Saturday, February 11, 2012

Nancy Ann Livingston
Born May 1, 1933
Died February 11, 2012
Rest in peace, Mom
I love you

Nancy Livingston was a 78-year-old woman you wouldn’t notice in a crowd. Barely five feet tall in shoes, with short black and gray hair and brown eyes given to flashing in humor or anger, she was unremarkable physically.

Her life was like so many of ours, full of the usual American events. She grew up during hard times, went to school and became a nurse, believed that if you worked hard you could give your kids a better life than the one you had, and did just that. She was married, had three children she loved with a ferocity you would not know unless you dared to try to hurt them, and she died unexpectedly in an accident.

Her life was also, like so many of ours, far richer and more unusual than it first appeared if you bothered to take a closer look. She survived not only hard economic times but also an abusive mother and the early death of her father. She trained in nursing in a poor New York City hospital, where she “saw it all,” as she was fond of saying. She later co-founded the first Veterans’ Administration alcohol and drug-abuse treatment center in Bay Pines, Florida, where she helped vets who had also seen entirely too much that no one should ever see. She was married and widowed multiple times. She fought and beat cancer three times, losing both breasts and enduring both radiation and chemotherapy in the process. She did everything she could to make sure her children were able to better themselves. She instilled in all of them a willingness to work hard and the same fierce love for their children that she had for them. She wrote a book, Choices, which I published for her in an edition of a hundred and which years later led other women, many themselves abuse victims who had read pass-down copies, to contact her and thank her. She worked for the Florida Holocaust Museum and fought hard for the “never again” cause. She loved to sing and prized her time in her church choir.

I could go on and on, because after all, she was my mother. All of us look so much the same from a distance, and so wonderfully different up close.

She could drive you crazy, as she often did me, with nags and guilt trips and an incessant worry that today would be the day she died. For the last almost five years, I called her almost every day I was in town, a practice I began when she was in the throes of her most recent fight with cancer. I took trips off, because she still believed that cell phone calls cost more from cities other than your home, a notion I never disabused her of. Now, I wonder if I’ll feel guilty about those days. Time will tell.

About of a third of the way through the last chemotherapy sessions, she crashed hard. She was in the hospital, on the edge of dying, throwing clots and in so much pain that the drugs weren’t strong enough to block it all. I was at the same time flat on my back with horrific back pain, the worst pain I’ve ever endured, and for the only time in my memory taking both a muscle relaxer and a pain medication (a practice I kept for only four days; more would have been self-indulgent). I called her in the hospital.

In tears she begged me to give her permission to die.

“No fucking way, Mom,” I said. “You will not give up. You’re a fighter. You raised us to be fighters. No fucking way are you going to give up now.”

“I just want to die, Mark,” she said. “Please.”

I was on my back, past due to take a pain pill and using the agony to keep me sharp, my face wetter than it is now. She never knew I was in that state.

I made my voice hard. “No,” I said.

“Please.” More sobs, more tears.

“No,” I said, “but I’ll tell you what. You give me twenty-four hours, one day, twenty-four hours from right now, and if you don’t feel enough better that you want to live, I won’t fight you. Think of everything you’ve endured. One day. You can do one day no problem.”

“One day?” she said.

“One day.”

“You think I can do that?”

“No, Mom. I know you can do that.”

“Maybe I can.”

“No ‘maybe’ about it. You can.”

“Okay,” she said.

And she did.

She really was a fighter. Even the best fighters, though, sometimes need their corner people to push them.

For years, multiple times each week, she told me in our calls that she was sure she was going to die. Each time, I would joke that one day her prediction would inevitably be right, but that it wasn’t going to be today. Grudgingly, she’d agree.

When we talked Friday around noon, the last time I spoke to her, our call ran a bit long. She had just received the news that she was cancer-free and didn’t have to come back so often for check-ups. She’d beaten that third cancer. Nine days earlier, she’d had ultrasound to remove a kidney stone and was feeling great after that. She was, she said, having “a great day.”

“I think I’m going to live after all,” she said.

As we signed off, as I always did, I said, “I love you, Mom.”

“I love you, too, dear,” she said.

Six and a half hours later, she was walking out of an Arby’s, on the way back from visiting a friend who was fighting cancer, drinking a milkshake. A van slowly circling the lot had come to a stop. She and the van didn’t see each other. It bumped her, and she fell to the pavement and hit her head.

That injury caused cerebral hemorrhaging, which the doctors detected with a CAT scan after the paramedics rushed her to the hospital. Her heart stopped en route, but they were able to bring her back. They had to operate on her brain to try to stop the bleeding.

Even after neurosurgery and the removal of two parts of her brain, even with the best machines available keeping her body going, she died today, Saturday, at 1:23 p.m. She really died, though, when she hit that pavement, which is fortunate, because she felt none of what ensued.

I’m writing this on a plane on the way to Florida to meet with my brother and sister and their families and Lloyd, the man she loved and who would be her husband would the marriage not have cost her the death benefits on which she lived. We’ll sort out her final affairs--I’m the executor of her estate--and set up the memorial and so on.

She was an ordinary American woman.

She was an extraordinary American woman.

She was my mom.

She drove me crazy, and I told jokes about her in my comedy routines. I still will, but not today. She loved me, though, and I always knew that. I loved her, too, and though she always worried deeply about whether her children loved her--a worry I, as a parent, completely understand--I think for the last few years she came to know fully and deeply that we did.

I will miss her terribly.

In case she needs reassurance, though, and on the chance she’s right and watching from heaven (as I hope she is), I’ll say again what I said to myself when I got the news of the accident last night, what I said several times as I was working until the wee hours, what I said as I was falling asleep and each of the many times I awoke last night, what I said in the shower, what I said to her all those hundreds of times at the end of all those hundreds of calls, what I hope she always knew.

I love you, Mom.

I love you.


Dan Brooks said...

So sorry for your loss, Mark. What you wrote is beautiful. Condolences and peace to you and your family.

Michelle said...

I am so very sorry for the loss of a wonderful woman and the absence she will play in your life. She must have been a great mother to instill the love you and your siblings have for her and have no doubts, though, she knew you loved her. She knew.

Tom said...

Judy and I love(d) you Mom too. She was fun, feisty, and totally entertaining. We looked forward to her visits and worried if the weren't frequent enough.

We will miss her so much. You have a great Mom, Mark!

m2chaos said...

What a wonderful eulogy. Nancy was quite the character, and we'll all miss her. I'm glad that I had the chance to get to know her better through the years. And, I have to believe that she always not only knew how much you loved her, but also appreciated what a good son you were to her.

Todd said...

My Grandfather, who raised me, passed away in December. He had a bout with cancer but was in good shape. He was one of the pioneers of electronics in the bay area, having worked directly with Hewlett and Shockley amongst others. Until his last day he was still working on things, tinkering around the house. He fell while on a step ladder, which caused an embolism to go. He passed within the hour. It was incredibly hard, but he lived his life the way he wanted to, had no regrets, and had accomplished all he had wanted to in life. From what it sounds like, your mom shares many similarities to him. I miss him, but I know for a fact he had no regrets, and I live my life with the same viewpoint. I am sorry for your loss - we're all here for you.

Jerry said...

I am very sorry for your loss. What a beautiful and loving tribute you wrote. You and your family are in my thoughts.

Tara S. said...

Oh, Mark. I'm terribly saddened to hear this news. Thank you for sharing your beautiful words.

Mark said...

Thank you, all, for the kind words and support.

Lisa Shearin said...

What a truly wonderful tribute to your mother. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.


Anonymous said...

We are also sorry to hear about your mom. If there is anything we can do just let us know.

Scott and Karen.

dinah frazier said...

I am so sorry that your mother has left this physical place. She is still here, in all of you, and in all she loved.


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