NB: this was only ever meant to be spoken. Much of what is in here depends on a lot on timing and delivery. The spoken and written word are two different media. I do both (neither well, I might add), but if I had intended this to be read, rather than heard, it would have been different. Caveat reader.
First things first, does anyone here have a cell phone? Could you please make sure those are turned off? Thanks. My mom would appreciate that.
I think you all know who I am, but just in case, I'm Julie. I'm the younger daughter. And far more importantly, I am not the mother of the two cutest children on the face of the earth. By now you've met Allanna and Zack. Allanna, who in the far too short five and half years she got with my mom brought her so much joy. And Zack, who even in utero thrilled her so much. No, I am not their mother. That privilege is my sister, Rebecca's.
I'm the hiker. I'm a lot of other things, you could just ask my friends, though hiker is probably the only word fit for mixed company. It's impossible to distill what I'd like to say about my mom into 2-3 minutes. And I won't even try. We've asked everyone else to keep things to 2-3 minutes. Me, I'm running at about 10 minutes. I figure I'm allowed. At any rate, I can't, even in 10 minutes, describe everything, so I'll stick to hiking.
Mom and I started hiking together about 15 years ago. We hiked mostly in the southwest, though we went to Montana once or twice. People might think we were crazy to go to Utah, five years in a row. It's Utah, after all. But if you've ever been to Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion Canyon National Park, you'll know why we kept going back. And if you've never been, well, I suggest you go. They're only about 12 hours from here, so if you start driving now, you'll be there by midnight. We just thought that once you've found one of the most beautiful places on the face of the earth, why wouldn't you keep going back?
We went to other areas of the southwest too. The first time we hiked across the Grand Canyon, Mom said, "Hey Julie, let's do this for my 60th birthday." "Okay," I said. And we did. The Grand Canyon isn't too difficult a hike. It's about 23 miles. You start at the North Rim, hike down, hike across the canyon, and then hike up the South Rim. The North Rim is about 5000 feet high and the South Rim is about 4000 feet high, so you want to do it in that order so you don't have to climb out as much. Then, you get to the top and have the largest breakfast you've ever had in your life. The second time we did it, we actually knew what we were doing. So we weren't trying to eat the worst, most-processed, peanut butter for breakfast. And we weren't carrying cans of soup and eating them cold, for dinner. We actually had a stove with us.
So I wasn't too surprised when she called me around when she turned 64 and said, "Hey Julie, for my 65th birthday, I want to climb Mount Whitney."
For those of you who don't know, Mount Whitney is the highest peak in the continental United States, at 14,497 feet. And let me tell you, those last two feet make a difference. The main trail is also quite popular and there's a lottery to get permits. We put in for permits, submitted two entries, and got permits once. So based on a highly representative sample population of two, I'd say there's about a 50% chance of getting permits.
The plan was that Tim, my wonderful fiancé, and I would lead the trip. Tim's parents would join us. And Mom and Claudia would go. Tim's parents would bunk together, by which I mean share the approximately 13 square feet you get in a tent; Mom and Claudia would bunk together; and Tim and I would share a tent. Well, a couple weeks before the trip, Claudia wound up needing knee surgery. (She's entirely recovered now.) So she couldn't go. We asked our friend, Nate, to fill in, and he agreed. Which of necessity required us to change the sleeping arrangements. Tim's parents still bunked together. But now Tim and Nate shared a tent. And Mom and I got to be roommates.
And while I am so sorry Claudia couldn't come on the trip, I am so grateful for those four nights Mom and I had together as roommates, where, like we always did, we talked about everything and nothing, and the sun and the moon and the stars. Literally, in fact. The stars in the eastern Sierras, when you're at 12,000 feet, above all the atmospheric disturbance, and away from light pollution, well, you can practically read a book by them. I remember on this trip she seemed to be talking about a door, a lot. Really worrying about a door, a front door, for the house. I mean, spending an inordinately large amount of time, worrying about, frankly, a door. But that's my mom. She never did anything by halves. When you come back to the house, look at the front door. That's the one she chose.
We summited. That picture on the front of your program is of my mom, a week shy of her 65th birthday, on the top of Mount Whitney, all 14,497 feet of it. It is mind-boggling to me that she died fewer than two years after that photo was taken.
It is difficult to describe succinctly the loss of a parent. For those of you who've lost one, I'm so sorry, and you know what I mean. For those of you who have all your parents, hold tight to them. Don't let them get away. For a short time, I was trying to describe is as being like not knowing which way is north. But if you ask Tim, who's laughing right now, he'll tell you I don't know which way north is on a good day. I have a terrible sense of direction. I get that from my mom. (Along with some really hideous feet.) No, it's more like not knowing which way is up. Which is interesting, given that gravity only works in one direction, at least on this planet. Down. And it's problematic for a hiker not to know which way is up. I'm sure I will eventually find my sense of up, but I will always miss my mom.
I am just beginning to understand how much I'll miss her. I think what I'll miss most is the unwavering support and unconditional love that a mother gives you, and that mine always gave me.
I am going to read two poems now, and I really apologize for the first one because I wrote it, and it's terrible. About four weeks after she was diagnosed, a couple months yet before she died, I woke up with this poem fully formed in my head. So I got out of bed and wrote it down. It's about some of the other things I miss about my mom. And it is called, rather unimaginatively, "I Miss My Mom."
I miss my mom. I miss my mom freaking out about getting a door replaced. I miss my mom spending way too much time trying to save a little money on a hotel. I miss my mom wearing clothes with holes in them, because really, who was going to see her exercising? I miss my mom sending me 14 emails a day when one would have been sufficient. I miss her constantly having to go to the bathroom. I miss her complaining of a headache, all the time because I wouldn't let her drink coffee when we were hiking. I miss her belching every 10 seconds on the trail. "Hey, Julie, this way you know I'm still here." I miss my mom having, no shit, the Scariest Refrigerator Known to Man. "Julie, your mother is feeding me garbage. Literally garbage." "Well, we both have iron stomachs," she said. I miss my mom refusing to buy a smaller quantity of milk because the next size up only cost 10 cents more. Never mind that the next size up always went bad. I miss my mom driving three miles out of the way to save 4 cents on gas. I miss my mom complaining. "Your father wants to go out every night." "I ate way too much food." "You know your father; he wants to pay for parking." (My parents were more in love with each other than any other couple you could ever hope to see. You just had to look for the signs.) I miss my mom.This next poem, I promise, is not written by me. It's by a slightly better-known poet. Ezra Pound may have been a fascist and an anti-Semite, but he pretty much knew how to capture it all in seven lines. This is "Erat Hora," which translates from the Latin to, "There was an hour."
"Thank you, whatever comes," and then she turned And as the ray of sun on hanging flowers fades When the wind hath lifted them aside Went swiftly from me. Nay, whatever comes One hour was sunlit. And the most high gods May not make boast of any better thing Than to have watched that hour, as it passed.