Rest in Peace, Betty’s Mom

My mom died a few hours ago. I’m an atheist, and I don’t believe in an afterlife, but if there is one, Mom is probably pissed at me for putting her personal business out on the Internet, even if I don’t use her actual name or mine. “Why?” she’d ask. “What the hell is the point?”

But I want to tell you about her, because she was a character. I almost completely fucked up her life by being conceived when she was in high school and becoming the proximate cause of a shotgun wedding between two wildly ill-suited mates. By the time she was 18, Mom had two pain-in-the-ass daughters, a failing marriage and no money.

But she had an escape plan: When she was in her early 20s, she left my father and moved herself and us kids to the nearest sizable town and worked her way through nursing school. She became a cardiac care nurse, a teacher and a leader, but always someone who pushed back against what she perceived as the stupidity of institutional thinking.

For example, when some of the “suits” at her hospital pushed the staff to come up with snappy acronyms for processes, she made sure hers were near-profanities such as “TERD” and “SHYT.” She was 100% serious about patient care, but she had a strict no-bullshit policy about schemes hatched by administrators.

She would eventually try marriage again, but it wouldn’t last. She got a son out of the deal, though, so she considered the relationship a qualified success. Her boy grew up loved, harassed and scolded by a mom and two older sisters. And while matrimony never quite took with my fiercely independent mom, motherhood sure did. She loved each of us ferociously.

Mom was a witty woman, with a tendency toward sarcasm and irony. My sister followed in Mom’s footsteps and became a nurse. When she graduated from nursing school, she went for a job up in Savannah. So Mom, sis, little brother and I made a family trip of it to take my sister to her first real job interview.

After the interview, we were in our crappy little hotel near the waterfront (a “fleabag,” Mom called it), watching the local news. The announcer mentioned that a Coast Guard cutter was docking at the waterfront that evening. Without missing a beat, Mom reached into her purse, handed my sister and me five dollars apiece and said, “If you can’t drink all night on that you’re no daughters of mine.” And we did. And we are.

Some years later, after my sister had returned to Florida, my little brother decided to steal the family van at age 14, sell baseball cards along the way for gas money and go look up a girl in Virginia whom he’d met at the beach. He and a friend got as far as Savannah when they ran out of gas and could find no takers for their baseball card collections.

Naturally, Mom was frantic about the missing son and vehicle. She’d contacted my brother’s friend’s parents, and they figured the boys were somewhere together in the van, but since they’d left in the middle of the night, no one knew how far they’d gone. My brother finally broke down and called Mom. He said, “Mom, I’m in Savannah.” Mom said, “Savannah better be a girl, you little shit!”

Mom and the other boy’s father rode up together to fetch the miscreants. On the way home in the van, Mom played the soundtrack of “Cats” on an endless loop at high volume to punish my brother. Twenty years later, he still can’t hear it without involuntary retching.

The women in my family tend to live long enough to seriously flirt with or surpass the century mark. Mom’s own mother is alive and in tolerably good health for a very old lady, though I suspect the news of Mom’s death will kill her. We dread telling her tomorrow, but we must.

Given what we thought were fortunate genes, we used to jokingly conjecture that Mom, my sister and I would end up living together again someday as three cranky old ladies, and that our much-younger brother would be obliged to have a stiff drink before visiting us each week to clean the cat box and pluck our chin hairs.

But as it turns out, Mom, the cardiac nurse with a fiercely loving heart, was born with a bad aortic valve. And that’s what took her from us decades too soon.

All during the last month that was consumed by her health crisis, I kept finding myself wanting to text her or call her to tell her about some stupid thing someone did or said that would have amused her. I miss her so much already, and this mom-shaped hole will be in my heart for the rest of my life.

Goddamn it, it’s not fair, I keep thinking. There was so much more fun to be had, more trouble to get into. But life’s not fair, as Mom often reminded us. You get to be alive, and then you’re gone, so make it count, she would have said. And demonstrated.

Posted by Betty Cracker on 02/25/14 at 08:59 AM • Permalink

Categories: Messylaneous

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I’m so sorry for your loss Betty; your mom sounds like a ton of fun and a wise and witty woman.

Mom was a witty woman, with a tendency toward sarcasm and irony.

The apple did not fall far from the tree, and thank goodness for that.

I am so sorry for your loss, Betty.  Sincere condolences to you and your family and to your mother’s friends.  Maybe your mother would be amused that through you she has a whole bunch of admirers all over the Internet.

I’m very sad to hear this news, Betty. It’s not fair—it’s a lottery (my mom had a similar condition from childhood rheumatic fever and survived a similar op to live a lively life for another 30 years or so), and all you can do is squeeze as much love and fun and sense out of it as is humanly possible. It sounds like your mom did her share of that. I’m glad you have close family that can share the burden, and my thoughts are with you all.

Betty, you’ve shared so much with us over the years that as a regular reader, I have come to connect with you through the blogs. I know your mom was a real tough cookie, smart, funny, and loving. I am so sorry that she’s gone.

Hugs and healing thoughts being sent your way.


Betty, I left a brief word over at Balloon Juice but I wanted to leave one here, too.  I am just as sorry as I can be—you are such a chip off the old block, your sense of humor and your energy and drive are so clearly the product of your rip roaring mother I feel I’ve gotten to know her a bit just from reading your posts all these years. Now that you have put up this memorial to her its even clearer.  What a family you must have been, you and her and your sister! Your family dinners and your get togethers must have been incredibly funny. 

This is a terrible loss for you and your children.  Do all the crying and the cursing you need to do because nothing fills the hole left in your family right away.  But slowly, over a long period of time, we do take comfort and pleasure in the memory of that person.  I think of Joe Biden’s words to the families of the vets on Veterans day a lot.  I have lost people—my little sister when I was a child, my husband’s niece when she was nine, all four of my beloved grandparents and my great aunts and uncles—and when I saw his speech I was truly comforted for the first time. 

At any rate, raise a glass and toast your mother from me. She sounds like an amazing person. I wish I could have known her.

all my thoughts are with you


I’m so, so sorry Betty.  Your mom was indeed a character and I’m sorry I didn’t know her.  Thank you for sharing these stories.  I will be thinking about you and your family.  You have lots of good memories but that doesn’t cancel out the loss. These good people that we lose too soon should still be around making more good memories!

I have 5 bucks that probably won’t last an hour, in these parts, nevertheless I’m going to raise that glass in a toast to Betty’s Mom and all of us “Mom-sized hole” survivors.

Cheers! Betty

I’m so sorry for your loss, Betty.  I know what you mean about wanting to call her and tell her about things that she’d get a kick out of.  I still feel that way about my dad who died 14 years ago.  But as time goes by it’s not a sad feeling, more like “Wouldn’t Dad have loved this?”.  I’m wishing now that I could tell him about your mom’s wisecracks - he’d love them.

So sorry for your loss, Betty. What a lovely tribute to your mom.

She was a remarkable woman.  My condolences to you and your family.

Very sad and unfair news. Keeping you and your family in my thoughts.

Dear Betty,

We love you, we love your Mom, and we love the love you shared.

Be strong, funny and wise, you big-hearted gal with the brain and the talent to match.

We’re praying for you and your whole family.

Strange and Polly

So sorry that you’ve lost your mum, Betty Cracker. She sounds like she was a real cracker (which in my part of the world is high praise indeed). Laughed out loud at the story about the Coast Guard and the 5 dollar drinking allocation - if only more mums would be that sensible! She obviously accomplished at least one of her goals in nurturing you - there may be no afterlife, but you’re still here, and that’s a good thing.

So sorry for your loss. It sounds like your mother was an amazing woman, and you and your family are in my thoughts.

You have my sympathies.

It’s gonna fucking hurt and hurt a lot for a while. The hurt fades but never leaves and you’ll find yourself doing that absurd laugh-sob thing at odd times like when stopped at a red light or in the middle of an episode of “Sherlock’ because a memory flashes across your mind.

Sorry, Betty.

Betty, I’m so sorry. What a wonderful woman, though, and how you channel her.

I think that was the best Obit I’ve ever read. Ever. So sorry for your loss Betty.

and that fleabag in Savannah. I think i know exactly where you mean because i spent several days there myself many ugly years ago.


My sincerest condolences Betty, sounds like she was an amazing woman.

I literally laughed out loud when I read “Savannah better be a girl”!

Betty, My sincerest condolences on the passing of your mother, she sounds like she was a great person. I always love hearing the family stories, they’re usually not too much fun when you’re experiencing them, but they’re pretty funny in later years.
My maternal grandfather outlived his son too, but my uncle treated his body like it was disposable anyway, & ended shaving at least thirty years off his lifespan. I still have my Grandaddy Donn’s phone number on my cellphone even though he’s beend dead for over five years. I don’t have the heart to remove it. I still miss him sometimes.

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