Mom and Me

Life Lessons

A little something about my Mom

2 May , 2017  

For those who knew my Mom and were unable to attend her memorial celebration, below I have included the full copy of the speech I shared with the group that day – April 22, 2017, Earth Day and Mom’s day.

RIP Kristen Colleen Dolan-Foisy, August 2, 1958 – February 11, 2017, Forever in our hearts.

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Going through some of my Mom’s belongings this week has been a surreal experience. It’s inevitable to come across some things you wish you could ask questions about, and comforting to find other things you remember vividly, without question. I found a box from my Grandma Dolan’s funeral in 2001, and inside was a handwritten note by my Mom – a little something she wanted to share at the luncheon – reading it feels like I just saw it for the first time yesterday – and I wanted to share it with you all because the same sentiment holds true.

From the late Abraham Lincoln: “In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all. It comes with bittersweet agony. Perfect relief is not possible, except perhaps with time. You can not now realize that you will ever feel better…and yet this is a mistake.  You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you somewhat less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say.”

I want to thank you all for taking the time to celebrate with us today. Over the past few months, many of you have supported and helped our family in a number of immeasurable ways for which we could never thank you enough.  As Bill Withers so perfectly put it, we all need somebody to lean on, and I know I’ll be paying it forward for the rest of my days – the outpouring of love has just been incredible.

No matter the circumstance, none of us are ever quite prepared to lose those we love the most. It seems especially difficult when we lose someone we deem too young to go, and then with each passing day, we learn the hard way, that it’s really not up to us to decide. Therein lies the importance of never taking a day, a memory or an opportunity to say I love you for granted.

I could stare at my Mom’s photo for hours and not realize a minute has passed. I can close my eyes and see her facial expressions, hear her voice and smile at her laughter. My desk at home is littered with sticky notes and index cards with lists of songs she had recommended to me, music lover of almost any genre she was; I can listen to them and imagine her reaction when she first heard them.

My greatest wish is for memories of her, and her continued legacy to live on this vividly in the minds of everyone who knew her, because while she may not physically be here – the gift of knowing her is something we all have forever.

Mom was born in Detroit in 1958. The youngest of four children, she had her fair share of being picked on and being convinced to do things she didn’t yet know would get her into trouble. She always spoke highly of her childhood summers spent up at the farm. Recently she recalled a story about taking such pride in the fact that her neighbors growing up on Virgil street trusted her to take care of their pool when they were out of town, even though she was the youngest Dolan kid.

She always looked at life through a unique lens and perspective, even from a young age. My grandparent’s dear friend Doc always called her “Jane” growing up, and no one ever knew why, including Mom. While most young kids might find great confusion and even frustration in being called a name not their own, Mom always remembered this fondly – she felt it made her special, to have a second name when no one else did. In fact she loved it so much, she made it my middle name.

Her love of animals started at an early age too, notably with the family dog Brindle. Up until the day she died, there were few things that could make her happier than animals. Not just cats and dogs – any living thing – she had a deep appreciation and respect for life in any form. I’ve been driving around in my Mom’s car this week while I’m home, and she had it stocked with a complete kit to rescue stray animals she came across. A cover for the backseat, food and treats, a water bowl, an extra leash. A blanket in case it was winter and they were cold. There are numerous times I can remember calling her and her telling me she had this kind of dog or that kind in the back seat and was driving around to find the nearest no-kill shelter – or was calling the numbers on their tags and taking them home. And there’s still a squirrel, who Mom had affectionately named Opal, visiting my Grandma’s backyard wondering where Mom is with the peanuts she had been feeding her for the last year or so.

Her picky eating habits started as a child as well. She always remembered fondly how her Mom had “alternatives” in the house in case she didn’t like what was for dinner. Special thanks to my Aunt Kitti for her persuasive persistence; she helped us make SURE they came up with a substitute for mostaccioli here at the hall today, even though it’s a mainstay in their usual package – we couldn’t possibly serve of one of Mom’s (many) least favorite-foods of all time at HER party.

She was a chatty child – got into trouble at school often for talking in class. But she couldn’t help it; she had ferocious curiosity about anything and everything, and wanted to share it. She was a hard worker her entire life, beginning with babysitting as a very young girl, followed by her first waitressing job at Uncle John’s Pancake house, where she met Dad in 1975.

Her favorite class in college at Madonna was History of World Religions. She found it so interesting to learn about all the different belief systems around the World and said the subject matter, plus the incredibly passionate professor gave her a deep appreciation for people’s differences and how it divided them in some ways, but upon further understanding, how it actually brought people together even though so often as a society we fail to recognize it.

As a young adult, she worked at the State hospital in Plymouth for the developmentally disabled and mentally ill. She always referred to her patients as her kids when she told stories and felt so strongly for the work she was able to do there – in helping to care for people, who couldn’t be cared for by their own families. And she’s always been a fierce advocate for the de-stigmatization of mental illness including anxiety and depression, as well as the need for continued research and appropriation of adequate resources.

In the eighties, Mom and Dad took off to New Mexico – in search of a simpler life, a better climate, a chance to be closer to nature’s beauty – turns out…the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree. They got married there and wanted to start a family, but Mom had been told that because of the positioning of her uterus and what we now know was endometriosis which at the time wasn’t quite as commonly recognized, the odds of her being able to have children were heavily stacked against her.

True to form – Mom was able to come to terms and accept that the universe had a different plan for her. She always told me she knew she’d help children in some way – maybe they would decide to adopt, or she would volunteer. But then of course, by some miracle, Mom did get pregnant. My Mom and Dad were both 30 when I was born. She always told me “she didn’t want to push her luck” as she put it, they decided I would be an only child.

That was also classic Mom. Practical, realistic, thoughtful, purposeful. And I can honestly say, Mom treated me like a precious miracle every single day of my life. I cannot imagine a more devoted, honest, caring, loving, present, trustworthy, open-minded, guiding force has ever walked to face of this Earth. Not only was she always there, but she had a way of always making me feel safe. I knew, no matter how bad it was, I could tell her anything and it would be okay. She always had a way of teaching, without embarrassing or stifling. She always had a way of asking poignant questions to make me stop and think, but at the same time still manage to encourage me to follow my own heart, my own path. She was a master at allowing me to make my own mistakes, but being there to help me get back up when I fell, rather than trying to always shelter or protect.

When I was about 5 years old I was at Target with my Mom in the shoe section. She was looking for work shoes and I was trying on the biggest women’s high heels I could find in the next aisle. As I was clomping around, I looked up and in front of me was a little person, also trying on shoes. I ran to the next aisle grabbed my Mom by the arm, brought her back with me and exclaimed “Mom, look at this cute little lady!!”

My Mom could have hastily shushed me or scolded me and made me apologize to the woman straight away, which would undoubtedly have been humiliating.

But of course instead, my Mom had a plan in place for situations like these – curious about the world and outspoken from an early age, it’s not like this was exactly a rare occurrence – again, the apple….the tree. Mom’s plan wasn’t secret. It was one she had taught me at home and one I knew well. She looked at me and calmly said, “Jackie” and when I looked up at her, she tugged on her right ear – which was her code for “I will explain this to you when we get home.”

She smiled at the woman, and said “I’m sorry” and the woman smiled back at us with a little chuckle telling her it was okay. After all, kids say the darndest things. And when we went home that day, I learned about little people and how if I ever met a little person again, I shouldn’t treat them any differently than any other person. I also learned it’s not appropriate to point at people.

That’s how she approached parenting. She implored kind teaching, and always gave me her opinion, but she was also equally committed to allowing me to be me – even if she wasn’t crazy about whatever it was I might have been doing. I can’t deny that I’ve been known to come up with ideas out of left field from time to time.

There have been plenty of those times I knew full-well my Mom wasn’t crazy about my ideas: deciding I wanted to enter beauty pageants as a sophomore in high school, moving to New York to work at a kids camp even though I wasn’t particularly fond of kids at the time, deciding to go traveling in Europe after college instead of looking for a job right away, getting my first tattoo (and yes Mom, by the way, I am getting another one, special for you), moving to Costa Rica….

I have always had an insane amount of respect for the fact, that while she’d always tell me honestly how she felt, she never tried to talk me out of anything I had decided I wanted to do. It takes a special person to offer that kind of unwavering love and support, and it came to Mom naturally. She truly understood that life is all about self discovery and she cultivated that in me.

For the bulk of her career, Mom worked at Mt. Clemens General Hospital. She held various positions over the nearly two decades she worked there and she absolutely loved her job. Almost everyone, in every department of the hospital knew my Mom and credited her with bringing a smile to their day on the regular. On a few instances I decided to give my parents some good scares and landed myself in the emergency room – I can distinctly remember the scurried voices around me saying “This is Kristen Foisy’s daughter….” and that carried some serious weight in that building – she was truly beloved by everyone who ever had the chance to work alongside her. And countless patients over the years left feedback indicating their experience was better because of her. She had a knack for making everyone feel cared about. A way of calming people even in their most hysterical moments. A way of making them feel a little bit better, even in their worst condition.

She did this for both strangers and those she loved most. Mom took a family medical leave act in 2001 to serve as the primary caregiver for her own Mom. She gave up a great deal that year to care for her Mom; time with her own family in her own home, career advancement, her regular paychecks that she really couldn’t afford to give up, but did anyway. She is the person who would always find a way to give, even when she had nothing left. She did the same when dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2005.

These last months in caring for her, I know both my Dad and I developed a new and intense appreciation for what she was able to do during those times. Seeing someone you love sick and suffering is one of the most painful, emotional experiences you’ll ever go through. We struggled with it daily. But looking at those years past – somehow Mom was able to set her emotions aside, and just provide exactly what everyone needed. Her strength and compassion will forever be unmatched.

A flower child at heart – she was a true hippie.

Mom embodied the idea of loving everyone and everyone being deserving of love. World peace was an ideal she was in favor of – she exemplified the idea that change starts with oneself and always behaved in such a way that if more people would do the same, World peace wouldn’t seem like a pipe dream, but a viable possibility.

How fitting that we’re all gathered here today on Earth Day – it’s truly a perfect day to celebrate Mom. She was always a nature lover and an advocate for protecting our precious planet – even before it was ‘cool’ or the need was dire. She had an incredible green thumb, I’m still trying to fully harness. I hope you all will go and plant these trees in her honor, and think of her as they grow and clean the air we all breathe.

She loved all varieties of music, and believed wholeheartedly in music’s ability to serve not only as an art form, but an effective method of self-expression and agent for change. She always respected the power of human connection, and boy did she always know how to have a good time. She didn’t just talk about dancing like no one was watching, she lived it.

If the word chocoholic was in the dictionary there would be a picture of Mom next to it. That’s not a hippie thing, that’s just a Mom thing. She always loved her chocolate and always had this mystifying capacity to eat as much of it as her heart desired without gaining any weight!

When someone’s fighting cancer, there are good days and bad days – they say. Mom was a fighter and she did her very best to stay open to options, and join with us in holding out hope even after we received the most damning news. She listened to the research we found, she actively participated in meetings with doctors and even when in excruciating pain she tried to remain receptive to our attempts to keep her spirits high.

But there comes a point where enough is enough. And that’s where you’ll find the truest test of human resilience. Mom was so brave. Once she knew the end was near – she remained calm. She told us how much she loved us. She told us she had no regrets. She turned to my Dad one day and told him “I’m leaving the table, I’m out of the game.”

Which is of course a lyric from a song written by the late, great Leonard Cohen in 2016 when he was very ill, about how he had done all he felt he was meant to do and he was ready to die. He was one of Mom’s very favorite musicians – his famous Hallelujah will actually be performed here later today. And I remember the day ‘Leaving the Table’ was first released on public radio. Mom called me and told me I had to download it immediately, and how even though it was sad it was one of the most beautiful songs she had ever heard. She talked about how that’s what she would hope for all people is that they have a chance not only to accept that death, is part of life, but that they feel ready and at peace when it’s their time. I am so happy that even despite the pain and suffering of the moment, she was able to get to that point herself – and by referencing the song, she was able to let us know.

The last couple weeks with Mom I had been trying to muster the courage to tell her in words how much she meant to me. Normally when we lose someone, the number one regret is not having had the chance to tell the person how you felt, or say goodbye. I was keenly aware of this unique opportunity to tell Mom how I felt, but every time I went to utter the words, nothing came out but tears. I had written down what I wanted to say in my journal, and finally, that morning, something just clicked within me and I sat by the bedside, held her hand and was able to just tell her as if the strength had been there all along. She smiled and told me she wished she had the strength to hug me.

I brought her home a green orchid from the grocery store later in the morning – she sat up to look at them and talked about how beautiful they were. That night was the full moon. Mom loved the moon – she always talked about the cycles of the moon and the energy it created. She asked us to help her get into my office chair and wheel her over to the window so she could look at it. After we got her back into bed, Mom asked for her bracelets – these ones that she wore everyday, and now I do the same. I put them on her, and she slowly blinked goodbye to us about 20 minutes later. It was as peaceful as it possibly could have been.

As for the words I shared with her that day, I’ll share with you, because I can’t think of a better way to sum it all up. I will be forever grateful I had the chance to tell her: “Not many people have a relationship with their Mom like I do. I want you to know that I’ll be okay, but I will miss you every single day. You have been the most influential person in my life, and some of the things I love most about myself, I know I got from you. And I will carry you with me for the rest of my life, wherever I go, you’ll be with me.”

And by no means do I think I’m alone – gone way too soon, her impact and influence will live on in all of us forever.

Hug each other, love each other – plant your trees and eat your chocolate and think of Mom. Remember some of the things I mentioned today that were important to her, If they speak to you too, there’s no better way to honor her legacy than to further them. And please, keep her memory alive by allowing her name to remain a household one.

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