Until this past week, I had a feeling deep in my bones that my Mother, because she was my Mother, would never die. I was wrong, and it hurts. It leaves a hole in my life and in all of our lives to have her gone.
My Mother was an unstoppable cheerleader for me. She always expected me to succeed and took seriously my most optimistic career hopes. When I was not good at something—as in my early days of driving and teaching–she was one of the few who thought I was good at it anyway.
By precept and example, Mother gave me two elements of toughness. The first was an ability to go back and forth at will between viewing the world in a very sentimental way and viewing the world in a very unsentimental way. She loved dolls and toys and hugs. We all saw her sentimental side in her interactions with her grandchildren and great grandchildren and in her closeness with her sisters. But she could also switch into talking like a hardbitten detective about people’s motives and strengths and weaknesses. That hardbitten detective’s perspective comes in handy in my work as an economist.
The second element of toughness my Mother bequeathed to me was stubbornness—the stubbornness not to give up when I know what I want, for either myself or for the world. When my Mother had her sights on something and wanted things a certain way, she would do a lot to get it to happen. I have an Eagle Scout badge somewhere to prove it. The world is not always very cooperative, so stubbornness like my Mother’s is often necessary to get things to happen. People are quick to say that something is too hard to do, or even that it can’t be done, when all it takes is hard work and the kind of stubbornness my Mother gave me.
I think my Mother gave all of her children something else very important. It was extremely hard on her when her parents divorced. So hard on her, that she never talked about it when we were growing up and I didn’t learn about it until my late teens. But what I did get was the picture that marriage is a permanent commitment—something that made a difference from the very first day of my own marriage. I know enough about the statistics of divorce to know that it is unusual to have seven married children, with well over a hundred years of marriage between them, and no divorces. Mother and Dad deserve a lot of credit for that.
My Mother always seemed to me like a force of nature. I didn’t expect her to be like an ordinary human being. She was in a class of her own. And in the end, that is why it is so sad that she is gone. Someone unique and irreplaceable is gone from the face of the earth.