My step mother passed away yesterday. I’ve mentioned she was dying on Facebook and perhaps tangentially on my blog, but I haven’t really gone into any details, mainly because I haven’t felt like it was my place to go into detail. As anyone who has dealt with cancer will tell you, the path from diagnosis to where we are now was a rocky one. First it was “There’s something that’s not quite right. We need to run some tests.” Then comes the diagnosis itself, then trying to treat it, then discovering it can’t be treated, followed by an estimate on life expectancy. But that estimate is just that: a guess. We’d been told she had months to live, and so we planned a trip to Utah for this June/July.
Two weeks ago, “months” was changed to “weeks.” We planned to leave last Friday to see her. Then the estimate changed from weeks to days, and we moved the trip up a day. We got here in time to say goodbye.
When I made the plane changes, it occurred to me that I’d be writing another tribute post on my blog in the not too distant future. Somehow, that realization made everything much worse. I’ve written tributes for my grandparents as they’ve passed. My Grandma Moore died before I was really into blogging, but Grandpa Moore, Grandpa Cundick, and Grandpa Coltrin each got their post, one by one. I’d write about the memories I had of them, and what they meant to me. The posts have been cathartic in some ways, but they’re incredibly draining to write, for obvious reasons.
Here it goes.
As I’ve thought back over the experiences I’ve had with Laurie over the years, there are just so many to think about. I must have been about ten or so when my dad remarried. (I’m bad with ages in my memories.) They lived in Utah, and I lived on the East Coast, so I’d see them for a month every summer, and then every other Christmas. When I was out at BYU I saw them much more, of course. There’s always been that “step” in her title. Step mom. And every step parent relationship is different, and people have seemed hesitant to know how to react when I’ve mentioned that she’s passing away. “How close were you?” is the question that often comes up.
I’ve explained it like this. Imagine someone who has been in your life for more than twenty-five years. A close friend you’ve talked with regularly. Exchanged presents on birthdays and holidays. A person who’s been a grandparent to your children. Who’s offered love and support and advice. Who watched you grow up. Who helped you move dorms in college. Went with you on family vacations. Cooked you birthday dinners. Flew out to visit you wherever you were living. A person who’s incredibly close with most of your family.
That’s who Laurie was to me.
I remember finding out my father was remarrying. It was a strange concept, just like the divorce had been strange in the first place. I went to the wedding, and I mostly remember it as the time I began my life long love affair with chocolate eclairs. (Seriously. They had a ton of them at the reception, and I think I ate around fifty.) But the wedding was one thing. My siblings and I had flown out for it. We were there, and then we flew off. Things didn’t get real until that summer, when we moved out for a month.
It must have been incredibly difficult for her, though most of that blew over my head at the time. Having three kids show up for a month? Kids she doesn’t really know? Hard stuff. She handled it very well. Here’s a sampling of memories I have of her over the years:
- When we’d visit in the summer, my father had a house that had two floors, but the lower floor had been sealed off as a rental before he’d bought it. The only way to get between floors was for us to go outside and around the house. He decided to fix that one day. He sawed a hole in the floor, right behind the front door, and built a ladder going between the floors. There was a trap door and everything. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Laurie was less than enthralled with the idea. As a homeowner now, I can’t really blame her. (I wonder if that ladder is still in the house. They moved. What did the later owners think of it?)
- We would go on trips around the west. Phoenix. Southern Utah. Las Vegas. My father had a Jetta, and my brother and sister and I would pile in the backseat and drive for miles. We had our Gameboys. Laurie was skeptical of those Gameboys for years, it seemed. I remember trying to teach her how great Tetris was. In the end, she came around. Sort of. She’s been an avid Free Cell player for what seems like decades now.
- Laurie has always been a big fan of discussion topics at the dinner table, or at least when we’ve all been together for Christmas dinner or Easter or the like. I, on the other hand, have not. I think I moaned and complained about those conversations over the years. Now, of course, I try to do the same thing to my kids. Come up with a topic to discuss. I definitely see the value in it, and she’s been the best example of it to me. (That said, I still tend to check out when the discussions go on too long or get too sappy. Some things never change.)
- She had a sports car when she married my father, and the for the first while, they kept it, even though there wasn’t really enough room in there for the family when we visited. I remember getting into the back window to drive places. I’m sure we were breaking a million traffic rules. I thought it was pretty awesome, though. What other kid got to drive around in the trunk of a sports car?
- When we were kids, Laurie would send us “candy grams” on holidays. Cards with candy bars on them in place of words. She’s always been incredibly creative.
- She was also a huge fan of oldies music. I was always impressed that she seemed to know the words to any song that ever played on an oldies station. Seriously. We used to test her. Turn on the radio at a random time. She was able to sing along to the song, every time.
- I sort of had a rep for being non-emotional. (Probably still do, I guess. I’m not one for tears or breaking down in public, for sure.) Laurie’s father passed away while I was still in high school(?), and years later she found a letter I wrote to either her or her mother (I’m not sure. Memories and me aren’t the best of friends, I suppose.) She commented to me how impressed she was that I’d written it, and how nice and caring it seemed. I’ve always felt bad that I didn’t even remember writing the letter in the first place. Then again, people will often say to me that something I’ve written on the blog touched them or helped them, and I don’t remember writing it. So maybe I just have a crummy memory.
- When I was moving out of Deseret Towers after my mission, I got a migraine in the middle of the move. Laurie was there helping me schlep boxes up and down from the sixth floor of the dorm. Fun times.
- We went camping one year, right before Denisa and I took Tomas and moved off to Maine. We were up near Mount Timpanogos, and Tomas was having a great time. Until it started raining caterpillars. They were all in the trees. Tons of them. Whenever the wind would blow, they’d showed down on your head. Tomas freaked out, each time. We all thought that was pretty amusing.
- Whenever we would drive up to our family’s cabin in the Wasatch Mountains in Utah, we’d pass through Peoa. She had a Peoa fight song she’d typically sing then. I don’t remember most of it, but I do remember “Our colors are brown, brown, and brown. It’s the best darn school around!” For years I thought that was the actual fight song, and that they were pretty silly to have such a strange song.
- When Tomas was born, she came over to our apartment to get it “babified.” We had one big room and a bedroom, so we had to somehow turn that big room into a bedroom and a living room. She helped put in a wall of bookcases and a changing area. She was always great at interior decorating.
I could keep rattling off memory after memory, but I have to cut this to a close. It’s been a rough few days. The viewing is tomorrow. The funeral is Wednesday. There’s been a tremendous outpouring of support from family and friends in the area. Banana bread, dinners, snacks, and treats appear like magic, left outside the front door or side door. Laurie was always organizing meals for people in troubled times and constantly reaching out to support others. It’s touching to see so many reach out in return at this time.
I don’t know how to end this post. Writing a final “Goodbye” feels incredibly depressing, so I won’t. I’ll just say I was grateful for all the support and love she showed me and my family over the many years I knew her.
She will be missed.