First and foremost, my mother was a mother. She devoted all of her energy to it. The stress and sleep loss are probably part of why she was so often sick. She made sacrifices so that my brother and I could go to Catholic grade school. She worked full-time, raised us by herself, and went back to college to finish her degree, because that's what was necessary. She missed a lot of sleep for us. In return, she expected the absolute best of us. I knew that I could not come home with a bad grade or a report of getting in trouble at school. It was simply not an option.
When my brother and I got older and moved away from home, it seemed like the highlight of her life was to fly out to visit us. Whether it was flying to Europe when my brother studied in Spain or worked in Romania, or flying to California to visit me and my wife, it was what she lived for. And she loved my wife as much as me. In some families there are rueful jokes about mothers-in-law, but my mother would have sided with my wife if she and I had had a dispute. My mother expected the best of me, and if I was on bad terms with my wife my mother would demand that I do better.
The other thing that my mother took seriously was nursing. She absolutely loved it. Partly out of compassion for the sick, partly because of the intellectual challenge, and partly because she was proud to follow in the footsteps of my grandmother, who is also a nurse. My brother and I would go to our grandparents' house after school, and when my mother got done with work she would come to pick us up, and before leaving she would sit at the kitchen table and talk about patients and cases with my grandmother. I learned a lot of science listening to those conversations.
No matter what else was happening in the family, my mother was the family health caseworker. If I had to see a doctor for something, she could tell me exactly what the doctor would need to know about family medical history, out to second cousins and great-grandparents. If my grandparents were in the hospital my mother was there watching them like a hawk. My brother is still alive and with us because of the way my mother watched over him when he needed surgery several years ago.
And it wasn't just the family who was impressed by her nursing skills. I'd like to read a tribute from a former co-worker of hers:
You Mom was such a caring person. It didn't matter where the person came from, why they were there, if they were injured, sick, or came up with something just to have attention. She treated all her patients with the same quiet, straightforward, caring.
When I was in nursing school she mentored me. There are so many things that she taught me, that I still use 20+ years later.
I also want you to know that your mom lives on in spirit through the many lives she touched. I am just blessed that one of them was mine.
She was such a blessing, so devoted, and I have much that I need to learn so that I can make it through life without her.