education is the family business

My mom died on on my fourth day of classes in my new program at my new school.
Died as I was stepping into this new adventure, maybe even new life,
that she wanted for me… not necessarily as a theologian, but as an academic — someone who researches and explains things for a living.

Pursuing education always made my mom’s eyes light up, and she could be impressively persistent as she “encouraged” each of us — me, my sister (who has profound ADHD-!), my boys C & D, my daughters-in-law S & B, my girls A & B — to get more schooling. She knew before I did when C finished a Master’s; I’m not sure I was fully aware he’d been taking classes-! She shone when D finished his Ph.D. In the wake of her death, I’m really glad his university granted him tenure when they did; she shone about that, too. She was excited that I’d gotten this fellowship, and that My Sweetie and I were going to gather ourselves and move to Boston for the year — my program’s just a year — so I could ‘do school.’ Her excitement didn’t fade in the face of the intense pain of her cancer, or the uncertainty of her remaining time. The last time I spoke to her, it was on the phone to tell her about the classes I’d registered for and the kindness of my thesis adviser, who is also my mentor. That was on the first day of classes.

A few days after she died, I was talking on the phone with D, remembering out loud. We higher-ed nerds were grinning, remembering the way S. would bluntly deflect Mom’s grad-school talk: “Grandma, I’m fine!” I wondered out loud — what if I had told her I was going to cancel my enrollment, stay home to be with her? We both paused, and said almost in unison: she would have been so mad.
So that’s one reason I never asked. Another is that I didn’t want her to have to sort through the choice, to ask herself whether she wanted me to be with her during her pain and difficulty.
Another is that, after having waited this long to begin, I wasn’t sure I would be offered the chance again. And to have this door permanently closed was — is — more than I want to endure. Even now that I have to endure having moved away two and a half weeks before she died.


When I was in my early 20s, with a new BA in English and un- or barely-employed, she would say: I think you should be a technical writer. You explain things so clearly — people who don’t know the field can follow what you say. Sometimes I think this is a chance to live into what she saw in me: to write and publish things that will help others pause and say, “Ohhh! Is that what’s going on? That makes sense to me now.”

It would be nice to draw forth what my mom saw in and dreamed for me. Even though she can’t now shine where I can see her.

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