Happy Dead Mother’s Day. ~ Christianne Tisdale

Via elephant journal
on May 9, 2012
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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


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Editors: Marylee Fairbanks/Kate Bartolotta.


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51 Responses to “Happy Dead Mother’s Day. ~ Christianne Tisdale”

  1. Andrew Solomon says:

    Oh, Tiz, who else writes about loss as well as you do? I feel like if you can write this well, I should be able to act. You made me cry, and my mother’s been dead almost 21 years. Miss her every day. xxA

  2. Susan says:

    I just love this. Sigh. Our mommies, dead, are now (I hope) sipping their chablis over a game of Trivial Pursuit. xxoo to you, my sister.

  3. Jennifer Humphreys says:

    Tizzer, that was beautifully said. One of the things you inherited from Nana was great skill with words, and not just in a sharp or cutting way or as a quick witty comment. Your honesty and insight bring you right to the heart of the matter without the veils or pretenses that so many hide behind. Kudos.

  4. TIZ says:

    oh andrew…thank you. when you act, i will be there. here's to your mother! she made a great you.

  5. TiZ says:

    oh sus…yes, wine and trivial pursuit. no cooking allowed!

  6. TiZ says:

    niff – you are a love. i think nana was a secret shambhalian!

  7. Brigid says:

    Thank you for sending me your story. It is wonderful. I say that as a girl who was ophaned in 2008. We visit my mother in law every week because, as I say to Larry, "if I could have one more cup of coffee with my mom, I wouldn't miss for the world". Write some more. You have a special voice.

  8. TiZ says:

    thank you, brigid. miss you. miss larry.

  9. Deirdre says:

    Dear Ms. Tiz,

    You are a gift to this world and I suspect at least partially due to your incredible Nana. I never knew your Mom and knew so little of you so long ago, but in reconnecting with you (kinda, sorta) and reading what you write, that beautiful, witty, special core of you was there even back then.

    I lost my Mom 33 years ago this year and want to thank you for writing so eloquently about your Mom that it reminded me of so many things about my Mom (who was an English major now rolling in her grave because if this sentence.). Whatev. Whadya gonna do about it, Ma? 😉

    Thanks for sharing and thanks for being a light in my life oh so many years ago and even now.

    Much love and Happy Dead Mother’s Day,


  10. Angel says:

    You also have quite a way with words! Such a moving, funny, evocative portrait, Tiz – thank you so much for sharing and simply for reminding me that even the most complicated mother-daughter relationships can still be grounded in respect and yes, even awe. You rock.

  11. Alison says:

    Hi friend. I just send you a private message but wanted to let you know this is beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing. xo al

  12. TiZ says:

    oh, what a gift you just gave me deirdre! thank you.

    and 33 years ago? really. i'm sorry. and i think she would appreciate a lovely run-on sentence. i think they have their place and use…especially in a message to me.

    miss your face. and HDMD to you too!

  13. TiZ says:

    thank you, angel. you are a delight!

  14. TiZ says:

    thank you, al! xxx

  15. Doug says:

    Thanks, Tiz. My mom is about to turn 88, and is FINALLY being forced to slow down. While I know there's no way to prepare for what is inevitable, thanks for letting me see you handle it so beautifully and hold on to the wonderful memories..

  16. Andréa Balt says:

    Joining the Dead Mother's Club, especially if you preside it with the same amount of wit & sad fun & exquisite writing you put in this article. Happy Dead Mother's Day!

  17. Gary Aldrich says:

    Thank you for this! My mom died (thank you) 20 years ago. I always hate the phrase “we lost my mother some X number of years ago”. It sounds like she’s been misplaced somewhere. And you feel a little guilty because you feel like you’re the one that lost her. Helping someone change his perspective after some 20 years is a difficult task, to say the least. Most therapists can’t do it. But I feel in Happy Dead Mother’s Day that you have done just that here.. Lessened the weight of it all somehow. You have always been a remarkable and unique artist in all the years I have known and/or followed you. The fact that you could create something so insightful is not a surprise to me. But it was a wonderful treat to receive on Mother’s Day and I am very grateful for that and I am grateful that you thought to send it to me. Be well and stay in touch! Tons ( I think I have just stolen that as well. Love it!)… G

  18. Jose Yenque says:

    Hi my "Maria" always, Wow Christianne, I just read this and first felt sad but then kept reading and I feel wonderful. Wonderful because of the way you write about family. It' made me reflect on my grandmother who raised my brother and I and if watching me now from the other side. Thanks for this wonderful gift. best "Nardo" Jose

  19. Larry Moore says:

    I believe I met your mother once, but it was after a show, and it was very proper and polite. I wish I'd known this lady!

  20. TiZ says:

    oh doug, thank you! if she's just slowing down now, it sounds like she has a looong way to go.

    thank you for the sweet comment. balled like a baby onstage today. poop.

  21. TiZ says:

    i hereby preside over the dead mother's club. thank you for your sweet comment.

  22. TiZ says:

    if it was after a show, she was proper and made it all about me. would even tell me i could say she was my grandmother since i looked so young. she was a doll!

  23. TiZ says:

    Nardo Jose…thank you. what a lovely and personal comment. thank you.

  24. Katy Tibbets says:


    In this era of escape and masks, THANK YOU for sharing the honesty that Nana was and the honesty that you are! I always knew you were a special egg but your mystery continues to be unveiled. I'm so glad you shared this with me on a day to celebrate women. I'm on a new adventure in my life personally so I love the stories of someone who is not scared to hide who they really are!

    I will be seeing you as a fellow resident in NYC as of late August. Love to you 😉


  25. TiZ says:

    thank you. and yay. and i hope i get to be a part of your new adventure!!!

  26. Amanda says:

    Sistah: So beautifully said. Sorry I never really knew Nana, but I am so happy to know you. Among all the other things we have in common, now we have dead mothers in common….hooray for us…. feh…
    Hooray for THEM. Extraordinary women. We were lucky.

    xxx ooo

  27. melissa says:

    Thank you for these words, made me cry! made me think… xo

  28. Beautiful and funny and I feel like I know your mom a little now Christianne! Thanks for sharing this with us.

  29. romeo says:

    Tiz, that was lovely and very bittersweet.

  30. Jo the Girl says:

    I can only aspire to clothe a drag queen upon my demise. Well lived, and well loved.

  31. TiZ says:

    thank you. and i believe if you dream it, it will be. clothe that drag queen.

  32. TiZ says:

    thank you, romeo. and that's a perfect description of my mom, too.

  33. TiZ says:

    oh, thank you, kate. and i'm enjoying the hell out of your writing.

  34. TiZ says:

    thank you, melissa!

  35. TiZ says:

    sistah…yes we were lucky. and i'm lucky to call you sistah! give little sistah a hug for me please.

  36. Maria says:

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  37. TiZ says:

    thank you, maria!

  38. Frank says:

    Thanks for sending this to me. You hit on the ambivalence that I feel towards my mom. I hope you are doing well. Thank you again.

  39. TiZ says:

    thank you, frank. thank you.

  40. Pauline says:

    Beautiful portrait. Wish I hadn't read it at work though, because the people in the cubes around me are starting to stare (too much sniffling). Love the way you loop from one thought to the next, and her quotes were spot on. Lovely.

  41. TiZ says:

    oh, thank you, pauline. and yes, i am loopy. that did not fly at yale. at least not in english 101.

    tons of love to you,

  42. Keisha Omilana says:

    OMG!!!! Christianne, I just ADORE this!!! WOW, I had know idea you were such the talented writer you are!!! I mean this is just not fare considering you are so damn awesome at EVERYTHING else!! My condolences again on your loss. I truly can say that though I never had the opportunity to meet Nana, I feel I knew her through your journal!!! I MISS YOU!!!!

  43. Catia Ojeda says:

    Beautiful, thoughtful and hilarious. Like the author herself 🙂

  44. TiZ says:

    thank you, miss catia!!!!

  45. TiZ says:

    perfect thing to say, keisha. thank you so!

  46. Shan says:

    I read this when you first posted it, and read it again tonight. I can't tell you how much it touched me, especially since I lost my own mother this year. Thank you for so eloquently expressing all the things daughters can feel.

  47. TiZ says:

    oh shan, thank you so. it means much to me. i'm thrilled that you not only read it the first time but came back to meet the nana again.

  48. Lori langdon says:

    Tiz, this truly is a beautiful piece. Her writing is as lovely as her songs…..

  49. Ray de Lucia says:

    Tiz….it's been a long time and I don't "do" facebook that often but I read your "Dead Mother's Day" tribute and found it wonderfully poignant. I lost my mom this past June aged 95 (a fan of yours when she saw you at Daniel Hand all those years ago) and your words hit home on many fronts. I hope you are doing well and am anxious to follow you on some of your sites. Love as always….Mr.d.

  50. ah, Mr. d. just saw this. what a sweet message you sent. i'm sorry your mom died. i was a fan of hers because she made you! tons, tizzy