Honor Thy Mother

My sister Suzanne e-mailed me this morning to let me know that the Philadelphia Inquirer was running an article about our oldest sister Lisa. The article talks about my sister as a mother, touching about just how much energy she put into her children’s lives during her short time here. It reminds me of how wonderful she was. I want to write more, but I also don’t feel like crying at my desk right now. Maybe later. Since I think you may need to register (and to preserve it), I will also post the entire article here.

Mother them while you can

By Nancy J. McCann

Did you ever meet someone, form that very important first impression, then find out it was outrageously wrong? That happened to me.

Now I can say that I’m glad I made the mistake, and am thankful for the experience. It has made me a better person with a deeper understanding of motherhood and life. And on this Mother’s Day, it has allowed me to honor Lisa Hayden.

I met her four years ago at the back-to-school night for our children. With two boys – a baby and a preschooler – my life was bottles, feedings, diapers, car seats, and loads of laundry. My standard attire was jeans with holes in the knees from a life spent on the floor with the children. And a sweatshirt stained with formula and creamed carrots. And old sneakers. Makeup? Are you kidding?

That night I handed off the children to my husband, just home from work, then raced off to school. With no time to change, I wore my usual.

Soon I was listening to this elegant woman exhorting us to get involved with our children’s school. Her hair was perfectly coiffed, her dress was impeccable, and her message was direct: Join the Home and School Association.

“This is the time to get involved with your child’s school and activities… when they really want you to,” she said enthusiastically. “Party organizing, fund-raising, lunch helpers, cooking with the kids, reading to them. There is so much we can do.”

OK, I admit I felt put upon. I could barely keep my head above formula, and now this woman wanted me to give up the precious few hours a week in which my son was in preschool so that I could come in and be a part of his school life. Didn’t she realize that this was when I bought the groceries with one child instead of two; did the laundry; deciphered the health insurance paperwork; and paid the bills? Those were my hours. Please! Just who was this super woman, able to stay beautiful, raise three children, run the PTA?

This was Lisa Hayden. Her pretty hair… a wig. Her thin, stylishly dressed body… riddled with cancer, swimming in chemotherapy. She won’t be spending Mother’s Day with her children this year. No breakfast in bed, no homemade cards. She died Jan. 18.

What a revelation when I found out this “perfect” woman was battling breast cancer. How could I complain about diapers, dirty clothes, and giving up free time? This lovely, well-spoken woman was able to find time between chemotherapy treatments and doctors’ appointments to lead the Home and School Association and to urge the rest of us to volunteer for our children. And I was annoyed about giving up my free time? Please, indeed!

Though her profession was land development, “when Lisa had the kids, it was as if she was always meant to have them,” said her husband, Matt. “She took to motherhood quickly.”

She was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2000. Her biggest fear then was that she would die before her children got to know her, particularly her youngest, Kelly, who was 2 at the time.

On one of her early trips for radiation treatment, Lisa confided to her close friend, “I hope I make it to Kelly’s high school graduation.” During a later trip: “I hope I make it to Kelly’s eighth birthday.” And finally, “I hope she remembers me.”

One tough day last fall, as Lisa lay in bed, she mentioned to her friend how she missed playing with the children. Without hesitation, the friend set about making the family room into the perfect autumn playdate. Hay and old clothes covered the floor. As Lisa slowly descended the steps, she saw Kelly sitting in the middle of it all, waiting for Mommy to help her stuff the best scarecrow ever. It was a Kodak moment.

For three years Lisa got out of bed, put on her wig and volunteered despite her battle with cancer. Volunteering at school was her way of spending time with the children… to be a part of their world. She figured out early in life that every day was a gift, to have fun and spend with those you love.

As the children watched their mother suffer, they also witnessed strength, spirit, beauty and grace. They are stronger for it.

I think of Lisa a lot these days. She’s made me a better mother, a better person. I’m calmer and have more fun. We’ll have people over on the spur of the moment now – house as is. That never happened before. Sunny mornings are spent at the park with my kindergartner, instead of facing down a pile of laundry or a stack of bills. I’ve learned to save those chores for rainy days.

Don’t get me wrong. I still have a long way to go. But thanks to Lisa, I hear the Mother’s Day message loud and clear, and you should too.

Spend time with our children. Now. Enjoy it… while we still have time.