Reading my brother's tribute to our mom on the 10th anniversary of her death, it surprised me how similarly her absence has affected us.
Ten years ago today, while sitting in a computer lab at Rowan University, I got a life-changing call from my sister: my mom had passed away the night before while visiting her cousin in Wisconsin. Though she struggled with health issues, which necessitated open-heart surgery two years prior, her passing was nevertheless completely unexpected.
I struggled terribly that winter. There was a lot of crying. There were a lot of twisted nightmares in which my mom visited me in various forms, in which I was aware of her death, in which I wasn't, one in which I couldn't stop screaming at her for leaving us, and one in which she died slowly right in front of my eyes. There was a lot of pain. Ugly. Unprecedented. Profound.
Ten years later, the pain is not gone, but is mostly subdued. It occasionally resurfaces, often at this time of year when the impending anniversary of her death and the increased darkness combine, or anytime I think of how she never got to meet my wonderful wife and son. I knew Stevie was the one when I realized how sad it made me that my mom would never get to meet her.
I think a common worry among the bereaved is that the memory of their loved one will become diluted with time, and ultimately erased entirely. If no one remembers the loved one, it will be as if he or she never existed at all. Keeping the memory alive stills that fear.
My mother was not perfect, but neither was I. I was a hyperactive child who knew how to push her buttons, and she had a short temper, and sometimes lashed out at me. But however we may have hurt each other was certainly unintentional, always with underpinnings of love at our core.
So much of who I am today can be traced to my mother. She was a staff writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer for decades, and is one reason I have always loved to write.
She was an avid traveler, having been to all 50 states and many areas of Europe and Asia, and to this day, a travel scholarship exists in her name at Bowdoin College, my sister's alma mater. She always encouraged me to see as much of the world as I could. The picture of her here is from the time I won a cruise to Bermuda and invited my whole family, though only my mom could come. I'd like to think she would be proud of some of the trips I've taken since her passing, including driving across America, driving from England to Mongolia, and teaching English in South Korea for five weeks.
She was born and raised in Gettysburg and enjoyed American history, and is one reason I love stopping at museums everywhere I go now.
My mom even tried her hand at teaching, as an English teacher both here in America as well as in South Korea where my dad was stationed in the army.
She loved dogs, labs especially. She hand made quilts by the dozen, giving them to friends and family as presents. I never once slept with a store-bought blanket growing up. She rarely watched tv but read mystery novels on the living room couch by the truckload. She was not known for her culinary skills, but still made time each year for large batches of homemade apple sauce, strawberry jam, and vegetable soup. She indulged our family's obsession with all things German, though never learned to speak it herself.
Her name was Louise Ann Harbach, and I love her and miss her every day.