Like any young woman, I often looked at my mother with a critical eye.

When people would talk to me about her, they usually said one of two things: 1) "You look just like her," and 2) "What an incredible woman she is. After your father died, she raised you five kids all by herself and put herself through college! Wow!" I'm sure that each time I responded with smiles and nods and agreeable mutterings. But in my head things were not as polite. I would usually think: 1) "I'm really not flattered that I look like someone who is 30 years my senior," and 2) Blah blah blah blah.

NO CONNECTION DANGLES

I have always loved my mom, could always turn to her with anything and never really fully rebelled against her. But in my heart, I would roll my eyes at her glaring "flaws."

She was (and is) compulsively punctual. She is a freak about doing what she says she's going to do. (There were many trips taken under treacherous conditions just because she'd promised someone she would come.)

She is fanatical about her obligations. As mother, sister, friend, foster mother, Fresh Air mother, wife, therapist, aunt, grandmother, pet owner, her commitment to the people (and animals) in her life is unshakable. She might fuss and grumble, but she is incapable of leaving a connection dangling, a relationship not sustained, for herself or for us. She shows up at concerts, showers, baptisms, weddings, reunions and funerals unfailingly. As only one's children can, my siblings and I have picked on her unmercifully about "Catholic guilt," "anal-retentiveness" and "control issues." We have all sniggered and tortured her about her obsessive dedication to family "duty." She responds with her "angry eyebrow," trying to quell our disrespect.

Recently, true to form, my mother met with a funeral director to finalize her arrangements. Like always, she wanted to protect us kids from having to worry about finances or details. The funeral director suggested that we write an obituary ahead of time so we don't have to deal with that task when our grief is at its freshest. As you can imagine, my first reaction was denial (because I'm sure she'll never die), followed by a paralyzing sadness at trying to sum up a life so important to all of us. But then I thought how uniquely honoring it might be to let her know how we feel about her now, while she is still among us.

COMFORT, STABILITY

This past year, my cousins lost both their mother and their sister. At a recent family gathering, one of them told me that when she feels like she needs her mother, she goes to ours. Whenever she thinks of our mother, she thinks of comfort and warmth and stability. Wow. Right then and there, it hit me — I knew what I needed to write.

So the following is my tribute to our mother. It might not be the one that is printed at her death, but it is the one I want her to have, from me, in life:

After our father died, she raised us and put herself through college.

She showed up. She followed through. She was always there. She never gave up.

And I hope I am just like her.

Mary White is from the Malone area. She and her husband have five children, eight cats, two dogs and three guinea pigs. She has had the privilege of working with children and families (her own and other people's) for more than 20 years.

Recommended for you