Final Preparations for College

Even though I still felt like I was moving through some sort of a grief fog, it was time to prepare for my freshman year at Bradley University. My dad was an alumnus and I know he was excited for me to attend.

Thankfully, my close friend Tammy was also heading there, and so were a few other high school friends. Tammy and I chose not to be roommates so we could meet other people and widen our circle.

It suddenly seemed like I had a lot to do in a very short period of time. I was completely clueless. One of my godmothers, my Aunt Carole, picked me up one day and took me to a wonderful store I had never heard of—Bed, Bath, & Beyond. Apparently, they would have everything a girl needs to head off to college.

Together we shopped, choosing bedding, towels, and a little caddy to carry my toiletries to the dorm bathroom. We filled a cart and enjoyed lunch out at a restaurant as well. It was really a wonderful day with one of my favorite people.

With my godmother in the early ’80s.

Within a few days after that, my dad and I went to visit my paternal grandfather at the nursing home where he lived. Grandpa was 88 years old and was not able to be at the funeral or visitation.

I was anxious about going to a nursing home after spending so much time in one with my mom. But, it was the right thing to go and visit and say goodbye to him before leaving soon for college.

We walked into his room and I know he was glad to have us there. My dad used an extra loud voice so he could hear him and told his dad that I came to visit before leaving for college in a few days.

Oh. Grandpa was having none of that. “What? College? No! She can’t go to college. She’s got to stay home and take care of you.”

“No dad, she will go to college. That’s the plan.”

My heart sank. Should I be going? Who would take care of my dad?

“It’s okay grandpa, dad will be fine. I need to go to college.”

Grandpa didn’t agree. Dad insisted. I sat with a crushed spirit and tentacles of panic started to grip my spirit.

My paternal grandparents.

Back at home, I began packing my things. I was heading off to actual college, majoring in Radio & TV. I had high hopes of becoming a game show host and this seemed the best path forward. In all honesty, I hadn’t given choosing a major much thought at all.

I was constantly ‘on’ and entertaining the people I was with. Radio & TV seemed to be the right fit. I was planning on auditioning for the choir, rushing a sorority, and immersing myself in the world of college.

My grief was raw but forward motion seemed to be the logical thing to do. So, I moved forward.

The Dude and I agreed that we would stay a couple but decided not to be totally exclusive. Well, I was ready to be exclusive. Are you kidding me? I finally had a boyfriend and he was pretty great. But, we were crazy realistic and weren’t in love so we said we’d stay together and see where things went.

He did agree that I would come home for his Homecoming dance. Finally. A date to a dance who wasn’t coerced, or bribed, in any way.

In a matter of days, I would be off to Bradley, settle into my dorm room in University Hall, and begin the process of sorority rush.

 

A Positive Distraction

Just a few days after the funeral, I got a phone call. It was The Dude.

“Babe! We’re back from vacation and it was great. I can’t wait to see you!” He was full of energy and excitement.

Oh. Um, did you get your mail by any chance?

“My dad just left to go to the post office to pick it up. Why? What’s up?”

I slid down the wall, clutching the phone close to my ear. I really wished he had gotten my letter before calling.

I wrote you a letter. Um… while you were gone… my mom died.

To his complete and total credit, The Dude gently wrapped up our call and was at my front door as quickly as his parent’s car would move him there.

I remember my extended family being in the house and really wishing I could have some serious privacy. Opening the front door, I just kind of fell into his arms and cried. I truly didn’t think I had any tears left. He was a trooper.

We walked to our living room, sat, and talked about all of it. I told him how his friends were amazing. They came to the visitation, and some were at the funeral. They made it a point to tell me they represented him and were supportive and kind to me.

The Dude was a great listener. I was glad to have him back home. I was also sad to be leaving him for college in less than two weeks.

With time fleeting, I wanted to have some last moments with friends. One night, a group of us got all dressed up and headed to a nice restaurant for dinner.

I didn’t know what to wear so I grabbed the blue dress from my mom’s funeral. It was comfy, stylish (yay shoulder pads!), and I completely and totally underestimated how it would make me feel to wear it again. In fact, it was the last time I ever wore it. I donated it soon after.

Dinner out felt grown up and fun and was a much-needed relief to the torrent of emotions I had been enduring. After dinner, the conversation turned to what we could do next to finish off the night. Someone suggested I call The Dude and see if we could hang out with him and his friends.

Wow, it hit me that I really did have a boyfriend and my friends wanted to hang out with him and his buddies. We connected and met up in someone’s backyard where there were more laughs.

It was a great night of distraction, friendship, and genuine fun. I was grateful for it all.

My dinner crew: August 1988. Reunion planned for December 2021.
I’ll call this one: Mod and The Dude

August 6, 1988

Growing up, United Lutheran Church was at the end of our little one-block street. We were members long before I was born and it truly felt like a second home to me. I’d grown up playing on the lawn, making imaginary homes under the canopy of the massive evergreens.

The side entrance that our family would walk to from our house, just up the block.

The layout inside is forever etched in my mind. The sanctuary was magnificent with a giant painting of Jesus over the front, side door, vibrant stained glass windows, dark pews, large pendant lights hanging above, and a bright and inviting chancel. Sunday School, church offices, and the gym were housed on the upper floors. The nursery was adjacent to the Luther League room with the Ladies Lounge next door, all on the lower level.

The larger-than-life painting of Jesus that I connected with every Sunday morning of my childhood.
Looking forward from under the painting of Jesus.
Magnificently bright chancel.

The Ladies Lounge was almost always where we could find my mom. This was a room before the restroom with couches and chairs. She’d be down having cigarettes with her friends and I’d often be dispatched to find her when it was time to head home.

I loved it in there, finding her and her friends in the throes of gossip, a haze of smoke covering the room. Always lots of laughter. My mom had strong bonds with her friends. Our church friends lived in the neighborhood, or very close by.

The day of the funeral was a heavy day, thick with emotion. I didn’t want this day to be real. Once the funeral happened, it felt like it finalized the fact that my mom was dead.

I went to church in an absolute fog of dread.

Our church sanctuary had two sections with a center aisle. As if assigned, our family always sat on the right side, in the second pew, slid over to the aisle. We were surrounded by the exact same families each week. As a child, I thought we had assigned seating.

They expected a full house for the funeral and because of the nature of the service, we sat in the first pew. I was very unsettled with this. Mom would have wanted us in the second pew, our pew. As a toddler, that’s where I ate her entire tube of red lipstick like a lollipop. That is right where I would always try to snuggle up to her because she had such a pretty singing voice, and always smelled so good.

I felt like an intruder sitting in the first pew.

Our family filed in, just my dad, sister, brother-in-law, brother, and me. I didn’t want to sit on the end and moved so I could be surrounded. This unsettled people. There was beautiful music and I could sense the place was packed although I never turned around.

The closed casket with the pig flower arrangement rested in front of us. My dad hoped to speak about my mom but the pastor was ready to stand in if he wasn’t able. The time came.

The emotions were too intense. Just moments after the pastor began, my dad stood, walked to the front, and bravely eulogized his bride.

I remember just crying and crying throughout the entire service. And when my dad spoke, he specifically mentioned how proud my mom was of me. He named every accomplishment that I was certain she missed. My sadness took on a whole new level.

She saw me.

Through everything she endured, she did see me. I thought I was literally going to fall to pieces. The soloist sang Amazing Grace which lulled me into a calmness, enveloped in deep sadness, that is hard to describe.

As the service ended, the casket was rolled back up the aisle, and we were prompted to stand and follow it out.

I didn’t know this. How could I stand? How could I walk?

As I stood and turned, I saw all of the sad faces looking at us, at me. I couldn’t bear it. My dad put his arm around my shoulder and guided me forward. I was crying so hard that I couldn’t see. I swerved into a pew on the left and my dad righted me.

I was a crying mess and now I was so embarrassed.

I blinked back my tears, straightened up, and proceeded forward with some deep gulps of air. At the end of the church, the casket was put in a hearse and driven away for cremation.

Watching the hearse drive south on Ridgeland Avenue, watching my mom being forever driven away provoked such a feeling of despair as if my very breath was being taken away. I was exhausted but now we were expected to go to the fellowship hall for a light reception.

Seriously? I just wanted to walk home and go to sleep. But I guess it was good to see how many people knew and cared for my mom, my dad, and our family. That neighbor from Lenox Street looked me right in that eye and said he told me the funeral would be worse. He was right.

As the day wound down, my dad told my cousin Julie to take the pig flowers from the casket because she also collected pigs. She was crying and nodding and couldn’t easily speak as she gathered it up in her arms.

At 18 years old, two weeks from starting my freshman year at Bradley University, August 6, 1988, was absolutely the hardest day of my entire life.

We would come together in a few months to bury her ashes.

Entrance on Ridgeland Ave. where the casket would be carried down the stairs and the hearse would drive my mom away.

 

 

Unexpected Turn

The night took a turn I didn’t expect. Thank God my friends stayed with me. My extended family left the funeral home. Then my dad and sister said they were going out together for dinner with a group of friends. My brother was going out with his friends.

What? Our family wasn’t staying together for the rest of the night?

For all of the plans that had been determined in the past two days, how had no one thought of what would happen when the visitation ended? Or had they?

How were people considering leaving each other? What was I supposed to do?

I was the last to leave the building with my two friends, Tammy and Allison. We went to New Star Inn for Chinese food and then decided to stop by a house party being hosted by whom I will call, “Nice Guy Whose Party I Nearly Ruined”.

Oh my gosh. Poor Nice Guy. We weren’t really friends but he was part of the greater group of guys I spent time with the previous summer as part of The Pact. We rang the bell and when Poor Nice Guy opened the door, his face could not hide the fact that he knew my mom had died and her visitation was that same day.

He let us in with a Poor Nice Guy smile, and as we walked through the house I left my body again. Heads turning, staring, so many friends that came to the visitation were there at the party. I thought it was weird they were all still in their dress-up-visitation clothes but had lost all concept of time so who knows when I saw them at the funeral home.

I kept moving through the house and made it outside to the back porch. I now knew it was a huge mistake to come. I couldn’t breathe. I felt sorry for bringing sadness to Poor Nice Guy’s party. I wanted my two friends to be able to have some fun after spending a long, hard day with me.

I stood on the porch in a literal daze.

Some of my Orchesis dance friends bounced up, totally unaware of my loss just days prior.

“Oh my gosh, Mod, you look so pretty!”

“Why are you all dressed up?”

I…um… I came from a visitation.

 I looked around, literally gasping for air.

“Oh my God, who died???”

Um… my mom.

 I knew I had to get the hell out of there before I completely fell apart. I raced inside, found my friends, and they drove me home.

They dropped me off in the driveway and I let myself in the front door with my key.

I was the first one home.

The house was totally empty.

The smell of lilies assaulted my nose, stifling my ability to breathe yet again.

It was all too much. I raced through the house, up the stairs, and to the shelter of my bedroom sanctuary.

Allison and Tammy, age 18, and perhaps the greatest examples of what it means to simply be there for a friend.

Busy Day

My mom’s visitation would be an entire day-long event. She had a lot of friends and was very involved in the community so the largest room at the funeral home was secured. I put on my new blue dress, small dangly earrings that were like a little gold cage with fake pearls inside, minimal make-up, and somehow arrived at the funeral home with my family.

Before things began, we were ushered to a small room. The room felt crowded. I wanted it to just be my siblings, my dad, and I. But, my mom’s brother, his family, and my mom’s parents were with us. I didn’t like that. I wanted it to just be us.

The casket would be closed, but we were asked if we wanted to see my mom before. I quickly said an emphatic, “No.” I was the only one who dissented.

Someone, I think on the staff of the funeral home, told either me or my dad, that it would be good for me to see, to know that it’s all real.

Could they see that I was totally out of my body and possibly not breathing?

I felt a definite pressure to participate in this viewing of my dead mom’s body. As much as I did NOT want to enter that room, I am absolutely glad that I did. I was already fantasizing that she was alive and simply in the witness protection program.

Since she died, just two days prior, I felt totally and completely detached from myself. I hadn’t been to visit her, didn’t have a cherished ‘last memory’, and my guilt was growing—literally multiplying by the moment.

Well, if I felt out of my own body since the time of her death, walking into that room, stifled by too many people, slammed me right back into it.

She looked horrible, emaciated, so very sick. We chose the navy dress she wore for my brother’s graduation for her to be cremated in. She loved that dress and now her ravaged body was lost in the fabric.

I didn’t want to see her because I didn’t want it to be real.

But, it was real. Too real. At 47 years old, my vivacious, bawdy, Muppet-loving, the life of the party mom was gone. No life left.

After a brief time, we left the room. The casket was closed.

Time to greet the masses.

My mom’s friend Maria, a local florist she often worked with, created a blanket of flowers to be draped over her casket in the shape of a pig. I don’t know why, but my mom loved pigs and had been collecting them for years. Miss Piggy was her ultimate favorite.

This blanket of flowers, beautifully and creatively shaped as a pig, would have made her so happy. I remember being so touched by the gesture of her friend.

The day was long and the line of mourners never seemed to end. A couple of my friends, Tammy and Allison, stayed the entire day. When Tammy’s family came, her mom held me tight and cried with me. Their family gave me so much stability and love in the prior years that I’m not sure they will ever truly know how powerful that was. Just simply providing a space for me to dwell was profoundly impactful.

The Dude wasn’t there but all of his friends came and told me he would want them there. High school boys, stepping up and stepping in. It is so crazy to think at that time there was no way to communicate with a boyfriend on his family vacation. I sure hoped he would read my letter right when he got home so he could know what had happened.

More and more of my friends came. I was touched and felt every single hug and act of kindness.

I remember when my friend Moff came. I broke family ranks and walked straight back to the entrance to the room, stifling my sobs as I went. I was so sad, broken really, that the prayers we prayed in five European countries earlier that summer hadn’t worked.

I never actually lost my faith in God though. I was angry and confused but knew God was there. Even if I didn’t always feel it.

At the end of the day, my siblings walked up to me as I sat on a couch with Tammy and Allison. They were holding the sign-in/guest book and asked me if I knew how many of my friends came throughout the day.

“A lot” I answered.

“Over 85! How is that possible if we weren’t supposed to tell people?”

“What? Do you mean you really never told anyone?”

I couldn’t hide my shock and confusion.

At the very end of the time at the funeral home, our old neighbor from Lenox St. looked at me with sadness and said, “Today was rough honey, but tomorrow is going to be so much worse.”

But I still needed to get through that night.

A favorite ornament of my moms and it hangs on my tree every year.
This sweet pig stood at the front door of the house I grew up in. It has stood watch over my homes for decades now.

Holding On

I found several photos with my mom and me, her arms holding on to me tightly.

Going to the nursing home daily was wearing on me and was so depressing, My mom didn’t know who I was and she mostly slept. Only patchy tufts of her hair remained. She was gaunt, emaciated. So, I stopped going every day.

Early in the month, in the middle of the night, the phone rang. It woke me up. I remember my bed was in front of the windows at the far end of my room, facing my bedroom door. After a few rings, I heard my dad answer it downstairs, I heard muffled words and within a few minutes, he was out the front door and driving away.

I rolled over, parted my green window blinds, and watched him go. I knew it wasn’t good and I was scared. I hadn’t seen my mom in a couple of days. My heart was pounding in my chest and I wanted to pray. But what should I pray for? I was blank.

Time passed. I can’t recall how much. I heard the car return. Within moments my dad came into my room and sat on the side of my bed. He told me my mom had died and then he collapsed forward in sobs. I was crying. I was trying to comfort my dad.

I was sad. I was scared. I felt like the parent giving comfort. I felt nauseous. After some time, my dad left, presumably to make phone calls.

I don’t remember if I fell asleep. I do remember coming downstairs later in the morning. My aunt and uncle were at the kitchen table. I think more people were there but I remember making eye contact with my aunt. Everyone was crying. Arrangements were being made.

At some point in the afternoon, my friend Fred came over. He was leaving the next day to go to his family’s farm with his dad. He wanted to see me because he would miss the funeral. It was so kind.

I remember my aunts commenting on how handsome he was. “No ladies, this isn’t my boyfriend.” Everyone thought he was so wonderful for coming. He was. Looking back, I can see how many incredible friends I had in my life and what a blessing each of them was to me.

The Dude was on a family vacation. In 1988, that meant I couldn’t reach him until he came back in town. So, I wrote him a letter that he could read when he got home, letting him know my mom died. It was a surreal letter to write and I was glad for some way to communicate with him. He wouldn’t be back from vacation until after her funeral.

My mom died on August 3. The visitation would be on August 5, my sister’s birthday, and the funeral on August 6. I was told I didn’t have anything appropriate to wear. On the 4th I went shopping with my brother, sister, and brother-in-law.

For the visitation, I bought a soft, blue, cotton, short-sleeved dress with a mock turtleneck, wide, black patent-leather belt, and of course, shoulder pads. I got a royal blue, silk, long-sleeved top with little black triangles on it to wear to the funeral with a black pencil skirt that fell below the knee. I was told my mom hated the black skirt I wore to my brother’s graduation so that was out. I actually never wore it again and man, I loved that skirt.

How I wished I could reverse roles and hold on tightly to my mom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Life of the Party

One summer day in July, that sweet, new boyfriend of mine went with me to visit my mom in the hospital. Due to cancer now invading her brain, we never knew what a visit would be like. She hadn’t been making a lot of sense in conversations.

Bless my mom though, and honestly bless The Dude, because soon after we arrived, I explained to her that this was The Dude, my boyfriend. She looked him right in the eye and asked him if he was going to marry me.

My dad, aunt, and my mom. Disney World, March of 1976. Such a fun trip filled with wonderful memories and so many laughs.

Oh boy! Thank God for his sense of humor and his kindness. He laughed nervously while I explained that no, we were much too young to get married, he was going to be a high school senior and I would be off to college in the fall. I’m not sure she ever understood, but it felt so good to me to bring this first boyfriend of mine to meet my mom, regardless of the circumstances.

Near the middle of the month, it was determined my mom was no longer able to stay in the hospital. Her cancer was too advanced and there was nothing more they could do for her. At that time, the choices presented were that she could go home, or to a nursing home. Apparently, she determined earlier in her illness that she didn’t want to go home.

The absolute life of the party. Always.

She didn’t want to die at home and have that be a memory for her family. There was a room at a local hospital’s nursing home that was attached to the hospital. That felt like the best choice.

The good news was that it was now about ten minutes from our house. The bad news was that my 47-year-old, once vivacious, life of the party, mom was being moved to a nursing home to live out the remainder of her life.

I was in an absolute fog of terror. How had this come about? Could we tell my grandparents that their daughter had cancer yet? My dad seemed to spend every waking moment at the hospital with my mom.

I felt truly on my own and continued to fill my days with work, friends, and time with The Dude.

The day she was moved by ambulance from the hospital in Chicago to the nursing home in Oak Park, will be a day that I will absolutely never forget. On the day of the transfer, there was a mix-up with medications and none were given.

As my mom lay moaning in agonizing pain, my dad, sister, and I sat on chairs at the edge of the bed in silent horror. No one seemed to know what to do.

At one point, I stormed off to the nurse’s station to demand someone help my mother in some way. I returned to the room and sat down, full of anguish and helplessness.

At this moment, my mom turned her head to an empty chair, right next to her bed, and started to speak. This was incredible because she hadn’t spoken coherently in a while.

She calmly spoke to Jesus, who was quite obviously in the chair next to her, and told Him she was ready to go, please take her with Him. She spoke quietly, and clearly, to Jesus until the nurse came sprinting in with pain medication several minutes later.

I would remember that moment as the exact time I literally felt the presence of God and started to understand how the Holy Spirit worked.

 

Graduation Party

At one point that summer, my family had a graduation party for me. My mom threw big grad parties for my older siblings. My sister’s party even had a live band in the garage. It was a big bash with family, friends, music, and food.

My mom was an incredible hostess and pulled out all of the stops whenever she could. People loved her parties and looked forward to them. My brother didn’t want a band, but his party was as big, full of his baseball crew, neighbors, family, and friends.

My party would be smaller. It was just assumed I would understand and be okay with it. I also shared the spotlight with my brother’s college graduation, and my brother-in-law’s grad school graduation.

Our semi-pro cameraman working hard to bring a smile to my mom.

My mom was in the hospital. As a result, my Uncle Ron videotaped the entire party for her to watch when she came home. Uncle Ron loved his video camera that rested on his shoulder and I could tell he enjoyed walking around the party filming for her to see. We were all upbeat and show how much fun we were having so she could be part of it.

Part of the party crew, sincerely trying hard to make it a special day.

My teenaged-self resented that the party ended up not being for me at all. I loved my mom and I was devastated that she wasn’t able to plan my party, shop for it, cook, and be her amazing hostess-self.

But I put on my happy face and literally smiled for the camera. She would never see the videotape of the party. I still have it in a box in my basement. Watching it was one of the saddest memories I have. In the video, I could actually feel the desperation of joy we were all trying to impart on my hospitalized mom. It was as if we felt we could will her to improve and have some happiness.

The ever-important alarm clock for impending college life. (Note the fabulous Multiples pants.)

My extended family and some good family friends came to the party and gifted me with wonderful items to help me prepare for college in the fall. It was absolutely not the same without my mom, the life of the party, there to share it with.

The Dude wasn’t able to come to the party because it was smaller and family-focused. The week after, he called and said he could only stop by for a few minutes but wanted to bring me a gift for my graduation. Be still my heart. I had a real, live boyfriend, and he bought me a gift?

I waited in the front window, watching for his car. When he pulled up, I ever-so-casually ran out to see him. He pulled up in front of our house, on the wrong side of the street (what a badass), and rolled down the passenger side window to hand me the gift. It was a cassette tape—Peter Gabriel’s So album. With a dazzling smile, he told me to listen to In Your Eyes because it was now our song. Then he drove off and I about fainted on my lawn.

I began ripping the plastic covering off of this coveted cassette and headed straight for the boom box in my room. I held fast forward through every song until I got to In Your Eyes and then… well, the grin stayed plastered on my face for a very long time. What a summer this was shaping up to be.

 

The Best Summer of My Life?

We literally danced in the streets every chance we got.

While I was on my choir trip in Europe, The Dude was on a similar school trip and we were actually in some of the same cities at different times. I thought that was so romantic and appropriately pined for him when I wasn’t singing or dancing in the streets in every city we visited.

As the summer progressed, The Dude and I continued to spend time together, driving around aimlessly, hanging out at friend’s houses and talking endlessly on the phone. He was a great listener and genuinely showed care and concern for the things I was experiencing at home.

I continued to work at the video store and had a lot more freedom than any summer of my life. I didn’t have a single activity and that was strange to me. I really liked being busy.

Little Mod on the softball field.

In past summers, I was usually part of the summer high school musical, dance classes, or had cheer or drill team practice or camp. I joined my first softball team in second grade and through the Noon Optimist Club (the friend of youth!) and our local park district, I think I was on a team of some sort non-stop until this summer of 1988.

There were two incredible summers, early in my high school years, when I was able to travel to a remote island in Canada with my high school church youth group, Luther League. Those trips were before I knew of my mom’s illness. Our days were filled with canoeing, swimming, blueberry picking, card playing, worship time, and so very many laughs.

The dock and cabin at ‘Ernie’s Island’.

In my later high school years, when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and I felt like I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone at church, I know for a fact that I distanced myself from that group of friends. That was a definite regret.

Having new time on my hands was a different experience for me. I filled it with visits to the hospital, time with my friends, work, and as much time with The Dude as possible.

Taste of Chicago was my favorite summer event in Chicago. Lots of food vendors would fill Grant Park and offer a sample of their menus. It was an affordable way to try new foods and enjoy the beauty of Grant Park and the lakeshore.

The Dude and I planned to attend one night with another ‘couple’ from our little friend group. We weren’t yet officially dating, but we also weren’t talking to anyone else. This felt like an important night.

We parked in an alley near the house of our friend’s adult brother, within walking distance to the park, and set off for a fun night. It was still light out, the air was warm but not overly humid, and I was so excited for this night out with The Dude who-wasn’t-my-boyfriend-but-maybe-would-be.

As we walked, our friend said, “You guys are going out, right?” The Dude looked at me, smiled, grabbed my hand, and said, “Yeah, we’re going out.”

I may have passed out right there in the alley. I HAD AN ACTUAL BOYFRIEND! He was funny, kind, cute, and he didn’t drown my face when we made out… This was shaping up to be the best summer of my life.

Well, except for the fact that my mom appeared to be dying from cancer.

Mod Goes to Europe!

In June, my high school A Capella choir was set to tour five countries in Europe. It was something that I deeply looked forward to. This was an auditioned group and the highest choir at my large high school, consisting of only juniors and seniors. I made the choir my junior year and honestly, that choir room provided some of the best comfort and relief to me throughout my high school days.

I could enter that room and get lost in the most beautiful music. We were led by the kindest, most talented director. I think what I loved the most was the ability to blend in and join the group effort of creating incredible art. I could be lost for that 42-minute period of my day. The sense of belonging was strong and it was earned.

My dad always wanted one of his kids to go on this trip of a lifetime. As the youngest, I was his last chance. I actually joined the choir in junior high, with the specific intent to go on this European tour that happened every other year. I had always enjoyed being in choir and was so excited about this trip.

I was also very torn about leaving town. My mom was so sick, and at this point, my dad depended on me to do a lot of things at home. As I prepared to go, The Dude and I were spending more and more time together, and I was really sad to leave him and our burgeoning relationship.

My dad pulled me aside one day before the trip and told me that without a doubt, I was going to go and I was going to enjoy myself. He told me that I was not allowed to call home… not one single time. He wanted me to be focused on the trip and to have fun, which was very thoughtful but would prove extremely hard to do.

I boarded the plane with some of my closest friends for two weeks of travel, adventure, memories, and music. Even though my dad wanted me to leave and just immerse myself in the experience, my fears and sadness ended up coming along anyway.

One of my best friends, Kirstin, was my roommate for the trip and, oh my gosh, we really had so much fun. Dina and Michelle were also really close friends who knew everything that was going on in my life, and we could not have had more fun spending time together, wandering the streets of Europe, performing in amazingly beautiful churches and cathedrals.

There were other great friends who were super supportive. Moff was one of my best friends in high school and he initiated praying with me in every church that we visited. We would pray for my mom and other friends, from other faiths, would join us including Chuck, Michelle, Jill, Dina, Kirstin, and Dave. It was really incredible and powerful and just such a beautiful thing that we were able to experience together.

It is hard to describe the peace that this brought me. But, I’ll try. My mind would be absolutely full to the brim with worries and fears. When my friends would gather with me, intentionally focusing their energy on mine, it was as if a calm would literally wash over my soul from head to toe. Even if we chose to sit and pray in silence, the space I was in would shift, and I would draw from a new sense of determination and strength.

I never did call home. In the time we were gone, most of my friends phoned home at least once, most twice. I succinctly remember watching friends on payphones throughout the five countries, sharing their experiences, and laughing with their parents and siblings. Everybody was getting news of things at home and I simply did not. That was hard, but I was faithful, prayerful, and hopeful.

When we got home, my dad picked me up at O’Hare airport and we got to the car and on the front seat was a card. My dad was smiling and told me to read the card. It was from my sister letting me know that she was pregnant. I was going to be an aunt! I was so excited about that.

Wow! Amazing news!

Then, instead of heading for home, we drove straight to the hospital. My dad told me that we had to get to the hospital right away because my mom’s cancer had spread to her brain while I was gone and she was really declining rapidly.

Wow. Devastating news.

Apparently, she did not always know who people were or what was happening around her. I was in the car, racing to the hospital with my dad, terrified my mom wouldn’t know who I was, regretting that I never called.

It was a bad, bad feeling. I felt as if the world had opened up underneath me and was starting to swallow me whole. The energy and joy I felt from the trip evaporated and re-formed into fear, to terror actually.

We arrived at the hospital. I remembered I bought my mom a souvenir potholder from Germany. I dug through my bags to bring it in. I was exhausted from the roller coaster ride of coming home with caution in my heart, finding out I was going to be an aunt, and then learning my greatest fear of my mom getting worse while I was gone had come true.

I was scared.

I had the potholder in my hand as we went into my mom’s room. She did know me. She was very weak—obviously very, very sick. I laid the potholder on her hands and she smiled. I thought the potholder would be a good gift because my mom loved being in our kitchen. She loved cooking, entertaining, and maybe most importantly, she loved sitting on the phone and talking to her friends. I was able to spend some good moments with her that day.

Our choir crew: Michelle, Dina, me, Moff, Jon, Kirstin, and Dave.
Friends since 7th grade, roommates in Europe, bridesmaids in each other’s weddings, still cherished relationship.
One of many pics with Dina and Michelle as we were basically inseparable during this trip.
Moff. Locker neighbors for 4 years, friends now for decades.
Jill: dependable and always at my side when I needed her, and still is.
Chuck: Venetian stud, always a true friend who never fails to make me laugh, and still does.
Dina, Jill, and Scott
Matt and Chuck
Kirstin & Dave: married with three incredible daughters.
Downtime in a park.

If you scrolled this far, your reward is this glimpse into just one of my favorite outfits from my extensive Multiples clothing collection. You’re welcome.