My mother passed away on July 31. It was sudden, unexpected. We had no opportunity to say our last goodbyes. Or for me to say, one last time, “I love you, Mom.”

As I was rummaging through photographs for her funeral, I came across an old class photo. I was surrounded by kids dressed in their Sunday best. Paula in her frilly white blouse, Scotty in his jacket and vest. And me — yes me — dressed from head to toe in my favorite Superman costume.

My initial question was: What kind of mother lets her son take his class picture in a Superman costume? More on that in a minute.

Mom was a teacher and a media specialist. She was a lifelong learner — she had a thirst for knowledge and the world was her classroom. Rarely did you see her without a book in her hands. She was super smart and fiercely independent.

When in Florida for half the year, she volunteered at the local marine rescue center, feeding turtles and swimming with dolphins. She traveled the world with my father and then continued to travel confidently on her own after he passed away. She snorkeled with my brother and me in the Caribbean when she was in her mid-70s, although we still laugh about hearing her scream underwater when a giant eel slithered by us.

Even in her mid-80s she was tech savvy, with her MacBook Pro and her social media accounts. While she was slowing down a bit physically, she was mentally on top until the end.

When we were young, she and my father named their first boat “Rub-a-Dub” after that old nursery rhyme “Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub” because of their three sons, Denny, Rusty and me. That old Chris-Craft was full of dry rot, but I wouldn’t trade the memories we had on that boat for the biggest yacht in the world.  Mom would laugh about being the only woman in the house, but no one ever questioned that she was the boss.

No mother should have to bury her son. But when Rusty was killed in an accident at age 18, she was the glue that held our family together, minus one. She watched my brother Denny and me grow up and succeed on our own, and she proudly watched her grandchildren blossom into caring, wonderful young adults.

Because of COVID-19, in May, my brother and I drove a motorhome to Florida to bring my mother back to Michigan. We stayed in Florida a few days and she swam in the Gulf one last time. On the drive back to Michigan, we slept in the motorhome, reflected on old times, laughed a lot, and took a hike on Jekyll Island to gaze at the ocean. At the time we didn’t know this would be our farewell trip, but we will treasure the memories forever.

Author Luffina Lourduraj said of mothers: “You loved me before seeing me; you love me in all my mistakes; you will love me for what I am.” I am blessed that my mother loved me unconditionally from the day I was born.

Mom would have told us not to mourn but to celebrate her life. And that brings me back to my old class photo and my question: What kind of mother lets her son take his class picture in a Superman costume? The answer?

– A mom who let us be ourselves and let our spirits soar

– A mom who expected success but let us define for ourselves what success truly means

– A mom who taught us to never stop learning

– And most importantly, a mom who taught us that a positive attitude would take us wherever we wanted to go

Mom held my hand on the way to that school photo, when I proudly wore my Superman costume. And even though she only held my hand for a short time while I was young, she will hold my heart forever.

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