Sunday, March 21, 2010

Kristen Williams 1950-2010

This is a eulogy I wrote for my mother, who passed away Monday morning March 8 between 5 and 7 AM. I thought I would share it to let other people know what a wonderful and amazing person she was. I seem to miss her more with each passing day.

From the time I first found out that my Mom was suffering from stage four lung cancer nearly three years ago to the aftermath of her passing on Monday morning, I’ve spoken with a lot of people about my Mom. It’s an easier process with friends who have met her. They’ll recall having had dinner with us, and how kind my Mom was to them and how she was interested in knowing how they were doing and what they were up to. It’s when I have to describe her to people who don’t know her that I have trouble. I feel like simple descriptions that I provide don’t do her justice, and it’s upsetting to me that they might not fully appreciate just how special a person she was.

There’s an expectation from people who send their condolences that all children love their mothers, and that all mothers care for their children. They appreciate the sadness of her passing in that sense, but they don’t appreciate just what a wonderful person the world has lost, and I wish there was a way to communicate that in short order.

First and foremost, my mother was a loving, caring and giving person. She was the sort of person who I just can’t imagine anyone having a negative word to say about. She had a very strong moral code that she imparted in a gentle manner, and the core of that code was that all people should treat all other people with kindness and respect. That’s an easy principle to endorse, but often a difficult principle to fully embrace.

Luckily, over time human beings are tearing down artificial causes for dispute like race, religion, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. My Mom was a strongly progressive woman who embraced all people for who they are. But beyond those petty differences, there are still a lot of reasons for people to get annoyed with one another. People are rude and mean and insensitive to the feelings of others. Good people get into petty disputes. But my Mom was so good at dealing with those flaws. She was the slowest person to anger and the quickest person to forgive. That you should treat other people the right way was implicit in everything she did.

My Mom took care of everyone around her. She took care of me. She took care of my sister Whitney. She took care of our father while she was married to him. She took care of her husband Andy over the past fifteen or so years. And she provided support and love to her extended family and friends. She was the sort of person who put others first. She sacrificed at times her career. She sacrificed at times praise and credit. She sacrificed practically constantly her time. And she did it out of love. I knew that she was always on my side, so I knew to trust her advice and suggestions at all times. I wish I were a stronger, kinder, wiser person because I don’t think I as a person remotely reflect just what a wonderful mother she was to me.

But my Mom was so much more than just a caring and nurturing person. She was so brilliant. She had a gift for math and science, with quantitative solutions coming naturally to her. She had a gift for music and I suspect would have for art too if she had devoted herself to it like her mother did. And she had a keen understanding of psychology and sociology. She understood how to lead and motivate people, and how different types of people operate differently. She had a real intuitive sense for those things.

Perhaps most impressively, my Mom carried those intellectual gifts without ever making other people feel bad about themselves. This was a woman with degrees from Stanford and Penn and Johns Hopkins and yet she never flaunted her intellect. I could ask her the dumbest question in the world, and she would find a way to answer me without making me feel stupid or insecure in the slightest. That’s an enormous gift for a parent to provide a child, and over the past decade I’ve come to feel really guilty that even as my Mom provided that example to me I so often would then turn around and try to make my sister feel stupid for not knowing things that as a child she shouldn’t have been expected to know in the first place. Some messages take a while to sink in, I guess.

Beyond her kindness and her intelligence, my Mom was also the strongest person I’ve ever known. I’m a big sports fan, and I spend a lot of time watching enormous, physically powerful men crash into each other in the spirit of competition. But when it comes to true strength, they so often fall short. She let down their families, friends and communities and struggle to deal with the challenges that life sends their way. I think the truest form of strength is to conquer the emotional, psychological and spiritual challenges that life throws at you – the stuff that hits you in the heart. And no matter what, my Mom always faced life’s challenges with an unyielding positive outlook.

She had her fair share of challenges in life, from a divorce, to my sister unexpectedly moving to another country for four years, to a not altogether happy childhood. But she never let you know that anything was getting her down, I think as much for the people around her as for herself. Staying strong and maintaining a positive outlook has such a powerful effect on the people around you.

And she carried that attitude through to her battle with cancer. She eventually succumbed to the disease, but she fought it long and hard and stayed strong throughout. I don’t think that came as a surprise to anyone who knew her. Even as she fought the cancer, she was more concerned with other people than with herself. The only time I saw her break down discussing it, she wasn’t talking about herself but rather was thinking about how Andy, who she carried about so much, would be able to cope with her death.

Last week, I stayed up a few nights with my Mom to look after her because she was having trouble sleeping. Andy and Whitney had been doing the same other nights to make sure she was alright. I stayed on a couch by her bed throughout the night, and occasionally she would let out a sound of pain and suffering as the cancer ate away at her body. I would go over to her, hold her hand, give her a kiss, and ask if there was anything I could get her.

When I came over, she would look up, she would stop making the pained noises, and she would smile gently at me like she had so many times as I was growing up. She looked happy, peaceful and serene. I’d like to think that her reaction was because she was happy to see me and knowing that I was there for her made her feel better. And maybe that was the case. But honestly, I don’t think it was. I think that, even in her final moments on Earth, she was determined to maintain a positive outlook for my sake. I think she was smiling mostly because she didn’t want me to think that she was suffering, and because she wanted to put on a strong and happy face even to the end. It was an awe-inspiring strength that she carried to the very end.

I loved my mother so deeply, so completely, so unconditionally. But I did not simply love my mother because she took care of me and protected me and loved me. I admired her. I admired her wonderful nature. I admired her wisdom and her intelligence. I admired her strength. She was, in the most genuine sense, my hero. Right now, I find it hard to imagine how I’m going to go on without having her there to give advice, offer support and provide love. But the strongest reason I have to do so is the knowledge that she would have wanted that more than anything else, for me and for all her closest family and friends. She would have wanted us to carry on, be happy, and treat other people with kindness. That’s a lesson I’ll never forget.

Mom, I love you with all my heart. I always will. I’m going to try to fight on and do good in your memory. But I miss you immeasurably.


Blogger Bill said...

It's beautiful, and your mother sounds like an amazing person who left the world better for her having been in it. To be kind and caring is so simple and yet so difficult, and she seemed to have mastered that no matter what was thrown her way. And of course she'll live on in you, especially when you do something kind or just. Thanks for sharing this, and thanks for all your wrestling writing over the years. I hope you're doing as well as can be expected. Best to you.

5:01 AM  
Blogger s1rweeze said...

Sorry for your loss, Todd

10:06 AM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Really sorry for your loss, she sounds like a fantastic mother and a great human being.

3:56 PM  
Blogger AKFooFighter said...

Todd, thanks for sharing your wonderful, moving words. I'm sorry for your loss.

Your friend, Matt.

5:26 PM  
Blogger hobbyfan said...

Condolences on your loss, Todd.

9:24 PM  
Blogger The Lam said...

Hello Todd. I'm sorry to hear of the loss of your mother. Peace be with you. God bless!

11:30 PM  
Blogger brian said...

"She was the slowest person to anger and the quickest person to forgive." The world would be a better place if more of us could be like this. Thanks for sharing Todd, people like your mother provide a great example to try and follow. Deepest condolences.

6:43 AM  
Anonymous max said...

Your mother is looking down on from heaven and is so proud of the man you have become.

8:36 AM  
Anonymous DW said...

Todd - you will never forget your dear mother and that is her legacy. What she has left in this world will always be a part of you - and that is something that will be a positive influence throughout your life. While you may not ever see her again - and I wish you to quickly heal from that loss, you will always retain her spirit and that will grow to outlive the sorrow you feel at this moment.

My sympathies are with you.

5:17 PM  
Blogger CWP said...

Todd, I haven't seen your mother since we graduated from Glendora High, but even then she was very special, showing many of the warm, impressive qualities you describe. A group of us, who were in forensics with her, are meeting in a few weeks and, as we plan that gathering, were saddened by your mom's passing. I'm certain I speak for the entire group when I tell you that we admired her then, deeply regret that we won't see her again, and offer you our sympathy in dealing with her loss. While her absence will always leave a hole in your heart, your wonderful memories will rest in that space and over time should lessen the pain. Wishing you strength and peace, Cristy (Watson) Passman

8:55 AM  

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