I now return to the world after a most intense month of blindsided uncertainty and thousands of tears (tears that are still running).
My fabulous, fun, frank, fierce force and absolute best friend of a mom (the original ‘FAB Mom’) passed away after a 7 year fight against illness.
The past month, I’ve been caught in an unfamiliar blur of whether or not to share. Despite my public persona (blog/TV/book) I’m actually a very private person and feel genuinely uncomfortable sharing certain things with those I don’t know all that well. I’ve VagueBooked about it (you know, when you post weird cryptic things on Facebook because you’re so damned conditioned to share on social media because you see how much others share and feel like “this is how everyone interacts/socializes/communicates these days”). I’ve authored newspaper articles alluding to challenging circumstances in my family lately. Then at one point, I straight-up posted on Facebook and deleted it 30 minutes later (because after about a hundred thumbs-ups and hearts and ding-ding-ding-buzz-buzz-buzz comforting texts, supportive messages and loving comments from friends, viewers, readers and strangers reaching out to me, I found myself feeling not right about posting something so personal on the same social media feed I use to promote work happenings and frivolous decadent video recipes I’ll most likely never make).
Yet, I am now sharing this most significant happening here. Now. Finally. Why?
Because this is MY space. Because, for the past 7 years (since I started this site), my real life and work have become so meshed together I’m not sure which is which sometimes anymore (maybe I need to work on that). Because I often write about my mom — her most effective life skill, her recent sleep-away camps that taught me more about myself than I expected, her smart opinions about putting on lipstick, her ability to pull everything off (particularly around the holidays), her controversial advice that’s kept me capable for as long as I’ve been alive. Because I write about reconciling motherhood with how I personally handle life’s kicks in the gut as they affect my family. Because this is the most life-changing and left-turn event that’s ever happened to my family. Because my kids are heartbroken too. Because my mom inspired everything that I am and most all that I do — and will continue to drive me as I raise my girls. This is why I share now.
Below this picture (one of my favorite flashbacks, 35+ years ago) is what I wrote and read in front of the 350 beautiful people who came to pay their respects as we laid her to rest (ok, I may’ve lost my place while reading this that day on account of my eyes welling up, but still, this is the gist)…
This is such a hard today for us. But, I’m going to put that aside, turn ‘it’ on and get through this. The day before my mom passed, my daughters were able to see her (they had a nice little chat) — she wasn’t feeling good at all, but she TURNED IT ON and PERKED UP for them. She powered through with personality, for them, so that’s what I’m going to do here.
I want to say thank you to everyone — family, friends. This last month you have shown my family the true meaning of LOVE. We are so moved by how much you’ve lifted us up in honor of my mom. Thank you to our Der Hayrs [Armenian priests]… what a beautiful and most special service. We will remember it always. We are so thankful for everything.
I am heartbroken, but here. I want to call her and tell her all about this day… who’s here, who has said what, how everything looks. She would love this day.
My mom has always been famous for her solid opinions and strong spirit. She didn’t like to talk about her illness and never acted like anything was ever wrong. She didn’t want to be defined, in any way, by what she went through these past 7 years. But let me tell you this: I learned the most important lesson of my life these last few weeks as I watched her tackle these most recent intense challenges with the most fearless bravery I have ever witnessed from anyone in my life. FEARLESS. BRAVERY. In her attitude and choices. I am certain I will never see fearless bravery like that in my lifetime again.
My mom was always known for making others feel stronger than they imagined themselves to be and she long-prepared my sister and Dad and I for this inevitable time… saying, “This illness will come back — it is what it is, and you will be fine.” You’ll hear from my Dad and sister later in the program but for now I want to share some very personal memories…
My mom was so many things to so many of us… she was everything to me.
My best friend, my confidant, my confidence-builder. She was always the first phone call I made — about everything from debriefing a party I’d gone to the night before, to talking about a work goal or accomplishment, to asking random questions about raising my kids. She’s the person who would kick me in the you-know-where whenever I doubted myself and she’d say “Focus, Jill — Get it DONE.” She was also the first person to build me up and make me feel good about myself.
She’s the original FAB Mom. [I always told her this… We talked openly, about everything, all the time and nothing — NOTHING — was left unsaid even before this last month’s events.]
As a little girl I was always fascinated by her endless energy — whenever I think of her now, I think of her moving. Busy… doing things. Working, running around, vacuuming, in the kitchen getting things done, always there for us. I appreciate and hold how she operated to the highest standard now that I’m a mom. She worked full time but I always felt like she was a stay at home mom — home cooked dinners, taking me to lessons across town every night of the week, pushing me to be the best I could even when I didn’t feel like I did my best. She paid close attention and always put my sister and I first without complaint… and without letting on if she was ever tired. Her confidence in her special abilities and creative style of doing things was relentless and I admired it so much. I still do and always will.
She was the mom who would ask my early dance teachers to dictate my dance routines out loud so she could write down the steps so that I could practice at home. She was the mom who always focused on “what are we going to wear to this party” and would take my sister and I shopping for new outfits. She was the mom who I’d overhear her telling my teachers at school and at dance or voice lessons “Push her, she can do it.” She was the mom who always told me, when I got older and started having my own parties at my home “As long as everything looks pretty on dishes and platters, it doesn’t really matter what the food tastes like!” She also taught me the fabulously-unconventional value of *not* sharing certain special recipes so that they didn’t become common among a group of friends (and everyone associates that unique beloved dish with YOU)…
She never questioned me wanting to move away to go to school and live in LA — she always told me “Go! Live your life” — I always treasured that, still do. (Now that I think about it, she probably wanted me in LA to give her a good excuse to take road trips and go shopping… hmmmm.) Whenever I’d confess something offbeat, she’d say “I get you Jill, I know what makes you tick.” We talked pretty much every day and she could always tell by my tone of voice if something was off…. and then we’d talk all about it and she’d tell me what to do to solve the problem just like that.
She held my hand when I needed it but wasn’t a hand-holder. At one particular rehearsal for Miss California, I called her crying and sobbing that “I didn’t like the way my rehearsal went…” — that I wasn’t good enough. On the other end of the phone, she said “Jill, if you’re going to act like this then I’m going to come down to the theater right now and pull you out of this competition! You know exactly what you’re doing. Suck it up and do it!” SHE WAS RIGHT. I was very successful that night (I won the talent competition). I fully credit her and I credit her for most everything….
Looking back, I realize now that my mom’s biggest goal for my sister and I was to raise us to be totally capable — whether that meant having a strong work ethic for a job or knowing how to plan a menu and cook a brunch for 20 people at our home.
My mom’s catchphrases were:
Figure it out.
Move fast, we’re wasting time.
Don’t focus on stupidity.
Think ahead and get it done.
Guilt is a wasted emotion.
These life skills, that she repeated and taught us through her own actions, are the mantras I now live my life by. They are the smart, practical philosophies that my girls are being raised with…
As for my girls and the kind of grandma my mom was — she was AWESOME. One of my biggest fears when my first daughter was born was that my children would not have a close relationship with my mom because we lived 200 miles away. NOT SO. Back and forth to Fresno and LA and back again became a new normal for all of us — she would come and we’d all go to lunches and shopping and I’d hijack my girls on weekends for road trips up to my parents’ house. Once we got there, we’d do what we called “lockdown” and not go anywhere or see anyone — because it was just FUN being with HER.
My mom always made me feel stronger and more confident, but I’ve come to learn that her greatest legacy — and I just realized this through watching her my whole life — is that there is nothing more sacred and worthwhile than selflessly contributing your personal time, energy and unique talents to your children, your community, your church. And, if you have a job to do, you’d better focus and do it RIGHT the first time. I don’t remember a time, ever, when my mom wasn’t contributing somewhere, to something. And, I also especially thank her for raising me in our Armenian church and giving my sister and I the gift of learning a strong faith, that the good Lord will hold our hands and take care of us no matter what happens in life.
My mom was always very happy with her life — but the one thing she would say to me from time to time (because I went away to school and now live in LA) was that she never moved away and lived on her own. I would always respond with “Well, it was a different time!” (ie: she was the first in her family to go to college). And then I would always add “Look at all you’ve done…” She did and gave so much during her life. [School teacher, community & school volunteer, total hands-on mom, fabulous party hostess (famous for Christmas Eve parties), wife who did everything, longtime church organist, Sunday School organizer, neighborhood watch committee, piano teacher, high school reunion organizer, unparalleled wedding registry expert, the most fun Grandma (obsessed with getting all 4 granddaughters matching outfits) and more…]
I recently came across a saying that explains my mom and what her life meant, looking back. That saying is: Bloom where you’re planted. My mom offered so much of herself and impacted countless factions of people around her in the place where she was born. There’s something so special and rare about that these days. I’ve always admired her and I will continue to be inspired and motivated by her for as long as I live. I can only hope to bloom like she did, to offer my abilities and create a full life that leaves tangible and impressionable footprints as it evidently has, in a such meaningful ways, with all of you here today.
Mom, I know you’re always with me… but I will miss you so very much.