Fair warning, but we’re going to get dark today, folks. Mother’s Day is generally a shitty time for me because mine has been gone since for almost five years. The weight of grief never gets lighter, but it does get easier to carry. I’m posting the eulogy I wrote for her memorial service. It’s not the kind of thing you can submit to a literary journal because that would be fucking weird, but I want others to know her since she can’t be here to introduce herself. In all its unadulterated glory, I present to you the eulogy of Ana Kadro, the pen name she never got a chance to use.
Thank you all for being here. I know my mom would’ve been delighted to see so many people in one place just for her. I’d also like to thank my dad for always being this family’s stalwart bastion; my brother for talking to me about dumb things like rats to distract me; and my husband for being there and saying the right thing whenever I need to ugly cry.
My relationship with my mother was complicated, and I’m not enough of a poet or a scientist to be able to distill what she meant to me in a single idea. There was the mother who was my punk rock champion, the mother I didn’t understand, and the mother I’ll never really know. I’ll always love all three, and I’d like to tell you a little about each of them.
My Mother the Punk Rock Champion
My mom was a covert punk rocker, living out her life with small, secret rebellions. Albert Camus wrote, “Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being.” This philosophy describes how she undermined societal order with one minor act of disobedience at a time.
When we traveled, she loved to steal things either out of whimsy, revenge, or general necessity. An Orangina glass from a French café, ashtrays, toilet paper, towels, and even a garbage can from a Sheraton Hotel.
I don’t think she even realized she enjoyed punk music. One of the few CDs we could agree to listen to in the car was the Clash’s greatest hits album. Her favorite song was “London Calling” because of the politically charged lyrics and the gruff way Joe Strummer sings the words “nuclear era.”
She was also the only mom I knew who enjoyed painting her toenails electric blue.
The woman had four brain surgeries in six years, and even when tired and frustrated, she pressed forward. If she wasn’t a badass, I don’t know who is.
But one day about 12 years ago, she was also my punk rock defender, my champion. I was in high school and taking a theater class with a teacher who had an ego the size of a fire truck. He made us keep a journal about theater and our general thoughts, and he told us over and over that to ensure quality, he was going to read every single one of our entries.
It became very clear very quickly that he was a liar. My journal entries became rants about how self-important, obnoxious, and ridiculous this teacher was. This went on for weeks without notice until I got too cocky, and he noticed the lines of insults embedded in a major assignment he actually read. I finally got what I wanted and feared—he read my journal in its entirety and marked up the insubordination in all of my entries with a violent yellow highlighter. He called me into his office and started scolding me about how rude and disrespectful I was. It turns out I was a horrible rebel. I immediately caved and started crying, furious with myself for not finding the words to stand up for myself.
He sent me to the school counselor because he was deeply concerned about me and called my mom. I was a goody-two-shoes, so I feared the wrath and disappointment I was sure to receive from my parents. When he got my mom on the phone, he explained to her what had happened, the level of disrespect her daughter had for the classroom, and that he wanted her to come to school to speak with both of us.
Oh she was mad all right, but not at me. To my astonishment, she told him, “No, of course I’m not coming in to talk to you. It’s your own fault. You told everyone you were going to read their writing, but then didn’t. So what, you’re mad she caught you in your lie? Maybe you should structure the assignment differently in the future.”
Not only was I not in trouble, but the lesson was clear—she had my back, but if I was going to thumb my nose at authority, I should know what I’m arguing for and stick to my guns.
The Mother I Didn’t Understand
Yet for all her eccentric humor and joie de vivre, my mom also perplexed me. Almost constantly. She was the complete opposite of my laid-back, reserved dad. She was stubborn, quick to jump to conclusions, emotional, and often irrational. Growing up, we argued often and loudly, bombs constantly setting each other off. She had her own personal brand of logic that always mystified me.
However, when our ability to communicate failed us, we relied on our dachshunds. First we had Raisin, a bow-legged miniature black-and-tan sausage dog. After school, the three of us would hike in the woods behind our house. Raisin would trot merrily along the rocky dirt trail and never seemed to notice my mom’s concerned glances or my sullen pouts.
After Raisin died, my mom went less than a year before the need to have another dachshund in her life overtook her. I found her a giant mutant dachshund that we adopted as soon as we met her. We named her named Stella Artois because the color of her fur in the sun looks like Belgian beer. Stella loves to beg for food, so even if my mom and I couldn’t talk about our personal lives, we could at least laugh at the dog’s aggressive yet adorable antics to get food scraps at the kitchen table.
My mom would also tell me about all of the dachshund lovers she would meet while out on walks. One of the hazards of owning a dachshund is that all sorts of people come out of the woodwork when they see you walking one down the street. They stop you and insist on telling you about the adorable dachshund they grew up with. She would always tell me about these encounters and even wrote down a few, calling them “dachshund tales.” I’d like to share one of these tales with you about a woman named Maria:
I met another one today. They all seem to come out when it is raining or about to rain. This one stopped in the middle of the street and practically ran me over. When she looked at Raisin I knew what she wanted. She wanted to see her and touch her because she reminded her tearfully of hers.
“She died three days ago,” she lamented and “no” she could not really touch mine because she would start to cry uncontrollably.
Her name was Maria and she was elegantly Greek. Her eyebrows were baby lavender and matched her eggplant-colored raincoat. Her earrings flowed down like iridescent waterfalls. Her jet black hair was neatly tied back and lustered like the dachshund she mourned.
“I come here often before my kids come home from school so they do not see me cry. I loved Maxie and no one can really understand this unless they have a dog like yours. Siamese cats were put into the pharaoh’s tombs to take their souls,” she proceeded to explain. “Once they absorbed their master’s soul, they could leave through a small door in the coffin. When Maxie died, someone gave me a Siamese cat. I don’t really believe in this Karma stuff, since I am Christian, but it is a comforting thought.”
The Mourning door. Some houses in New England have these doors which in this world lead to nowhere. It is a door off the front parlor and though it leads outside, it has no stoop or stairs, just a place for a cart to back up so the coffin can be carried away.
The Mother I’ll Never Know
We are delivering these speeches and watching these slideshows at least 20 years too early. For the first 18 years of our lives, our parents love us and take care of us, but we don’t really quite know them as people until we ourselves grow up.
But a few years after my mom got sick, we did start to get to know each other as humans and slowly discarded the painful complexities of a mother/daughter relationship. After my husband Ross and I got married, she developed a fierce loyalty to him I hadn’t thought possible. She and I both learned to simply ask about one each other’s welfare with love and no other subtext. I asked for advice when I wanted it and listened to how she was doing, offering encouraging words when I could. She learned to support me without nagging, unless it was about getting a flu shot or seeing a doctor.
A week or two before she died, we were on the phone and she was so excited that I was almost finished with my first book. I don’t remember if I ever even told her what it was about; she was just excited that I was still writing. She always wanted to know what mischief the dog had gotten into and if she was letting me sleep in the mornings. I knew my mom was weak and so small, but I kept irrationally thinking that she would gain weight again, that the fourth craniotomy was a charm, and that the drugs would finally fix her lungs so she could travel, paint, steal ashtrays from Europeans hotels, and paint her toenails cobalt blue again. Despite the oxygen tank and the diminishing number of treatment options, I kept thinking that she would get well like the punk rock champion I knew she was, and then our friendship would continue to grow. I am angry that my mom and I didn’t have the opportunity to get to know each other better as adults. I am so angry that the cancer, the doctors, the hospitals, and the universe screwed all of that up for us.
Before she left, she did give me something. When her condition deteriorated earlier this year, I decided I wanted a dachshund for myself. Really, I wanted Stella, but couldn’t imagine taking her away from my parents. But taking care of Stella wasn’t easy for them anymore and they thought it silly of me to try to adopt one of my own. So Stella was my mom’s last gift to me.
Stella has been living with me since June, but now my problem is that instead of lacking a dachshund like so many of the strangers she met on the street, I lack a mother. And if I see someone who looks like her at the grocery store, I can’t run up to that woman with tears in my eyes and proclaim, “I used to have a mother growing up! She looked exactly like you! Can I pet your soft brown hair and can you nag me about getting my flu shot while I roll my eyes?”
I mean I could, but I would probably get arrested or at the very least screamed at. My only consolation is that Stella and my mom are similar in temperament in many ways. If she doesn’t eat at precisely the correct time, all hell breaks loose. English is not her first language. She loves to meet new people and isn’t afraid to ask for attention in unique ways. She loves to explore new places, but always comes back home, even if she gets lost. She is nosy. She is very good at guilt tripping you if you don’t do something she wants. She is loyal. She had cancer. She is happiest when surrounded by family and friends. She is very intelligent, but can be irrational. She is stubborn. She is a fighter. She is driven by wanderlust. She is easy to hug. She is hard to forget. She is so very easy to miss once she’s not around.