My mom passed away last night, at 90 years old. She was married to my dad for more than 50 years, but arguably the defining relationship in her life was with my older brother, who has autism. She was his lifelong friend, protector, companion, and advocate. The public schools were a complete nightmare for kids like my brother when he was growing up, and she devoted herself, with a small band of similarly determined mothers, to hammering thoughtless bureaucrats and changing the laws, then making the schools abide by them.
When we got a little older, she made a formal career of this kind of work. She went back to school and got a master’s degree in social work. She worked for years for the city of Alexandria, focusing on the mentally disabled and mentally ill. She touched countless lives and was a faithful friend to the friendless and protector of the vulnerable. Some of the stories she came home with were hard to even listen to, but there was no situation that she didn’t labor mightily to make better.
Her father was a famously gentle college professor and her mother a German teacher, a tiny lady who was stubborn as a mule. My mom had both traits. She was always determined and usually convinced she was right, but deeply modest. I’m not sure I ever heard her really raise her voice, and she was invariably cheerful. She had a keen appreciation of the absurdities of life and could laugh at anything, including herself.
She was an accomplished painter, loved cats, and was involved in literally more organizations than I can remember. She kept our family, with three men prone to spinning off into their own worlds (her gentle college professor husband, me, and my brother), grounded and on track.
“All that I am, or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” R.I.P.