Mothers Day

It would be great to be able to talk to Mom again on Mother’s Day

This will be the 13th Mother’s Day that I haven’t been able to talk to my Mom or send her cards, flowers, nightgowns, or candy. Emphysema took her just after Mother’s Day, 2006.

At 66, there are many things I’d like to talk with her about, including the challenges of growing older.

During that discussion, I would have to admit that I didn’t fully “get it” when she was in her 60’s and 70’d and told me about the aches and pains (and indignities) of aging.

I definitely get it now, I would tell her.

I think she would laugh.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!


Mom and me, 2005

Remembering What My Mom Taught Me

I had a pretty amazing mother.  If I think about what people most admire about me, or what I most admire about myself, the answer is clear.  My mother taught me the good stuff that people admire and those things I admire in myself.

My mom didn’t stop moving.  My sister Wendy and I laugh that we never saw her resting or taking a nap – something we both do regularly.   So clearly she didn’t teach us every good thing we now do.  But we both believe, she taught us our central values – to be loving, to be kind, to be a giver and to be a doer.

My mom worked when others mother’s didn’t.  She modeled being self-sufficient, motivated and focused on many important things, not just being our mommy. A strong work ethic and a drive to be successful in a meaningful way was the result of that.


Patty’s Mom in the mid 1940s

My mom was older than other peoples’ moms – she had me at 40 in 1950 (slightly younger when Wendy was born) – considered highly risky if not down right disgusting from conventional wisdom of the time.  She worked into her 70s and was very lively and fully fabulous over 60 – some of her most productive years. Ditto us Gill girls.

My mom loved great food and great clothes.  Hard to have these two passions – one tends to make wearing the other tougher.  But somehow I do love pasta and wine even as I work like hell to keep myself in shape and wear great clothes – and not the same ones – my mom was fashionable for a long time and I picked up that drive to look stylish in a current way.

“But the greatest of these is love”. From first Corinthians, the Bible and my mother said it over and over. It stuck. If I have a choice of calling a sick friend, or finishing my new book; remembering someone’s birthday or having an early cocktail – it is my mother’s words and life that made me the women who makes the call, writes the note, or tries to be helpful and useful to others.

My mother drove me insane at times.  She wanted perfection in some ways I just could not accomplish.   She wanted standards adhered to that I came to see as ridiculous.  But I wouldn’t trade my Mom for anyone else’s.  She made me who I am—the kind woman who is still a bit compulsive.  And while not a biological mother myself, I do a good deal of mothering I think.  And any good I do, I owe to her legacy of thoughtfulness that helped me create my own version of being there for those I love.

I still miss her.  Not all the time of course.  But on Mother’s Day, I have to pause and remember how lucky I was in the “mommy lottery”.  Someone once told me my grandchildren had won the grandmother lottery getting me as one of their grandmothers.  I hope that is true, and if it is, I owe most of my great grandmothering skills to Magdalina Maria Manganiello or Mrs. Gill as she loved to be called.  I realize now at 66 I didn’t always appreciate her, and in some ways I feared her.  And, I never did get her feelings of certainty about all things.  My mom was different… and special.  I feel she made me, and Wendy, the same way. Thanks to my mom and to yours – they did a very fine job.


A Mother’s Day Story About My Sister Christine

About eight years ago, I wrote a short essay about becoming a mother to my mentally disabled sister Christine when our own mother died. Later, It was published in the St. Petersburg Times in November of 2009 with the editor’s title: A New Parent; An Unlikely Child.

Since Mother’s Day is approaching, I re-read the story today.

Much has changed, including Christine’s engagement with people (very low), her mobility (not great), her financial situation (much better since I  found a Medicaid program that covers her assisted-living housing and care), her love of bingo (not so much these days) and her “mom” in the story (now deceased).

She still has the caregiver I found for her years ago (her current local “mom”), but the nurses give her insulin and take care of her pills.

She still likes candy, watches TV most of the day and doesn’t like to shower.

Since Christine and I are sisters in our 60’s, I thought I’d share our story on this site.  I hope you like it.

Here it is:

At 56 I became a first-time parent. Christine is about 10 years old, generally. She gives herself insulin injections, for example, but would have a hard time filling a syringe. She can bathe herself, but she doesn’t do well with time so she always thinks she took a shower yesterday. She can write a short note on a birthday card, but can’t remember how to address the envelope. She knows she has diabetes, but she doesn’t understand why she can’t have cookies and candy like everyone else.

I always knew that someday Christine, just a year older than me, would be more than my sister. Our father died more than 20 years ago, and my mother did the best she could as her own health deteriorated. Although it was more and more difficult for her to take care of my sister, she resolutely stayed in her own home until the last week of her life. I now realize how much of a gift that was to me and my brother. Instead of expensive care in a nursing facility, she held on to her money market account and her home for Christine.

I didn’t have kids of my own, but I knew that I would inherit a child someday and would need money to care for her. Now, more than two years later, Mom’s savings are gone.

Me and Christine at her apartment, 2010

Me and Christine at her apartment, 2010

Most of the time, that seems like the easy part. I’m also Christine’s health care advocate, her caregivers’ manager, her phone friend, her motivator and her disciplinarian. Yesterday, I made a deal with her about how many times a week she’ll wash her hair. Last week, I talked to her eye doctor about the pros and cons of a lab test. Two weeks ago, I worked with her caregiver to manage the amount of allowance money she spends on stuffed animals.

I sometimes feel angry about having to take on this responsibility. I remember my father telling me not to worry because he had taken care of Christine’s future. I’m sure he thought that her Social Security check, the money he left to my mother and the proceeds from the house would be enough. How could he have anticipated the cost of care 20 years later? Christine lives in an independent care facility in our hometown of Cincinnati and has a private caregiver 12 hours a week. The cost is high — more than $40,000 a year — and growing.

I’m glad that I’m in a position to help her live well. She loves the other residents, except the one who eats too loudly in the dining room and the one who smokes too much in the garden. Since she is by far the youngest, she is watched over by both residents and staff members. Every day, twice a day, she walks through the same hallways into the same dining room and is greeted warmly by her many friends. “Hello, Christine” and “How are you today, Christine?” She knows all of their names. She can tell you who lives in “independent” and who lives in “assisted.” She happily repeats all of the staff gossip. She loves bingo. She gets a big kick out of visits from Elvis. And, in her room, she watches Bewitched, Gilligan’s Island, black and white movies and Dancing With the Stars.

I’ll have many more decisions to make about her care and her health in the coming years. Will I move her closer to me when I retire? How will I continue to support her financially? What will happen as her health worsens? I don’t dwell on these things too much, though. They are just there, as they’ve always been.

For now, I talk to Christine every day. I ask her if she has taken her pills. I visit her as often as I can. I talk to her caregiver weekly. I send her cards and gifts every holiday. I mark her doctors’ appointments on my calendar. I tell her I love her.

The last time I was in Cincinnati, she introduced me to her table-mate Audrey. “I call her mom,” she told me later. “I’m going to get her a Mother’s Day card. I think she would really like it. Do you think that’s okay, Cathy?”

“Yes,” I told my sister, “I think that’s perfectly okay.”


Letting Mother’s Day Go – Or Lessons from The Great Gatsby

Like most young people at 21 I wanted to leave my childhood behind and let the world (limited to the USA at that time) be my oyster. While I recently watched Carey Mulligan playing Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby this weekend that concept of having it all struck me as so ridiculous. Yet still, I do remember my tremendous sense of wanting “it all” at an early point in my life.  And by “it all” I didn’t just mean a job and children.

Carey Mulligan

via Warner Bros. Ent.

I wanted a great job, to be married to a super guy, have great looking and successful kids, continue to look hot forever, drink champagne; and of course, wear great clothes—and travel—and general luxury would be nice too—and be a good person to boot. There would be no conflict would there?
I was not an early bloomer—I had rather unrealistic dreams of what my life should be and “refused to settle”—until I had most of those dreams come true in my late 40s and 50s. I now think that staying my course and working intensely to create my dreams—literally trying 100,000 times actually can work out—if you then accept that yes, you got what you wanted and “this”—what you actually have—is it. That acceptance sits at the corner of realistic happiness and peace.
I chose not to have children. Choices I made created secondary choices. Not having children was one of those. Like the decision to be spiritual and explore that road, and to go (and keep going) to graduate school and create a business—all choices really do result in unsurprising consequences. Don’t believe me? Read any great novel or ‘how to live successfully’ book.
So why did I resent not being pampered/remembered on Mother’s Day? As a step-mother it sort of bugged me that on Mother’s Day most women were being sent flowers and being courted by their children and I got—well—nothing. I was a nice woman—I had done a lot of mothering (that should count)—shouldn’t that mean I get a card or flowers too?
It finally dawned on me in my 60s that things are exactly as they should be. Actual mothers get to have Mother’s Day. I don’t. But I do get the fruits of the life I chose to have. It no longer bothers me that I don’t also get everything like Daisy Buchanan (yeah, she was a mom of sorts and had Mother’s Day too) but then who wants to be CARELESS, like F. Scott Fitzgerald called the Buchanans and pretend there are no consequences?
Consequences do change as we change our choices. No we can’t go back and do our lives over again, but we can begin with the end in mind and make the best new choices for our lives right now. I am so pissed that there is still consequences for eating too much chocolate, drinking too much, wearing grandma clothes or outfits that make us look like sausages because we refuse to exercise consistently. Damn, I was hoping there would be an end to being a self-responsible grown up and having to try all the time to achieve what we want personally and professionally—and, to live up to our ideals. There is an end to making choices and having consequences—it is when you’re dead—literally like Gatsby, or figuratively like the Buchanans.

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