Of the Keizertimes

As I’ve been recalling my mom lately, I’ve been thinking of 1980s music group Mike and the Mechanics, plus my friend Debbie Brownfield.

That will take some explaining.

Tuesday marked 10 years since my mom died of breast cancer. I guess I hadn’t really thought much about it lately – or at any point in the last 10 years, really – until a phone call with my dad on Sept. 29.

“Are you going to light a candle tonight?” my dad asked.

I knew what he was referring to. I also knew it was the wrong day.

“Dad, mom passed away on Oct. 29,” I replied. “This is Sept. 29.”

In the month since, for the first time, I actually have spent time thinking about my mom.

The realization I came to? In terms of remembering my mom, I’ve been a jerk all these years.

Brutal? Perhaps. True? Absolutely.

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2001. By the time she finally saw the doctor, it had spread too far. She fought gamely for two years before passing away.

I had two years to have the conversations I needed to have with her. I didn’t take the time and it’s haunted me ever since. Most importantly: will I ever see my mom again? As far as I know, she didn’t accept Jesus Christ into her heart and thus she isn’t in heaven. But I never asked her about it, nor did I ask if she wanted to do so.

What does this have to do with a 1980s music group? Consider the lyrics to “The Living Years,” a 1989 No. 1 hit from the album of the same name.

The lyrics include these lines:

“Say it loud, say it clear/You can listen as well as you hear/It’s too late when we die/To admit we don’t see eye to eye.”

There are also these lines: “So we open up a quarrel/Between the present and the past/We only sacrifice the future/It’s the bitterness that lasts.”

Some more lines: “I wasn’t there that morning/When my Father passed away/I didn’t get to tell him/All the things I had to say.”

And finally: “I just wish I could have told him in the living years.”

My mom and I didn’t see eye to eye on many things. She expected me to get a 4.0 GPA; I never did, not even for a semester. She badly wanted a daughter; I was the second of her two children, both sons.

It’s the bitterness that has lasted. I dwelled on the negatives.

A few years later, my friend Charlie’s dad passed away. His dad was a war hero and Charlie remembered him in glowing reverence.

It hit me like a ton of bricks: I had been seeing my mom through the wrong lenses. Instead of focusing on the negatives I never got to talk to her about, I should have remembered my mom’s positives – of which there were many. She made so many sacrifices for us. The one that stands out the most is how she taught part-time in order to pay for college for my brother and me.

And yet, as time went on, I reverted back to dwelling on the negatives.

So who Debbie is and what does she have to do with this story?

I met Debbie and her husband Fred via the local race track I started covering in Washington in 2000. The Brownfields ran the track because their deal to buy another track fell through. Their best friend, Steve Beitler, ended up buying that track. Soon, the longtime friends became bitter enemies.

When Fred was killed at his track in 2006, it was a huge blow to Debbie and Steve alike. Debbie had lost her soulmate, while Steve never got the chance to iron out the differences with his best friend.

For more than a year, the two didn’t speak, though Debbie found God telling her to mend the relationship. Once she finally listened, Debbie and Steve rekindled their friendship. In the fall of 2008, Debbie and Steve got married.

A couple of months before that wedding, I wrote a story – it remains my favorite I’ve written – about how the two reconciled. One particular line from Debbie has stuck with me.

“It all goes back to your determination to hold on to what you feel are your rightful feelings of anger,” Debbie said. “Then you find out later your principles sucked.”

The more I think about that quote, the more I realize it relates to me and how I’ve viewed my mom all these years. I was angry, focused on the negatives and for some reason figured I had every right to hold on to those feelings.

In the last month or so, I’ve come to realize how much my principles sucked.

So my mom wanted to have a daughter. In the grand scheme of things, is that the worst thing a parent can do? I’ve seen firsthand mothers who have done far, far worse.

So my mom was disappointed I never got a 4.0 GPA in school. Is it really so bad she wanted me to do my best? I freely admit I can be a perfectionist. It’s not the worst thing in the world.

So my household wasn’t the type where the words “I love you” were spoken. There was nothing to stop me from breaking that trend.

Finally I can say I love my mom. It’s taken me 10 years to get to this point, but I wish she was here today.

I just wish I could have told her, in the living years.

(Craig Murphy is news editor of the Keizertimes.)