she kept them in her circle and kept me informed of their lives. She was a flame of love and warmth, and many, many people flocked to her. She also had an innocence that was uncommon in the modern world. Her codes of behavior were simple, but well defined, and she could not understand the bad manners and lack of integrity in modern society. She had a deep faith, and was a staunch Catholic from birth to death. I admire that quality of knowing who she was, and acting in a way that served that knowledge, and her Catholicism was central to her understanding of herself.
She was a great hostess. She loved to entertain, and she hosted more parties than I can begin to recall. She created such a welcome environment, that when I was in high school, my friends preferred hanging out at my house to any other place. It was quite annoying at times. My mother was a genius in that way. She made home so comfortable that there was no need to go out, and most of the time she knew exactly where I was.
She was strict. She had no patience with the democratic parenting style that is so popular today. She ruled our home, and our young lives, and that was that. No back talk, no negotiation. The rules were clear, and transgressions were dealt with firmly. My friend Peggy and I once skipped school and took off for Mexico with a couple of boys when we were seniors in high school. I told my mother I was spending the weekend at Peggy’s house. My mother discovered the truth before the weekend was over, and I was grounded for months. It did not matter that I was about to turn eighteen. I was grounded until nearly that moment.
I wrecked my car once and she insisted that I pay for the repairs myself. So, I got a job as a waitress at the age of 16, and saved the money, and paid to get my car fixed. (My father, much more lenient, had given me the car for my 16th birthday, something that my mother probably disapproved of, but she was silent at the time—also very wise of her).
My mother could do just about anything with her hands—sew, crochet, knit, needlepoint, arrange flowers, make homemade chocolate candy (she was famous for this among family and friends), bake, paint and make her own stationery. She was a one-woman crafts market/bakery/candy store/flower stall/knit-wear boutique. I was cleaning out closets this past weekend and kept pulling out blankets she had crocheted for me. Whenever someone announced a wedding or a pregnancy, she would begin to crochet. She made doll blankets for my girls and a big blue and white quilt when I married John, and a blanket for every baby and special occasion. And she never stopped making things, up until the moment she died. A few days after she went into the hospital for her last illness, I received an enormous box of her homemade chocolates. She had spent the week before surgery making chocolates for my birthday, and she had my step-dad ship them out while she was in intensive care.
I could tell you more—about her love of a bargain, her 24-pound turkeys at Thanksgiving, her passion for Asian design and zebra prints, her love of music and dancing (both line and ballroom), her nervousness about weather and travel, her two tiny dogs named Rambo and Chico, and her kitchen full of bells and whistles.
She was quite a woman: full of life, with an easy laugh and a deep love for the people around her, particularly her grandchildren.
Her doctor told me after her death that there were some patients you just remember all your life, and he said that my mom would be one for him. He said he would never forget her and the intense, territorial love of her family. I don’t think he had ever seen so many close relatives—husband, daughters, sister, grandchildren, sons-in-laws, plus a few dear friends and the parish priest—crowd into one woman’s room day after day, following every tiny aspect of her care, and finally letting her go with so much overwhelming sadness that the nurses in the unit also broke down in tears.
Once I had a mother.