Many times over the past couple of years, my mom, Carole Leigh, would mention to me that “one day you’ll have to make a blog post on my behalf.” I absolutely hated when she said that as I’ve been exceptionally talented at mentally pushing this day out into the future. But I did make her that promise and today it is my heart-wrenching duty to fulfill it. On the evening of October 23rd, Mom died peacefully at home after a brief stay in the hospital. She was surrounded by her family and her kitty cat Lily was beside her on the bed as she was finally forced to say goodbye.
One of Mom’s all-time favorite songs “Time to Say Goodbye” performed by Sarah Brightman & Andrea Bocelli.
Today would have been Mom’s 69th birthday. Mom was always pleased to note that she was the “first Baby Boomer.” And indeed she was born on January 1, 1946, the date historians mark as the first of the Baby Boom Generation. Mom’s birthday was also special, simply because it fell on New Year’s Day. While she generally hated having this date for her birthday, I always thought it was incredibly special and it made our New Year’s celebrations so much more meaningful. For me, both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day will always be intrinsically woven together with memories of my beautiful mother. And neither holiday will ever feel the same again – there won’t be any more birthday cake at midnight. I always thought it seemed so fitting to usher in the new year celebrating the birth and the life of my mom, one of the most remarkably good people I have ever known.
Carole Leigh age one
Mom was featured in the newspaper with another little boy on her 5th birthday as the first of the Baby Boomers.
Mom wasn’t ready to give up her fight with multiple myeloma. She had recently gone back on the new combination therapy she mentioned in her last post – carfilzomib, pomalidomide, and dexamethasone. That combination is a cutting edge therapy that she’d only been able to take one round of in the spring before multiple hospitalizations and kidney issues forced her to stop treatment. A few weeks before she died she met again with Dr. Bensinger at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and had a very encouraging visit. Her road ahead would be very tough, but she had responded very well to the treatment the first time she was on it. So we had new hope – yet again.
Always a sweetheart, Grandma tells me Mom was an angel from the day she was born.
Unfortunately Mom had a fall in her kitchen. She took a glancing blow to her head and thought she was perfectly fine. But it turned out she had started bleeding in her brain. And because her platelet counts were so incredibly low – her body had no way to heal itself. Because of her many complications, including kidney failure and dialysis, the brain surgery that would have been required to stop the bleeding would have been much too difficult for her to tolerate. She likely would have suffered, and likely wouldn’t have made it. Her group of doctors including her attending doctor, oncologist, nephrologist, and neurosurgeon all agreed that it was in her best interests not to proceed with further treatments – and we were sadly forced to agree.
Many of you know my dad Brent as Mom’s “hero” and indeed he was a tireless caregiver offering her constant love and support. He never complained and would drop anything for her smallest need. Here they are just starting out together.
Happy times together
While Mom hadn’t been ready to give up just yet, I also know that she was at peace with her life and with its looming and likely untimely end. She’d had years to think on this disease and how it affected her life, and how it would affect her life’s end. And I know that Mom came to the end of her life with few, if any real regrets – and she was truly at peace with whatever would come. And she had good reason to be, for hers was a life incredibly well-lived.
Mom was an avid roller-skater as a girl. She’s the blond just to the left of 12 o’clock.
For those of you who only knew her through this blog, I’d like to tell you a little bit about her personality and life. When someone passes on, we generally hear how wonderful they were and many positive words about them, as we should. But I can’t emphasize to you enough, when I say that Mom was truly, truly one of the kindest, gentlest, and most generous spirits, that in her case the words don’t begin to scratch at the truth of what a lovely human being she was. She walked through life with a cheerful and open disposition, making friends wherever she went. I’ve never known someone so ready to embrace new friends and to see the good in others. I read a quote years ago that said “He likes to like people, therefore people like him.” And I’ve always thought this described Mom very well. She expected to be pleased with others and I believe she saw in others their finer selves, and in turn people loved her very dearly. And maybe it was this open-hearted, loving nature of hers that accounts for her generosity of spirit. Mom was tirelessly patient with others and giving of her time, energy, resources, and love. She was tolerant and accepting of even the most difficult people in her life – and was willing to continue to lovingly serve them when they were in need. She was always the first to speak up for someone and give them the benefit of the doubt. As an elementary school teacher she was not only routinely given the difficult children, but also worked with extremely difficult parents very well. She had a unique and rare knack for finding common ground and compassionate understanding with others. Another remarkable trait of Mom’s was her lack of complaint. Throughout the 5 years of her illness, while she had many moments of feeling down, and gloomy, and sad – she never asked “why me?” I view this as a testament to her humble nature. In fact, she often asked the opposite, “why not me?” This always blew me away – so many of us (myself included) might rail against the Universe, scream “it’s not fair,” and ask over and over again “why is this happening to me?” Mom never did. While she was very sad and many times scared about her diagnosis, she accepted it and steeled herself against the heavy winds this disease brought her way.
Enjoying her beautifully decorated living room one Christmas.
Mom was also an intense lover of beauty with an eye for detail that I always envied. She had a gift for finding the beauty in the smallest of things and noticing it all around her in the world. From the smallest leaf, to the hawk perched atop a tree a mile away, to the most spectacular of sunsets, Mom noticed them all. On a typical rainy, dreary northwestern day, my dad and I can often be heard moaning and complaining about the weather, and the lack of the bright, beautiful sun. But Mom would usually chime in and say “but look at that bare tree there – look at the beautiful lines of its branches and the lovely silhouette it makes against the sky.” That was Mom through and through.
Mom in her classroom with her “Tigers.”
Mom not only appreciated beauty and art – she also created it. One of my greatest regrets in life is that I did not inherit her endless artistic talents. She was a wonderfully talented painter, despite not spending a terribly great amount of time doing it. And she brought her artistry into her classroom, creating wonderful displays and art projects that stimulated and enriched her students’ lives. Her classroom was always a riot of color and covered with art she created and taught her students to create. A school district custodian once told her she had the best classroom in the entire district – and he knew as he’d been in every one. But Mom’s talents weren’t limited to the visual arts. She was also a lover of music and was a dedicated and talented pianist as a girl. As a sophomore in high school Mom spent countless hours practicing Chopin’s Polonaise Heroic as her talent for the Quil Ceda Pageant, at which she won Sophomore Princess. One of the last things Mom wrote on her Facebook page was about an upcoming performance we were planning to attend together of Mozart’s Requiem. She had this to say: “I have always loved Mozart and said his music makes my heart sing, but his Requiem makes my heart soar!”
Mom practiced tirelessly to perform this Chopin “Polonaise N°6 l’heroique”. Performed here by Martha Argerich.
Grandma Ella, me, and Mom out to lunch in August.
Mom with her niece Tova when she visited from Denver this summer.
Mom would want me to make sure to tell you that despite what was an incredibly difficult year for her (the lack of blog posts speaks to this fact), there were also many bright spots peppered throughout. Sometime in late spring or early summer, her white counts boosted back up well into the normal range and she was free to get out and enjoy the world on the days that she felt strong. We had several wonderful dinners out on the waterfront in Seattle, celebrated my dad’s 70th birthday with a surprise party, and had treasured friends and relatives come and stay with us in August and September. The highlight of this time for Mom was attending her 50th high school class reunion in August. She felt like a million bucks that night and said she felt like the belle of the ball.
Belle of the ball – on her way to her 50th Class Reunion
Our dear friend Amy came to visit from Charleston in September
Mom would also want me to tell all of you out there around the world – how tremendously much she valued your love and support. Both the vocal support and the quiet nameless hits to her blog from points all across the globe. She marveled that people from the seemingly farthest corners of the world were reading her blog. You buoyed her spirits and gave her solace in the messy world of multiple myeloma in which she’d found herself. And we, her family, can’t begin to thank you for giving that gift to our beloved wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend.
This image was the very last post Mom shared on her Facebook wall.
As we start this new year, and what would have been the start of her very own new year – her loss feels all the greater. None of us really felt up to celebrating New Year’s Eve last night without her. But today I want to honor her memory, her life, and this fortuitous day on which she entered the world 69 years ago. I do this by sharing these little pieces of her life with all of you. By fulfilling the promise I made to her, by promising to go forward into the new year remembering to live by her example, and by bringing with me the lessons she instilled in me of what it means to be a good person. What it means to be a patient, generous, and loving member of our community. I have been blessed beyond all measure to have had her these many years. She will be sorely, sorely missed – but we take comfort in knowing how many lives she touched, and how many friends she had who loved her as we did. Her life was shorter than we’d have liked – but it was full to brimming with community, friendship, adventure and love.
Happy Birthday Mom – our lives will never be the same, but we will carry your gentle spirit and generous ways with us always, tenderly in our hearts.
Dad, me, Mom, and my brother Tyler in Hawaii in 2006.
If you’d like to help remember Mom today, please consider donating blood, platelets, or plasma – and as I know many of you can’t – please encourage those around you to offer this gift. I can’t even comprehend the vast number of units Mom received, and that saved her life on more than one occasion, letting us keep her with us a little longer. I have continually marveled at the generosity of so many nameless strangers out there who gave this gift to my mom and to us.