It’s 1am. After ringing 2016 in with two of my best friends and not yet ready to turn in, I turned on the TV. The screen brightened and I saw George Bailey tearing up his house and cursing his life.
I am sympathetic to his plight. What a terrible year. My mother and our family’s bright guiding light, Nancy, lost a valiant fight with leukemia.
Shortly after she passed away in July. I read this psalm posted by a friend of mine:
The translation of this psalm spells morning like the beginning of the day, m-o-r.
For me, so much joy has come from the other type of mourning. Our friends have rallied behind us and this family gets tighter and stronger each day remembering mom.
A friend of mine expressed this sentiment. “Tears are a physical manifestation of love and at those times we are so full of love, it comes pouring out of our eyes on account of our body’s inability to contain such a powerful thing. If not for our tears our bodies would be crushed and destroyed by the overwhelming strength of our love.”
As we held mom in those last moments and her final breath parted her mouth, her soul was full of love and from her eye came a single and final tear…
This year, I realized my move back to Columbus, 10 minutes from my parents, was serendipity.
George Bailey says at the beginning of his movie: “I’m at the end of my rope. Show me the way.”
So many nights I sat up with mom, holding her hand and hoping I could pass my pulse and some healing magic through our contact. I would squeeze her hand and feel the beat of my heart thumping into our palms. I wouldn’t release my hand to wipe my face or clear my eyes. I wanted the universe to see it. I wanted to trade her pain for my strength – whatever I had left.
Through it all she never wanted us to see all of it. She hid the worst of it from us.
2015 also saw me leave the one other place I felt at home, The Container Store. On the 13th anniversary of my first day, I left. Years of promoting the company culture, opening stores, recruiting and training new hires, and even appearing in founder Kip Tindell’s book Uncontainable, I walked away. In one of the scariest moments of my career, I started listening to my mom’s whisper in my ear, and moved on to see where my talent could take me.
I still talk to her. Her voice is still on my voicemail. Her image still signs “I love you” and “happy birthday” in the videos we saved. Her smile is all around me – the wallpaper on my phone, the pictures on the wall, in my sisters’ faces, and in my father’s eyes.
What my mother tells me in these talks is to look at the bright side. The eldest girl of 6 kids, she grew up on the hilltop in west Columbus. Daughter of a union father and a girl scout mother, mom was always quick to remind you of what was important and how we were blessed.
In 2015, I can count some great blessings. Completing my MBA, 8 years with Doug, moving our store to a brand new location, raising money for Pelotonia, continuing the TCS partnership with Cookies for Kids Cancer, and my new career at LBrands. I even met John Travolta!
Most importantly, I became even closer to Doug, and my family – exactly what mom would have wanted.
I have always respected my father, Clay. I have loved him for his example as a business man and father. I have appreciated his long marriage to my mother and the model of a family they gave us. Nothing, however, could have prepared me for understanding the true measure of a man as the past year. His unending dedication to my mother – sleeping on couches and folding chairs and cots on the floor to be close to her – balancing the weight of the world on his shoulders while trying to keep a strong face for all of us – this was the lesson of this year. This was the greatest lesson, the greatest blessing of them all.
I love these next two pictures – the first is right after I finished 180 miles for Pelotonia in 2014. I was fighting for a cure for cancer then, but we were clueless as to how close it actually was to us.
The second is the photo I took at lunch after our first meeting at the James. The one that Dr. Walker said the words “terminal blood cancer.” We were hungry, I asked mom whether she wanted to go somewhere close to the hospital or maybe Hudson 29 the new Cameron Mitchell restaurant. Uncharacteristically, and without hesitation, she said, “Hudson.” I remember my dad liking the prime rib sandwich, but the rest of my memories of that lunch are all wrapped up in this shot. Look closely, my mom’s smile is the same.
In the first, proud of my accomplishment and excited to be a part of the Pelotonia family. The second, she is happy to have a special lunch with two of her favorite guys, maybe nervous of the news, but confident we are going to beat this thing. I love her for this smile. How many times in my life did I come to her – upset, joyful, in pain or otherwise looking for that smile?
Kip, founder of The Container Store, cites It’s a Wonderful Life as his favorite movie. He says, it speaks to the “wake” each of us leave behind. Everything you do and everything you don’t do leaves a wake that touches everyone in our lives. In a particularly humbling moment of 2015, Kip wrote in his reply to my resignation, “The world and the world of retail needs more people like you.”
Mom’s wake will carry on in the library she loved. With the funds raised in her honor, Newbery Medal winners and others were purchased and marked with this book plate:
In truth, the world needs more people like my mom and more people like my dad.
January 1st, 2016 – the first day of the first year without my mom.
January 1st, 2016 – the first day of the first year of the rest of my life with my family. Mom isn’t 10 minutes away anymore, she’s even closer.
happy new year.
In the words of George Bailey, “I want to live!”
The joy comes in the morning.