Note: My mother, Constance Diane Brodhead, passed away suddenly on November 5, 2020.
Like my mother, I have always had a love of the written word. One of the enduring memories I have of her over the years was a book next to her bedside table at all times. My parents’ house is filled with books, so much so, they have overflowed into almost every room. As a child, my mom often read to me at night, and it wasn’t long before I checked stacks of books out of the library, devouring them. My mom did try to keep a check on my voraciousness as she knew my penchant for using a flashlight to read under the covers. “It’s time to go to bed, you can keep reading tomorrow!”
During the last five years, I took the plunge of putting my written words into the public domain through a blog and eventually a memoir.
My mother and I learned a lot about each other through my blog – little did I know, she often read it. During many a phone conversation, she would bring up stories I’d written about and tell me how much my writing was improving. When I had virtually no other followers, my mother proved to be my biggest fan. And through it she discovered more about my life, my thoughts, and my desires and mine about hers.
She too, had wanted to be a writer.
I eventually took the stories from my blog and embarked on writing a memoir about our journey to a life in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. As I wrote my first draft, it became clear the impact my mother had on my life and how I chose to live it.
I can’t lie, we at times had a very fractious relationship when it came to my life’s choices. But part of my finding independence grew from my ability to stand up to her when the occasion warranted. Her stubbornness on things led to me discovering my own values and beliefs. And in the end, we always came to acceptance and never lost our love for each other.
As I look back on her life, many short maxims pop into my head that provided guidance throughout my life.
One of my mom’s favorite movies was “Dead Poets Society”, so it should be no surprise that “Carpe Diem” was one of her favorite.
Not wanting to have any regrets in life, I often used “Carpe Diem” and thought of my mom as I set out on a new adventure.
Whether it was moving to a new town or starting a new career, her words of encouragement would echo in my head.
I remember being 32 years old and living in Oregon. I couldn’t find a job. I got to the point, where I wasn’t sure how I would pay the next month’s rent. But she always reassured me saying, “No matter what happens, I know you’ll always end up on your feet.”
Even when she vehemently disagreed with my choices, she would always come around, even expressing her grudging respect. Having moved .to the Sierra Nevada, giving up a stable corporate job, I called her when I arrived, blissfully talking about the smell of pine trees. Her response? “Wow, that sounds incredible, wish I could be there. I’m proud of you for taking a chance.”
Many of our conversations centered on my love life, but she always remained positive. “It’s their loss, you’ll find someone better for you, I promise.”
I’m so glad that she was able to see Bryon and I get married atop a mountain in Lake Tahoe. And of course, being true organized Connie, the reception was perfect. I had thought we’d just have a dinner at some restaurant, but she set about making it extraordinary even with only 16 people there.
She and my husband came to have a very loving relationship. Often times, when I would complain about him on the phone, she would steer me to looking at things from another perspective. Of course, at the time, I was so angry – “You’re taking his side!” But I always knew that her words came from a place of love.
Though we never provided the grandchildren she so wanted, she did adopt our pets as her own. It’s not surprising as she was a huge dog lover. One of the most grief-stricken moments I recall, is going with my mom and dad to have our dog, Beau, put down. No one cried more tears and no one loved him more than my mom did.
She could not have been a better grandma to our pups over the years. When my dog, Simon, passed a couple of years ago, she provided solace, saying “It will get easier, and you will remember him with a smile and laughter eventually.” I mused to her whether I could ever love another dog that way, doubting our adoption of young Logan – “maybe it was too soon?”
“You will grow to love him just as much or more.” And I did.
Which leads me to another sage maxim of hers, “Never trust a person who doesn’t like kids or dogs.”
One of my enduring memories is our visit for Thanksgiving two years ago. As Bryon and I raked leaves, she sat in the grass with Logan, having an astute grandma to grand pup conversation. I don’t know what she said, but the look of adoration on her face told the story.
I got to think of my mom as Yoda when it came to all things health care related. During a medical scare with my husband, she provided the sound wisdom of her many years of education and intellectual curiosity. During a time both of us were freaked out, she provided solace and guidance. Many of our friends and family experienced the same during times of crisis.
She had an inner strength that I don’t know she realized she had. If there’s one wish I had for my mother I wish she had believed in herself more, and fully realized her incredible gifts – smarts, strength, determination. When my father’s business was in trouble, she set about with steely resolve to protect their house and recover financial stability.
She loved nature and the outdoors, and derived great happiness from gardening. Many of our trips centered around trips to national parks and taking in the vistas and wildlife. And it was my mom who organized my first encounter’s with Colorado’s Rocky Mountaisn and planted the seed for me to eventually relocate here. Many a hot and humid day in St. Louis, she would muse, “You know, we could just start heading west on I-70 and be in Colorado by tomorrow!”
Perhaps the enduring memory I will take and hope to continue to pay forward was her caring for others. Whatever the occasion, she remembered it, sending cards and flowers to friends and family. I honestly don’t know how she kept track and was able remember all those dates, but she did. My grandmother Eda said it best, “Your mom is always there for people, always remembering them in their time of need.”
Which leads me to another one of her sayings which seems incredibly relevant now, “No one ever gets to the end of their life and thinks ‘I should have worked more.” You always wish you had more time with friends and family.”
Of course, right now, I only wish I had more time with her. I’m thinking of things I wish I’d told her or done with her. I still can’t believe that I won’t be able to call her to say hello or to seek her guidance again.
But there’s one thing I know as I look back on her life. I know how much I loved her, and I know how much she loved my brother and me.