May 9, 2012

Happy Dead Mother’s Day. ~ Christianne Tisdale

My inbox bursts with solicitations for Mother’s Day.

“Treat Mom: Wine & Norman Love Chocolates,” “FTD.com Half Off Flower & Gifts for Mom,” “Loft Celebrates Moms,”

and the kicker:

“Let Me Be Your Mommy.” (Wait…what?).

I currently call it “Dead Mother’s Day.”

I think it surprises people when I say dead or died, as opposed to passed or past. Or my least favorite…moved on.

Mary: “I’m sorry. That was thoughtless of me.”

TiZ: “What was?”

Mary: “Talking about Mother’s Day.”

TiZ: “Why?  Because my mom is dead?”

Mary: “A friend of mine found it difficult after her mother moved on.”

TiZ: “Oh, well, mine didn’t move. She died.”

Colloquialisms don’t hold much sway for me unless I can toy with them. And it’s hard to toy with them when you speak of the dead. Especially when the dead one is your mom.

The last week of September, my mother survived 18 heart attacks in four days. 18. Four days. Her defibrillator kicked her in the heart and kicked her back to life. 18 times. Because she experiences pain in a different way, she didn’t realize what was happening.  She just heard a loud bang, enjoyed some psychedelic colors and went on with her day. My brother finally witnessed the 15th. We both saw the 16th. And the last two occurred as she arrived at the Yale New Haven Cardiac ICU. She came to, looked at all the doctors and asked, “Ooh, did something exciting happen?”

18 heart attacks. She was a trooper.

And a retired nurse.

And a full-time grandmother; a job she loved. Although, she wouldn’t admit it, we’re pretty sure she loved way more than being a mother, so we all called her Nana to get in on the action.

Oh, the power of that word and that woman. The Nana. 


Geraldine Rose Dudick was born in 1923 in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania and at some point moved to Brooklyn so her dad (married at the age of 15) could work in a shoe store. She was the first in her family to make it past middle school, graduating James Madison High at the age of 16 with a perfect score on the Regents.

She attended Hunter College while it was full scholarship and actually heard Eleanor Roosevelt speak. “That dumpy little woman became absolutely gorgeous once she opened her mouth.”

She only stayed in college ’til 18 when she could finally attend her beloved nursing school. She became a highly regarded pediatric nurse, married the boy from down the street whom she loved dearly despite the fact he was a nudge, and Geraldine Tisdale promptly proceeded to pop out five of us. If you knew me, the fact that she didn’t eat her young would prove to be a great unsolved mystery.

She was, in a word, awesome. And I mean that word.


Nana survived and at times thrived for two and a half weeks after her heart apocalypse. I’ve never seen anyone work at something like this. And just as decidedly as she tried to live, one morning she informed us she was done and to please turn off her defibrillator. 12 hours later she died.

While a fellow nurse rubbed her feet.

She always loved to be coddled. And that decisive thing? Like a knife.

I’m told I’m supposed to let go. Like knives, in six months we’ve buried her, given 42 sweaters, 45 pairs of pants, ten dress suits, 18 pairs of shoes, 16 sweats, three kilts (really?), 40 tops and tees and 10 nightgowns to Goodwill (Who knew she was a closet hoarder?), filled three 20 yard dumpsters with a lifetime of possessions, held tag sales, stocked re-used bookstores, renovated and sold the house, and clothed a drag queen.**

To celebrate her:

Let go of traits I don’t believe I inherited—I mean her surreptitious nicknames were “Mrs. Glass Half Empty,” “Judgina Navritilova” and “Mama the Hut.” And let me say, she was a sigher of Olympian proportions. Drove me up and over, through and around the wall.

Work and worry at traits I do believe I’ve inherited or adopted. (Nature? Nurture? Nudge?).  She would cut with her snappy responses. Me too. (Witness the above nicknames). There could be a lack of kindness, sometimes honesty to the point of harshness. Self-involvement. The not feeling pain thing is rarely a good thing. A caffeine junky in her heyday, she peaked at 21 cups of coffee and a Vivarin. I belly up to a Tab. It is for beautiful people after all.

Embrace (or wish for) her:

Wicked Wit of the West. I accidentally showed her an NR film. (Colin Firth starred…how bad could it be?). While watching two girls in Through the Looking Glass costumes gleefully going at it, Nana tossed off, “Well, looks like Alice has found Wonderland.”  88 Years Old, People!

Smartypants. I mean I’m smart. I went to Yale. But Nana took three of us in a game of Trivial Pursuit. My comrades later succeeded to upper tier of Microsoft and muckity muck in the Bush administration, respectively. (Or irrespectively. Wait, that is a word. Anyway, it’s irregardless.)

Sense of Style. Oh, could she put together an ensemble for very few shekels. Me, however, she referred to as her “Orphan of the Storm.”

Ability to Change. A lifelong Republican, she voted for Obama.

Dance. She could. I, on the other hand, love to. She would beg me not to in public, “Too much of you moves.”  “Well, nothing you can do about it now, lady.”

Undying But Clear Love For Those We Do Love:

So, please celebrate your mommies while you’ve got them. Nana’s last words face to face with me were, “Oh, I will miss you.”

That word, miss, took on new meaning because of her.

“Not half as much as I miss you, Nana. No way. No how.”

** She wore some awesome gowns in the seventies while she was Mama the Hut.
  Christianne Tisdale has done lots of stuff. She’s performed on the Broadway stage, sung in some of the world’s most famous arenas and danced a lot in her living room. Forced to take remedial writing at Yale, she now likes to scribble in 0s and 1s from the comfort of her bed. Her critically acclaimed debut cd, Just a Map – A Lullaby to the World is available online. She’s also a Reiki Master who bakes an excellent chocolate chip cookie pie. Everything else you never needed to know at @backstagetalk on Twitter. Connect with Christianne at www.art-of-reiki.blogspot.com or www.ChristianneTisdale. com


 Like elephant family on Facebook.



Editors: Marylee Fairbanks/Kate Bartolotta.

Read 51 Comments and Reply

Read 51 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Elephant Journal  |  Contribution: 1,510,185