Sunday, February 11, 2018

My Sister's Thoughts on Our Mom On The Day of Her Funeral

What Can I Tell You About Yvonne Manasse?

       My brother, Mark, and I appreciate your attendance this afternoon, January 18th, 2018, to help us say farewell to our mother, Yvonne Manasse.  She lived to the age of 74, as her birthday was on January 2nd, 1944. My name is Catherine, but my mother always called my Cathy.
       So, what can I tell you about our mother?
       When I was a child, most of the things my mother did made little sense to me. I was often confused and frustrated by her decisions; and her classic explanation was: Because I said so. Never an elaboration for rationale given. As I matured, her later explanation was, “Cathy, one day you will have children of your own, and then, you will understand.” That answer was equally unsatisfying. However, I eventually DID have children of my own. Still, the things my mother did confounded me. BUT, now I understood WHY she did them. She made her choices because she loved us and she wanted us to be safe, successful people.
       Yvonne, my mother, was the youngest of four children. She was a hard person to know. Certainly, she could be kind. She could speak sweetly, and could make a quick friend with any stranger. To go deeper with her, though, was a challenge. In retrospect, she was not one to give advice or make demands. She accepted situations as they were. She NEVER demanded to know when I planned on getting married. And, likewise, never pushed for an expected date for grandchildren. In that way, I thought she was unusual, as far as parents go- especially since our father passed away when Mark and I were teenagers.
       I can tell you that she was a dedicated mother, serious about her duties. Our house was always clean, she cooked dinner every night, she handled all the laundry herself- all tasks any maid could do; but what I think made her motherly was, for example, the times when I was sick. She would wheel the tv into my bedroom, bring me a cup of hot tea with honey, and once I was feeling better, she would sit beside me on my bed and talk or play games. And, she made a hot breakfast for me every morning before school. During the summertime, she would play board games and card games with us-and she could be VERY SILLY! She could make us laugh until we’d cry and beg her to stop. She could make us laugh like that with her storytelling, too.
       When I state that my mother was a hard person to know, that doesn’t mean she was a difficult person to like. She could be compassionate, patient, and downright hilarious. But, I can’t say that I really knew her. The stories she told me were rarely about herself, and when they were, I cannot attest to the quality or quantity of their validity. For example, more than once she told me that, as a child, she and a friend used to run across the rooftops of houses in the neighborhood. I doubt it. She also shared with me she was runner-up in a beauty pageant, perhaps; that she was a surfer, she really meant “body surfing”; and that she was a dancer. I did observe her dance at my wedding with my father-in-law, and, therefore, I think that one is probably true.
       Factual information I can share with you is that she was born in Brooklyn, grew up in Redondo Beach, she loved music, and she loved babies. Also, she was a secret, mathematical accounting genius. She listened to Elvis and The Beach Boys. I remember riding in the Ford Pinto and hearing a lot of Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow, and The Bee Gee’s. She was one to sing and hum and make up nonsense songs while doing her housework. And I remember that she was a substantial John Travolta fan. I got to see Saturday Night Fever in the movie theater when I was probably only 7 or 8 years old.  When it came to babies, every one of them was special, but none more so than her own. She  took countless pictures of us and made detailed baby books-before that type of thing was considered a hobby. She even ran a home daycare business until I was in second grade. But her cloaked surprise was discovered when we moved her to assisted living just a few years ago. When I asked my mom if there was anything special I should bring to her new home, she asked for her “records”. My sister-in-law, Tauni, and I turned her home upside-down looking for The Beach Boys, Neil Diamond, and Barry Manilow. There were no records. What she meant, was boxes and boxes and boxes of her very organized and careful documentation of every purchase of every penny ever spent, and their calculated consequences going back for decades! Each one scripted in her own delicate hand, and in its appropriate column. Receipts included. So in her head, there was a desire for massive organization. After years of, “Because I said so,”  this level of complex thinking is hard for me to reconcile. This is just one type of example demonstrating that she could be a hard person to know.
       I can tell you that my mother was nothing if not independent. Alzheimer’s disease robbed her of that. I feel compelled to thank Dora and Tony from Glenwood Care and Nurse David from Eden Hospice for providing exceptional care for her- and communication with me-  throughout her decline. I am humbled by the daily care, comfort, and dignity they gave not only my mother, but their other patients as well. When I would visit my mom, never once did she complain. She was not upset. She made no demands. She never said out loud, “Why me?” And I do not recall a time when she began a sentence with, “I wish…”, “I want…”, or “ I need…”

       In closing, what I can tell you about Yvonne Manasse is that she did not put herself first. I did not know her very well, but she raised us right and she kept us safe. She set us up to be successful people, as evidenced by all of you here who took time out of your lives to support us today. By my definition, that is a successful mother. My brother and I are grateful. Thank you.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

What Do You Know Now That You Wish You Had Known Then?

When I was in fifth or sixth grade, I used to walk across the street to take the bus to school.  You could see the bus stop from our kitchen window.

One day, I accidentally left my alto saxophone sitting on the sidewalk while I chatted my way onto the bus.  I remember the Santa Ana winds that day, too.  It was so dry, even so early in the morning.  At some point, the bus turned around so I could get my instrument, but when we returned to the bus stop, it was gone.

I. Freaked. The. F. Out. The wind blowing and swirling around me.

I don't remember all the details now, but the bus ended up leaving me so I could walk back across the street to tell my mom what a failure I was.  I remember hyperventilating to the point of uncontrollably crying as the wind rushed through the trees and blew a styrofoam cup down the street.  That was an awfully long walk on the way to tell my mom....to tell my mom...to tell my mom I had failed. That I wasn't responsible.

When I walked in the front door, I found the saxophone in my living room and my mom waiting for me.  She had clearly seen me coming.  And she didn't chastise me or make me feel stupid.  In fact, she didn't say a word.

She greeted me with a hug that I still remember to this very moment.  She held me tight, and I held her tighter as my tears turned from terror to joy.

And I loved her.

***

My mom passed away about two weeks ago, and I have thought about that moment a lot: that timeless, splendid hug.  It seems so perfect.  Like how it was "supposed to be."  A quiet understanding between a mother and her son.  I can't say we had a lot of those moments.  But we had that one.  We had that one...

At her funeral last week, I was supposed to say something.  Do something.  Capture something about her life.  I didn't know what to say.  And it was hot again.  And dry.  And the walk was long and lonely from my chair to the front of the funeral.  I looked through tear-filled eyes out into a crowd to say goodbye.

I didn't say much, as I feared hyperventilating...and swirls of emotions rushed through me.  She wouldn't be there to hug me this time.  There would be no timeless, splendid hug. Ever again.

I ended up reading the lyrics to this song I remember her singing at a piano at a relative's house one day.  I was probably in junior high.  She had this artistic side, after all.  She wrote. She sang.  She performed. She joked.  She laughed.

So I read the lyrics to that song: Those Were the Days My Friend, by Mary Hopkin...and I watched her clap and dance and sing in my head while I read those lyrics through tears and heat and pain.

And I missed her.

***

It seems so silly now, being worried about that stupid instrument.  But I had to go through that pain, and that walk, those tears, to get to that perfect, timeless, splendid hug.

And as I walk through life now...thinking about what I know now that I wish I had known then...I realize that those were the days, and they will never end.