Words and image by Nancyjo Rongner
I sat in the fitting room with tears rolling down my eyes. I wanted to scream at her next door, “You should be so lucky to have her! I can’t believe that you’re treating your mom so terribly. My mom is dead. I would give ANYTHING to get to shop with her today. I can’t believe you’d say such mean things to your mom. Appreciate her while she’s here!”
But instead, I wiped the tears from my eyes, decided the dress looked great without consulting my mom and left the dressing room to pay for it.
Living without my mom has gotten easier and different as time goes on. I am no longer paralyzed by the physical grief that the first weeks after her death brought me and since it’s been a decade without her, I’m able to manage the emotional side too. I still grieve, often it comes in waves. It happens, I let it wash over me and then move forward with life.
Her death came as shock... a 3:00 a.m. phone call, purchase a plane ticket to head home, and plan everything on autopilot kind of shock. She was an alcoholic who was overcome by the disease. The autopsy revealed her cause of death to be alcohol poisoning.
She was “gone” in a lot of ways before she died. For about three years, she was there but not available to me the same way she was before alcoholism, but that’s what the disease does. However, she wasn’t always an alcoholic and we had at least 20 great years together before our lives took a turn. When I look back on those years with my mom, I remember so many great times together, valuable lessons and lots of character development. And I’m so thankful for that, those are the pieces of her I carry with me today.
My mom died before I got comfortable in my own skin. I was still a baby at just 23 years old. Before I became a bride, a wife, and a mother. I never got to really enjoy an adult child-to-mother relationship with her. After she died, I grew into a person I love being, who is steady and sure of herself. I wish I could tell her that the way she wrote the story of her life inspired me to write a similar one.
My mom spent a lot of years living out motherhood and making business happen. First, she owned a home-based daycare and then a bar in my small town.
I learned to love community because I watched my mom love hers. Her bar wasn’t just a place where people went to drink their problems away. It was where friends gathered to sing karaoke, watch the big game or play cards. It was where people gathered after the Friday night football game, everyone knew your name and was glad to see you. It was the place people stopped by after they got married to grab a drink before their reception. It was the hub of community in my hometown, Small Town USA, population 2,500.
Her employees are still loyal to her to this day, cheering me on as life moves forward without her. They came to my wedding and sent gifts when my babies were born. A piece of her still lives because of their relationship with me.
One of the biggest lessons I learned from experiencing the loss of my mom was let the people who love you continue to love you.
Not long after she opened her bar, there was a large fire in the middle of the night on her block. She rushed down, opened up, and fired up the coffee pot. It was a four alarm fire and many fire departments from neighboring towns were called in to help keep the blaze from destroying an entire city block. There was nothing in it for her, many tried to pay her and she refused.
It doesn’t surprise me that I’ve followed in my mother’s footsteps of finding a way to raise babies and make a living by serving my community. I am the founder of a hyper local blog where people’s lives are made easier because I equip them with ways to enjoy the area I live in with their family.
I wish with my whole heart that my mom was here to be a grandmother to my children. There are pieces of her that are being passed on to them - her love of baseball, her spirit of adventure and the idea that above all else everyone can make an impact right where they live, in their community. And those ideas? That’s a legacy worth leaving.